AFL-CIO Reaffirms Top Priority for Comprehensive Immigration Reform

LOS ANGELES—At a jammed press conference and in a detailed resolution, leaders and delegates to the AFL-CIO Convention in Los Angeles reaffirmed the federation’s commitment to lobbying Congress for comprehensive immigration reform now – a reform unions say would help all U.S. workers.

And the effort is needed: While the Senate approved bipartisan reform earlier this year, the GOP majority in the U.S. House refuses to consider it.  Instead, Republican leaders broke the immigration issue into a series of smaller pieces of legislation, all but one, for undocumented kids, completely anti-immigrant and anti-Hispanic.

And the Republicans flatly refuse to consider the centerpiece of comprehensive reform: A 13-year, somewhat-torturous path to citizenship for the 7.5 million undocumented adults and 3.5 million undocumented kids now in the U.S.

That didn’t stop the immigrant workers at the press conference, or the fed.

“We’re not going to stop even if the House leadership stands in the way,” declared Maria Elena Durazo, an AFL-CIO board member, a leader on the issue and President of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor.

“We’ll do this in a much bigger way” than the federation’s unions already have, she added, announcing there will be pro-comprehensive reform demonstrations in 60 cities on Oct. 5 and another mass demonstration in D.C. for the cause three days later.

AFSCME President Lee Saunders agreed but warned the path to reform would not be easy.  House Speaker  John Boehner, R-Ohio, has deep-sixed the Senate bill and says he won’t consider any reform unless “a majority of the majority” – his Republicans – back it.    “And most of them feel little pull for it,” Saunders commented.

Saunders also repeated the point that legalizing undocumented workers helps them and native-born workers.  That’s because venal and vicious employers hire the undocumented instead of native-born workers, notably in construction and restaurants, and threaten to deport those who protest low pay, no pay and unsafe conditions.

Those employers also threaten the native-born with firing and replacement by the undocumented unless the native-born cave to employers’ demands and low standards.

“We’re prepared to work as hard as we possibly can.  For every worker who has tried to organize a union, and faced an employer who has used our broken immigration system to bust the union, we will find a way” to pass reform, Saunders declared.

Neidi Dominguez, Campaign Coordinator for the L.A. Carwash Workers —  the “Carwasheros” whom the Steel Workers successfully organized – called the fight for immigration reform “a true working class movement.”  Dominguez and other speakers said comprehensive reform would empower carwasheros, day laborers, factory workers, retail workers, gardeners, taxi drivers and others.

“Imagine the gall (of firms) to look at us and say ‘You have no right to be here,” said New York City taxi driver Bhairavi Desai.  “We need immigration reform that is not indentured servitude…If capital can travel freely, then why can’t the working class?”

Tefere Gebre, the federation’s new executive vice president and himself an immigrant as a political refugee from Ethiopia 30 years ago, made clear he would make reform a personal cause, too.  His Orange County, Calif., Federation of Labor undertook massive citizenship enrollment and voter registration drives in the once-Right Wing county, turning it into a politically marginal area.   The county has 220,000 immigrants.

“The America I dreamt about” while walking across the Sudanese desert for months at age 14 to get to a port to embark for the U.S. “is not about detaining a taxi driver union leader in Orange County, who has three little kids born here, and the kids come to my office, crying, saying ‘Where’s my daddy?’

“The America I dreamt about should not be about separating families by deporting workers.

“That America I dreamt about did not separate people by saying ‘You’re legal, you’re illegal.’”

The undocumented workers and their union allies are planning other ways to pressure the House GOP to approve comprehensive reform, Saunders added.  One is to work on the GOP lawmakers through GOP governors, especially in immigrant-heavy states such as Florida (Rick Scott) and New Jersey (Chris Christie).

Saunders added some 30 Republicans would join all 200 House Democrats to vote for comprehensive reform, as the Senate bill seeks.  That led Press Associates to ask if unions and their allies should tell lawmakers to start a rarely used but unbeatable parliamentary strategy, the discharge petition, to force a House vote on the Senate bill.
If 218 House members – a majority of the entire House – regardless of their party, sign a discharge petition, House leaders must allow a vote.  That was considered, Saunders later told PAI, “but then we’d lose all the Republicans.”  That leaves outside pressure as the best route to use to turn the GOP around, he explained.

By Mark Gruenberg
PAI Staff Writer