OPINION | Immigration reform: time is now for Congress, President to act

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At a recent rally in Minneapolis, representatives from labor, business and the faith community stood shoulder to shoulder with immigrant communities in calling for commonsense immigration reform (see story, page 12). Few issues have so polarized our nation in the past. Yet, in recent months, a national consensus is growing that we must take action to amend our immigration laws and create a pathway to citizenship for millions of people who have come to the United States to work and create a better life for their families.

For millions of Americans, the opportunity to create a better life was the hope that brought our own families here just one or two or three generations past.

That powerful American dream beckons today’s immigrant families, too.

Immigrants come here to work. As a labor movement, we should be welcoming these workers as sisters and brothers in our common cause.

Too often in the past, American workers have been played against each other by those with wealth and power who would exploit us all, whether longtime citizens or newly-arrived immigrants.

We build power as a labor movement when all workers — regardless of race, ethnicity, or national origin — stand together as one.

Here in Minneapolis, we’ve seen immigrant communities become one of the most dynamic parts of our local labor movement.

Witness the recent contract campaigns organized by SEIU Local 26: Janitors and security officers, many of them immigrant workers, waged an energetic campaign to win a greater measure of economic justice. They built bargaining committees reflecting the diversity of their union. They stood together to resist concessions demanded by their employers. They organized support within their ranks and boldly passed strike votes — with the security officers carrying out a one-day strike. And, in the end, they won historic gains at a time when many unions are on the defensive.

We’re also seeing immigrant communities become key players in our electoral politics. In the Fifth Congressional District, which includes Minneapolis, Congressman Keith Ellison in particular has led efforts to help mobilize immigrant communities to get involved as voters. The massive voter turn-out in the Fifth District, including many immigrant voters, contributed significantly to the razor-thin margins of victory in recent elections for labor allies Governor Mark Dayton and U.S. Senator Al Franken.

Rather than consigning immigrant workers to the shadows of our society, where they’re subject to abuse and exploitation, we as a labor movement — and as a nation — stand to gain when immigrant workers can be on a path to citizenship and attain full rights as workers, union members, and voters.

National AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka spoke in Chicago last month at an event to kick-off labor’s push to help win immigration reform. He noted: “Some people want to blame immigrants for America’s problems. That won’t work. Working people aren’t the problem — no matter where we were born or what language we speak. We never have been…”

In calling for a path to citizenship for immigrant workers, Trumka said, “we want fairness and decency. It’s that simple.”

An immigration reform bill recently was introduced in the U.S. Senate. The bill’s first stop will be the Senate Judiciary Committee, whose members include both of Minnesota’s Senators, Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken. Let them know the time for immigration reform and a path to citizenship is now.

For AFL-CIO policy statements on immigration, or to sign an online pledge supporting a path to citizenship, visit: www.aflcio.org/Issues/Immigration.