Wednesday, May 1, 2013

A May Day Message on Immigration Reform

Guest blogger, Daniela Conde, third-year law student, University of San Francisco

May 1st, May Day, or International Workers Day, commemorates the 1884 Chicago Haymarket Strike where workers demanded an eight-hour work day and were brutally retaliated against by the police.   While the U.S. officially recognizes Labor Day in September, all around the world, workers unite on May 1st to recognize the contributions of workers and highlight current labor struggles.  At least for the past decade, in the U.S., May Day has been used as a day to rally the masses around immigrant workers rights and the need for legalization.  These issues are especially current given the recent immigration bill introduced by the Senate’s gang of eight, S.744, which includes among its many provisions a path to legalization, albeit a 10-year-long path, as well as worker protections.  Furthermore, May 1st coincides with the Senate recess and, therefore, offers an opportunity to deliver a message to the Senate Judiciary committee and all of Congress about what we, as concerned constituents, think about the bill.  Let us celebrate May Day by leveraging worker power to change the public discourse on immigration while offering our thoughts on S.744.

My message to the gang of eight, the Senate, and all of Congress regarding some key provisions in the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act…

The allocation of $6.5 billion for border enforcement is wasteful and misplaced because it will not address the root causes of the largely, economic migration phenomenon.  Among the triggers of migration are U.S. agricultural subsidies included in the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and in other trade agreements like DR-CAFTA.   These subsidies allow American farmers to set prices below production cost and in turn forces millions of Mexican farmers and their families to head north after they find themselves unable to compete with such prices.   Since the ratification of NAFTA, the livelihood of Mexican farmers has been at odds against cheaper crops imported from the U.S., most notably corn, Mexico’s staple product is now largely imported from the U.S.    I challenge members of Congress to think twice before supporting any bill with such provisions that will not address the continuous flows of immigration and instead propose an elimination of U.S. farm subsidies.   I press upon our representatives to be courageous in analyzing the complexities of immigration, which stretch beyond the border and lie in farm subsidies, trade agreements, and globalization.

Mandating electronic employment eligibility verification of newly hired employees will push future undocumented workers or those currently ineligible for legalization into the underground economy and exacerbate the problems already experienced with E-verify.  Immigrants who cannot obtain employment authorization will be faced with the dilemma of obtaining fraudulent employment documents and being subject to criminal penalties or working in the black market for employers that will abuse their unauthorized status.  Furthermore, the predecessor of the electronic employment verification system, E-verify, demonstrates the flaws in this program since it has resulted in errors in the databases of the Social Security Administration and Department of Homeland Security.  This system affects immigrant workers and citizen workers alike as the government databases often do not accurately reflect the immigration status of workers.  Therefore, the implementation of this system across the nation will only multiply the errors.

Finally, workplace protections for victims of labor violations should be maintained in the Senate bill and be present in any immigration reform law passed.  The inclusion of provisions from the Protect Our Workers from Exploitation and Retaliation Act,  such as the availability of U visas for criminal worker exploitation, is a major step forward because it provides workers with relief for the workplace abuses suffered.  These protections target employers who use immigration status as a tool to retaliate against workers who stand up against workplace exploitation and are necessary so that immigrant workers can organize without the fear of deportation.  

Therefore, instead of throwing billions at border enforcement, this money should be appropriated to federal agencies like the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the Department of Labor, and the National Labor Relations Board that will be charged with enforcing worker protections.  Without these resources workplace exploitation will continue to plague our country.


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