Silence on Immigration


After the first 100 days, Democrats will have to decide what reforms to bring before Congress, and when. Some would delay action for a year or more. But the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and dozens of trade groups won’t sit on their hands. They’ve been pushing for years for big guest-worker programs, more raids and enforcement, and a weak legalization program. But many immigrant and labor rights activists advocate three steps toward an alternative, more progressive reform:

1. A moratorium on raids, while protecting human and labor rights, in the first 100 days.
2. A law to give green-card visas to the undocumented and clear up the backlog of people already waiting for them. If visas are more easily available abroad, people won’t have to cross the border without them. That law could also create jobs in unemployed communities, repeal employer sanctions laws that make work a crime for immigrants, and encourage labor law reform to protect workers’ rights. Guest-worker programs with a record of abuse should be ended, as they were in 1964.
3. A new approach to trade policy and renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), so they stop causing poverty and uprooting communities, making migration peoples’ only alternative for survival. Reject new trade agreements with countries like Colombia, which will cause job loss in the U.S. and spread low wages, labor violations, and displacement abroad. U.S. tax dollars, instead of being spent on the Iraq War, could expand rural credit, education and health care in Mexico and other countries, easing the pressure behind migration.

There’s common ground here among immigrants, communities of color, unions, churches, civil rights organizations, and working families. Legalization and immigrant rights, tied to guaranteeing jobs for all working families, can bring people together. All workers, including immigrants, need the right to organize and enforce labor standards, the same goal sought by unions in the Employee Free Choice Act. Changing trade policy will benefit working-class communities in the U.S. while helping families of immigrants back home from Oaxaca to El Salvador.

The diverse communities who need these reforms can and will find ways to seek them together. In fact, if Barack Obama wins the presidency and a larger Democratic majority takes hold in Congress, they will owe their victory to this coalition.

After the election, this same coalition will need jobs and rights. But immigrant workers are going to jail now. The wave of raids continues to divide families, even as candidates hold rallies and ask for votes. In Los Angeles’ Placita Olvera, activists have begun a hunger strike to stop the deportations. Marches and demonstrations are making the same point from coast to coast.

Promises of change aren’t enough. For candidates who want working-class votes, the first step is to speak out. (posted by (

For more articles and images on immigration, see

Just out from Beacon Press:
Illegal People — How Globalization Creates Migration and Criminalizes Immigrants

See also the photodocumentary on indigenous migration to the US
Communities Without Borders (Cornell University/ILR Press, 2006)

See also The Children of NAFTA, Labor Wars on the U.S./Mexico Border (University of California, 2004)

Share This Post