Remarks by AFL-CIO Executive Vice President Linda Chavez-Thompson at Immigration Press Briefing

February 28, 2006

This week the AFL-CIO Committee on Immigration adopted one of the most innovative and progressive frameworks for achieving real comprehensive immigration reform. As it stands today, our immigration system is nothing more than a blueprint for exploitation of both foreign and native-born workers. Overhaul of our nation’s broken immigration laws is long overdue.

We believe that America deserves a more just and democratic immigration system that protects the interests of all workers within our borders—immigrants and U.S.-born workers alike.

It’s a tragedy that instead of advocating for permanent relief to the millions of undocumented workers already in this country, paying taxes and contributing to their communities, our nation’s leaders continue to push for the same old hollow policies that if enacted will only drive immigrants further into the shadows of American society while allowing employers to depress labor protections and standards for all workers within our borders.

Instead of comprehensive reform, many of our leaders continue to look to outdated temporary guestworker programs as a cure-all solution. Real immigration reform cannot and should not be designed primarily to enlarge guestworker programs that have served only to provide greedy employers with a steady stream of vulnerable, indentured workers they may exploit for commercial gain.

This week AFL-CIO unions have voted on a landmark resolution that breaks away from this oppressive guestworker mold and offers a more just and viable solution that will benefit all workers. To be effective, comprehensive immigration reform must include three key, interdependent goals: 1) reform proposals MUST provide a clear and well-defined path to permanent residency for those workers already here and contributing to their communities; 2) our laws must include uniform enforcement of workplace standards to ensure a more just and level playing field; and 3) to achieve a blanket standard of workplace right, we must reject outdated guestworker constructs that by their very nature harm the interests of foreign and U.S.-born workers alike.

The horrific abuses suffered by workers in the first such program, the post-World War II bracero program, are well documented and indisputable. And although most people like to think of bracero programs as a phenomenon of the past, the reality is that their legacy of exploitation and abuse continues to thrive in contemporary American society through modern guestworker programs such as the H1-B and H2-B. President Junemann will talk more about how employers take advantage of H1-Bs and exploit workers while eroding wages and workplace standards within the high tech industry.

We believe that there is absolutely no good reason why any immigrant who comes to this country prepared to work, to pay taxes, and to abide by our laws and rules should be relegated to this repressive, second-class guestworker status.

To embrace the expansion of temporary guestworker programs is to embrace the creation of an undemocratic, two-tiered society.

To combat this model, the AFL-CIO has put forth a more humane and democratic alternative. We propose that if employers can demonstrate a real need for outside workers, these workers should be allowed into our country with the same rights and labor protections of any U.S. citizen. When there is a real need for foreign workers, we should embrace these workers not as “guests” but as full members of society -- as permanent residents with full rights and full mobility that greedy employers may not exploit.

What immigrant workers need is a real path to legalization and a method for addressing America’s future needs for outside labor in a way that guarantees immigrant workers--and thus all workers--full rights, and a real voice on the job. As a nation that prides itself on fair treatment and equality, we simply cannot settle for anything less.

Contact Esmeralda Aguilar 202-637-5018

Copyright © 2006 AFL-CIO