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November 27, 2013
Viewpoints: Path to citizenship for millions could be a win for both workers, families

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(Nov. 27 — By Richard Trumka and Stephen Blaire, Special to The Bee)

It's time to reject false choices and inconsistent and immoral enforcement policies. Let's secure our borders at the same time that we provide an earned path to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants.

Unions and Catholic leaders have long found common cause in advocating for policies that defend the dignity of workers and protect immigrant families. Over the past several years, we have worked together to win congressional approval of comprehensive immigration reform legislation. Although such legislation has passed the U.S. Senate in an overwhelmingly bipartisan fashion, the House of Representatives is now delaying consideration of either the Senate bill or its own version of reform.

While we commend President Barack Obama's strong commitment to humane and responsible reform, we now stand together again to urge him to halt the deportations of immigrants who would achieve legal status and eventual citizenship under the Senate bill. It is inconsistent to advocate on behalf of immigrants and their families on one hand - including giving them an opportunity for citizenship - and devastate and separate their families through enforcement actions on the other.

A philosophically diverse coalition of business, faith and labor leaders has joined Obama in a clear call for making urgent legislative changes to a broken system, and we remain committed to achieving passage of comprehensive immigration reform. We must not allow extreme positions outside the American mainstream to define the debate and hinder the achievement of the common good, which calls for comprehensive immigration reform.

Despite our optimism that Congress will eventually do the right thing, we remain deeply troubled that the number of undocumented immigrants deported since Obama took office five years ago will soon surpass 2 million people. This represents a moral and political failure. Simply put, tearing apart tens of thousands of children from parents is morally unacceptable.

We are a nation of laws, but also a nation guided by enduring principles and the practical sense to fix what is broken. A strictly punitive approach to immigration is an imprudent and impractical response that ignores the root causes driving migration, such as trade policies that benefit multinational corporations over workers. Global poverty and unstable governments all contribute to complex challenges that will not be solved by higher walls or tough rhetoric.

Moreover, the economic case for an immigration overhaul is strong. Despite the ugly myths and fear stoked by anti-immigrant groups, the fact is that comprehensive reform will be good for American workers, families and our economy.

Most immigrants work hard, pay taxes and contribute to our communities. But in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago alone, low-wage workers in immigrant-heavy industries lose about $56 million per week in wage theft from unscrupulous employers. The best defense against workplace exploitation is bringing immigrants out of the shadows.

In this regard, we support immigration policies that offer immigrant workers a fair and just path to citizenship, so that their human rights are protected and the wages for all workers rise.

The low wages and fear that trap many immigrants and U.S. citizens in dead-end jobs have only gotten worse with declining union membership and growing income inequality. Fixing our broken immigration system will help all workers, strengthen a shrinking middle class and set our nation on a more stable path to compete in a diverse global economy. In fact, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates that immigration reform with a path to citizenship would generate an additional $1.5 trillion to the economy over the next decade.

It's time to reject false choices and inconsistent and immoral enforcement policies. Let's secure our borders at the same time that we provide an earned path to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants. We can protect both American-born workers and aspiring Americans by fixing an immigration system that encourages manipulation and abuse by employers. The status quo is unacceptable.

As labor and faith leaders, we urge all people of good will not to rest until the fight for a fair and just immigration system is won.

Richard Trumka is the president of the AFL-CIO. Stephen Blaire is the Catholic bishop of Stockton and a member of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' domestic policy committee.

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