Our broken immigration system hurts all of us. The status quo creates divisions, depresses wages and weakens labor standards for all workers. Out of fear of being deported, undocumented workers have little recourse against wage theft and other employer abuses. When businesses can exploit immigrant workers, it lowers the wages of all workers.
There are an estimated 11.3 million undocumented immigrants in the United States. The vast majority are here because they want a better life for their families and faced economic and political oppression back home. Often, these individuals come from undemocratic countries that lack even the most basic rights for working families.
Despite political rhetoric and fearmongering, most ardent opponents of immigration acknowledge there is no feasible way to force millions of people to leave a country that, for many, has been home for much of their lives. It would also be immoral and extremely harmful to our economy. The real choice is between creating a responsible way for many to legalize their status and eventually become citizens or continuing the exploitation of workers.
For many UAW members, what’s at stake in immigration reform is direct and personal. Our broken immigration system has split UAW families and thrown up barriers to family reunification. Many UAW members who work in higher education came here on student or temporary worker visas, and face an unnecessarily long, complicated and frustrating process when they try to become permanent residents and citizens. The UAW supports the following comprehensive immigration reform measures:
- Reforms of temporary worker visa programs, creating a more data-driven process based on documented labor market needs and adding protections against employer abuses. Workers holding temporary visas (including H-1B visas for highly skilled workers in scientific and technical fields, a category that includes many UAW members employed as researchers at U.S. universities) will have greater freedom to change employers, and an easier time transitioning to permanent resident (green card) status and eventual citizenship.
- No limits on employment-based green cards for foreign students who graduate from American universities with advanced degrees in scientific and technical fields, along with other measures to liberalize visas for foreign students. These changes will benefit many UAW members employed as teaching and research assistants at colleges and universities.
- Changes in the family-based immigration system that will make it easier for the minor children and spouses of legal permanent residents to immigrate, but would also reduce the total number of visas available under the family preference system, and exclude some categories of relatives (including siblings of U.S. citizens).
In response, the president issued an executive order in late 2014 that sought to keep families together and allow many to live without fear of deportation. It did not create a path to citizenship, as only Congress can overhaul our visa system. Under President Obama’s Deferred Action for Parents, 4.1 million people would be able to qualify for relief from deportation. The program was designed for people who have been in the U.S. for longer than five years, and are parents of children that are U.S.-born or are Legal Permanent Residents. It has been only partially implemented due to legal challenges from opponents of reform. The Deferred Action plan is good for America and should have been implemented. Unfortunately, earlier this year, the Supreme Court tied in a 4-4 decision in the case challenging President Obama’s 2014 immigration actions, affirming the lower court’s ruling that has blocked the policy from taking effect.
When 5.2 million individuals are able to work legally and live without fear of deportation, they will have better opportunities and be less vulnerable to wage theft and exploitation. It would help boost workers’ wages throughout the economy (not just those who qualify for the program). Experts predict it would give a boost to our economy by creating jobs and increasing our GDP by $230 billion over the next 10 years. Yet, this is only a partial solution and the President himself admits the program has limitations. Due to only Congress having the power to overhaul all of our immigrations laws, we need Congress to take action to bring undocumented workers out of the shadows and under the protection of the law.
Key Talking Points and Actions You Can Take
- Our immigration system is broken and drives down wages and working standards for all workers. We need comprehensive immigration reform – one that creates a pathway to citizenship and makes keeping families together a priority. Such reform must include temporary worker visa programs, protections against employer abuse, a pathway to citizenship for workers holding temporary worker visas, and employer based green card reform.
- The 11 million people in this country without documents aren’t going anywhere. Pretending they and their families can be made to leave is both cruel and unrealistic. The real choice is between keeping undocumented immigrants underground where they can be exploited, or creating a process for them to normalize their status and come out from the shadows.
- A pathway to citizenship isn’t a no-strings-attached amnesty. It requires undocumented immigrants to meet tough conditions and wait their turn behind other applicants.
- Attacks on immigrants create fear and division that drive down wages and working standards for all workers.
- ACTION: Give friends, coworkers and neighbors the facts about immigration reform. Immigration is a tough issue for many Americans, and taking the time to engage in one-on-one conversations can dispel myths and win support for reform.
- ACTION: Urge Congress to immediately pass comprehensive immigration reform that includes a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.
- ACTION: Support V-CAP and encourage your co-workers to do so, too.
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