We Need Fair and Just Immigration Reform
June 8, 2009
by Rev. Jeremy Tobin
The history of immigrant labor in the U.S. is as old as the country itself. Given political or economical expediency, immigrants were given legal protection and a path to citizenship, or were locked out due to politically dominated regulations. That being said, goods we take for granted, and can purchase fairly cheaply, are often the result of immigrant labor.
The 12 million undocumented workers in the U.S. are usually paid below standard wages without health care or other benefits. Many are cheated. Threatened with deportation or worse, immigrants do not call on law enforcement for help. Recently an undocumented immigrant died, afraid to call for help after his home was invaded. These conditions create a subclass of people with a strong work ethic, but who are readily available and easy to exploit.
This is not the "American way." The situation has to change, and change has to be on the side of foreign-born workers who only want what we all want: the opportunity to support their families and live with dignity.
Our federal immigration laws and regulations are a patchwork of inconsistencies, contradictions and injustices, and the current restrictions on visas are largely driven by racism. In the ’50s it was the "yellow peril." Today, it is the "brown peril." State laws are often worse.
Organizations long associated with racism against African Americans have reinvented themselves as “watchdogs” of national security. They have turned their xenophobia and racism against immigrants, especially those of Hispanic heritage. They spread the fear of immigrants uniting with other exploited groups, blocking reform in American labor law. Massive corporate profits at the expense of exploited groups are accepted as the status quo so that the “average Joe” is able to buy cheap goods.
But to exploit people for profit is unjust. The raids on workplaces that have captured media attention tear families apart and trash human rights. And the people and companies that benefit from these injustices laugh all the way to the bank.
The imbalance between profit and employment all but guarantees worker exploitation. Some who give lip service to immigration policy reform say they want guest workers, adding, "They should be treated fairly and humanely." In fact, there have been guest workers in one form or another over the past 40 years and those workers have been consistently exploited. Guest workers are all but indentured servants to the companies that sponsor and hire them. Their pay is at the whim of the company. If workers quit or get fired, they lose their status. If they seek better employment, they lose their status.
Further, many of the crazy schemes like a great wall to keep out immigrants are a sham. NAFTA and CAFTA ruin native economies and drive farmers and others into destitution. Those policies supply the unstoppable migration of the desperate to find work.
The United Nations and religious leaders worldwide defend the right of people to migrate, not only for decent work but also to escape persecution.
Fair and just immigration policy must include a path to legal standing and citizenship for those undocumented workers currently laboring in the U.S. It must not have guest worker provisions; rather, it must include the right for immigrants to seek employment like everyone else with the same pay scale and benefits, and the right to organize or join unions.
We have the opportunity and the will to correct the imbalances of our immigration laws. Doing so will benefit immigrants by giving them the opportunity for a new life, and will benefit the U.S. by enriching our country with their many cultures. This is our challenge in 2009.