The immigration system in the United States is broken. The pathways for lawful immigration are choked with long backlogs. Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of people continue to enter our nation illegally each year. Some perish in the attempt. Many are mistreated by human traffickers. Moreover, unauthorized immigration is unfair to those waiting for legal entry. It undermines the rule of law and strengthens the conviction that the federal government is powerless to solve important national problems.
Unfortunately, the government does not effectively adjust the number and characteristics of legal, employment-based immigrants to real labor market needs. Instead, Congress sets the level by a political process. Moreover, existing employment programs for foreign workers are inflexible, burdensome and inefficient. They fail to protect the wages and working conditions of either program participants or those who have to compete with them for employment.
At the same time, there are millions of undocumented workers, many of whom are forced to work long hours in miserable conditions for low pay and no benefits. Unscrupulous employers abuse immigration laws to prevent these workers from exercising the same rights as other workers, including the right to join a union. The result is a race to the bottom, in which the wages, benefits and working conditions of all workers are depressed.
Undocumented workers are unjustly denied unemployment insurance and other government benefits that they have paid taxes to support. As a matter of decency and fair play, immigrant and guest workers who have been contributing their labor, and have paid taxes for many years in this country, should be allowed to become stakeholders in our society. This is essential to prevent the creation of an underclass of indentured workers who will be used to undermine the standard of living of all workers.
International academic workers, who contribute enormously to the intellectual and cultural environment of educational institutions around the country, are routinely exploited in the workplace. They often receive low pay and few benefits. In addition, since Sept. 11, 2001, they have been the target of misguided, discriminatory policies that impose severe burdens. The recent wave of organizing in higher education, led in part by international academic workers, has led to improvements. But more needs to be done.
Family reunification accounts for two-thirds of all immigrants. Reunification of families greatly facilitates the assimilation of immigrants into American life. With the passage of the Child Status Protection Act in 2002, Congress established the principle that children of beneficiaries of citizen petitions should not lose their eligibility for citizenship, even if they pass their 21st birthdays after the petition has been filed. Unfortunately, this age-out protection does not extend to children of fiancé(e)s, which means they can be deported if the bureaucratic process of reviewing their citizenship applications extends past their 21st birthdays.
The UAW believes we need immigration reform that will address all of these problems. In April, 2009, the AFL-CIO and Change to Win announced that they had agreed on a framework for Comprehensive Immigration Reform, based on principles set forth by former U.S. Sec. of Labor Ray Marshall in "Immigration for Shared Prosperity," published by the Economic Policy Institute. The UAW supports this framework, which provides that comprehensive immigration reform should:
- Depoliticize the system for allocating temporary and permanent employment visas. It should be placed in the hands of an independent commission that can determine the number of foreign workers to be admitted for employment purposes based on ongoing labor market needs.
- Take employment verification out of the hands of employers and establish a secure identification methodology. Employers that fail to use the system properly should face strict penalties regardless of the immigration status of their workers.
- Ensure full, equal and enforceable workplace rights for all employees, including immigrant workers, both documented and undocumented. It is the only way to ensure that unscrupulous employers do not exploit immigrant workers, using them to undermine workplace rights, pay and benefits for all employees.
- Establish a well-defined pathway for immigrant workers to become permanent residents and citizens. Unless this happens, there will continue to be a large pool of workers exploited by employers to drive down wages, benefits and working conditions for all employees.
- Reform temporary worker programs. These programs indenture employees to particular employers, weakening the ability of workers to defend their rights. Auditing and inspection have been poor and heavy incidents of fraud have been documented.
- Crack down on the dangerous, and exploitive trafficking in, undocumented immigrants.
- Use border enforcement judiciously as a complement to other aspects of immigration policy. Enforcement should focus on criminal elements, while cooperating with immigrants and border community residents. The dignity and rights of visitors, and of border community residents, should be respected. Enforcement activities should be carried out solely by border patrol agents and not local law enforcement officials or vigilantes.
- Increase the flexibility and length of work opportunities for international academic workers employed by U.S. universities and for their families. Visa processing should be streamlined, and the transition to permanent residency and citizenship should be expedited. This will enhance the intellectual and cultural environment at our universities, while helping to ensure that international academic workers have equitable compensation and equal workplace rights.
- Urge Congress to pass legislation placing the allocation of employment visas with an independent commission that bases its determination on ongoing labor market needs. The legislation should establish a secure verification mechanism and impose strict penalties on noncompliant employers;
- Tell Congress to pass legislation that will provide full, equal and enforceable workplace rights for all immigrant workers, documented and undocumented.
- Urge Congress to make unemployment insurance and other government safety-net programs available to all workers who pay taxes to support them, including immigrant workers.
- Tell Congress to establish a well-defined pathway for immigrant workers to have the opportunity eventually to become permanent residents and citizens. This is the only way to avoid a permanent underclass that employers can use to undermine the standard of living of all workers.
- Urge Congress to reform guest worker programs. Guest workers should have full, equal and enforceable workplace rights so employers cannot use guest workers to undermine workplace rights, pay and benefits for all workers.
- Tell Congress to provide increased protections for the rights of international academic workers, including their civil rights and liberties. Congress should oppose any measures that would discriminate against or impose burdens on them. International academic workers should receive adequate, equal compensation and have the opportunity to become permanent residents and citizens.
- Urge Congress to extend age-out protection to the children of fiancé(e)s as it is for spouses. Children of fiancé(e)s should not be deported merely because the government delayed acting on their applications until after they turned 21.