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AFL-CIO Delegates Pass Resolution to Support Comprehensive Immigration Reform

September 16, 2009 - Posted by Maurice Belanger

AFL-CIO Convention 2009


The nation’s largest labor federation, the AFL-CIO, made its support of immigration reform official on September 15 when delegates to its national Convention in Pittsburgh ratified Resolution 11: The Labor Movement’s Principles for Comprehensive Immigration Reform.


The bulk of the resolution is devoted to the “five major interconnected pieces” of immigration reform.  The AFL position is, of course, worker-centered, but they do not ignore family immigration, the core of our current immigration system:


“Family reunification is an important goal of immigration policy and it is in the national interest for it to remain that way.”


The resolution notes that comprehensive immigration reform


“must complement a strong, well-resourced and effective labor standards enforcement initiative…”


Both are necessary to prevent the kind of abuses that were documented in a recent survey of low-wage workers that we highlighted in a previous post.


The first of the five interconnected pieces of immigration reform listed in the resolution has to do with the future flow of immigrant workers.


“One of the great failures of our current employment-based immigration system is that the level of legal work-based immigration is set arbitrarily by Congress as a product of political compromise—without regard to real labor market needs—and it is rarely updated to reflect changing circumstances or conditions.”


In fact, the last time our admissions levels were adjusted was in 1990.  The AFL advocates for a de-politicization of future flow determinations, giving the job to an independent commission.


The second piece of the of reform addressed by the AFL resolution concerns a worker authorization mechanism.


“A secure and effective worker authorization mechanism is one that determines employment authorization accurately while providing maximum protection for workers, contains sufficient due process and privacy protections and prevents discrimination.”


The third element is “rational operational control of the border.”  The resolution acknowledges that border control alone cannot control unauthorized migration.


“Border security is clearly very important, but not sufficient, since 40 percent to 45 percent of unauthorized immigrants did not cross the border unlawfully, but overstayed visas.”


Rational border enforcement,


“…should respect the dignity and rights of our visitors, as well as residents in border communities. … Border enforcement is likely to be most effective when it focuses on criminal elements and engages immigrants and border community residents in the enforcement effort.”


The fourth element is “Adjustment of Status for the Current Undocumented Population.”


“…if these immigrants are not given adequate incentive to “come out of the shadows” to adjust their status, we will continue to have a large pool of unauthorized workers whom employers will continue to exploit in order to drive down wages and other standards, to the detriment of all workers. … An inclusive, practical and swift adjustment of status program will raise labor standards for all workers.”


The final element of comprehensive immigration reform endorsed in the AFL resolution is “Improvement, not Expansion, of Temporary Worker Programs.”  These programs should be “limited to temporary or seasonal, not permanent, jobs.”


There has been some controversy about the independent commission that the AFL-CIO endorses.  Business doesn’t like it.  Bottom line, though is that labor and business both see the need for the reform of our admissions system to adjust for our need for workers.  A legalization program alone will not be sufficient to control unauthorized immigration—nor will enforcement.  Since the Immigration Reform and Control Act in 1986, which included just legalization and enforcement, the driving force of illegal immigration has been our failure to update the legal channels through which people come here to work.  There is broad agreement now that there must be a better future flow program.  Now it’s just a matter of coming to agreement on the details.


The Reform Immigration FOR America Campaign commented on the AFL’s historic decision here.


Photo by Flickr user Steve Dietz/Sharp Image in aflcio2008’s (sic) photostream

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