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BACKGROUND -- The United States was formed as a self-described "melting pot" of immigrants, erecting a Statue of Liberty inscribed to "give us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free." But the U.S. has a rather shameful history of imposing rules and restrictions on immigration based on racial discrimination, or designed simply to grant cheap labor to U.S. industries -- and undermine wages and working conditions of American workers -- but denying those immigrants citizenship and basic workers’ rights.
As our nation and economy has thrived in comparison to other nations, there has continued to be a steady stream of immigrants seeking a better life in America, many through existing administrative processes. But others -- many of them desperate to escape war, poverty, slavery or to reunify their families -- have entered the U.S. without proper documentation. The subject of what to do about this latter group of immigrants has been the subject of great debate in recent years.
During 2004-06, it appeared that substantive immigration reform might be possible at the national level. Those efforts and momentum were squandered as the U.S. became more mired in the Iraq War and Congress was consumed in partisan bickering on the issue. There is hope that the Obama Administration will return immigration reform to the national agenda in late 2009 or 2010.
LABOR’S POSITION -- The Washington State Labor Council and our national organization, the AFL-CIO, has been working hard on immigration reform and immigrant worker rights issues since 2000. After conducting hearings throughout the nation, the AFL-CIO Executive Council passed a resolution laying out our four basic principles for reform:
As we await substantive immigration reform on a national level, Washington must avoid rushing into ill-conceived and unwise state-based guest worker programs as advocated by some groups, including the Washington State Farm Bureau.
Our efforts should be placed in advocating for the agreement struck between farm workers, their union and growers in 2003. This legislation, called "Ag Jobs," was an historic compromise that provides the following framework:
The AFL-CIO, which has historically opposed guest worker programs due to their long exploitative history, recognizes the compromise struck by the United Farm Workers of America and the Growers’ Associations and so supported the passage of "Ag Jobs."
Efforts by some states, such as Colorado, to create state-based guest worker programs play off fears of "labor shortages," sap energy from national efforts, lower protections for workers, and cost state governments precious financial resources. In addition, the Bush Administration made matters more difficult by pushing through "midnight" rule changes that diminish guest worker protections for farm workers -- changes to H2A program which include lowering the wage for guest workers to the state’s minimum wage.
Now is not the time to divert our energies from the national effort for "AG Jobs," to spend scarce public dollars on a program that will soon change, or rely on guest workers when we are suffering large and growing numbers of unemployed workers.
In 2008, Gov. Chris Gregoire issued an Executive Order creating the New Americans Policy Council. It was established to develop strategic recommendations for immigrant policy in areas such as citizenship, English acquisition, education, and workforce development, and to lead an effort to build the capacity to provide naturalization assistance to the 135,000 immigrants in Washington who are eligible to naturalize but have yet to do so.
Immigrant workers make an enormous contribution to our economy and society and now make up 14% of Washington’s workforce. Given this, the New American Policy Council has recommended the following investments:
Copyright © 2009 — Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO