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AFL-CIO: Now is the Time to Expand Rights for All

Biden's immigration bill would protect workers and create jobs

Kris LaGrange's picture
Feb 24, 2021

For decades, politicians in Washington have fought over what to do about immigration. Both Presidents Bush and Obama attempted to pass comprehensive immigration bills that failed to get through Congress. This left millions in the United States with either no legal status or temporary legal status, such as DACA. Now President Biden is taking on immigration with the US Citizenship Act of 2021.

This bill would do a few key things including providing a pathway to citizenship for undocumented individuals, prevent discrimination based on religion for people coming to the country legally, keep families together by eliminating the so-called “3 and 10-year bars,” and protect workers from exploitation and improve employment verification processes.

This last point is especially important for union workers. Currently, many undocumented workers face workplace violations like safety issues and wage theft. Many employers also threaten these workers with deportation saying things like "we will call ICE if you complain." This keeps the workers quiet and allows the company to continue to pay wages that are significantly below the market rate and allows them to undercut union contractors. There is no way for a union employer to compete when their competition is exploiting their workforce, but by bringing these workers out of the shadows and allowing them to receive fair wages and protections the playing field is leveled out.

According to a statement from the White House, “The bill protects workers who are victims of workplace retaliation from deportation in order to allow labor agencies to interview these workers. It also protects migrant and seasonal workers, and increases penalties for employers who violate labor laws.”

These labor protections have gained the support of the AFL-CIO who said in a statement:

“By creating a broad and swift path to citizenship for all those who have been failed by our broken system, the U.S. Citizenship Act will help spur a just recovery and ensure that we are all able to exercise our rights on the job and in the community. America’s unions welcome the introduction of this strong pro-worker and pro-democracy framework for change. Although it does not include all the reforms our system needs, we are heartened to see that it includes many key protections for which workers have long fought. The right way to use immigration policy to raise wages and standards is by expanding rights and protections for all workers. We are familiar with the compromises that accompany immigration debates in Congress, and we implore members not to repeat past mistakes. The act must not be undermined with amendments that criminalize our immigrant communities, escalate the immigration enforcement regime or expand programs that treat workers as disposable commodities in our global economy.”

To achieve the goal of processing through some 11 million undocumented immigrants, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services would have to take part in an extensive hiring spree. Currently, immigration courts are severely backlogged, so the bill would provide money to hire both full-time, part-time, and temporary employees. This includes about 200 new immigration judges. This hiring spree would also extend to Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). These new hires could radically change departments like ICE and CBP which came under increased scrutiny for their support of Trump and his harsh border policies. According to GovExec, these new hires would be required to be trained in community policing, cultural awareness, and strategies for interacting with vulnerable populations and take continuing education courses in these areas.

While the bill makes its way through President Biden is already making moves to change the direction of immigration agencies. One of his higher-profile moves was to direct ICE to start focusing more on high-priority deportations such as those against people who committed serious crimes. He also rejected a last-minute contract that Trump attempted to push through with the union that represents ICE members. According to a whistleblower, the contract gave the union "extraordinary power and benefits" and allowed it to "indefinitely delay changes to immigration enforcement policies and practices.”

In rejecting the contract, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued a statement saying the agreement “was not negotiated in the interest of DHS and has been disapproved because it is not in accordance with applicable law. The Department’s Chief Human Capital Officer notified ICE and the union in writing today that the proposed agreement has been disapproved,” the spokesperson added. “DHS will make policy decisions in accordance with the law and based on what’s best for national security, public safety, and border security while upholding our nation’s values.”

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