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AFL-CIO begins national immigration reform push

AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka called comprehensive immigration reform "a top priority for America's unions."
/ Source: ED Show

AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka called comprehensive immigration reform "a top priority for America's unions."

UPDATED–2:40 p.m. EST

Comprehensive immigration reform is a “top priority for America’s unions,” said AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka in a Thursday conference. AFL-CIO, America’s largest labor federation, is launching a nationwide campaign for what they hope will be a lasting revamp of American immigration policy.

“We’ve built a mobilization structure, and we’ll be out in force like we do for presidential elections or health care reform with one message: Immigration reform now,” said Trumka.

Policy specifics remain elusive, but Trumka did hint at the general shape he believes immigration reform should take. In particular, he emphasized a “realistic road map to citizenship” for undocumented immigrants residing in the United States and a “data-driven” approach to correct labor shortages in various regions and industries. E-Verify, said Trumka, is “part of the system we’ve proposed.” In 2011, AFL-CIO had said they opposed E-Verify “in its current form,” but would reconsider if the program were to change.

Speaking to MSNBC, AFL-CIO legislative representative Andi DiBitetto elaborated on Trumka’s statement that E-Verify is part of the organization’s immigration package. “Within the AFL-CIO framework, we call for a secure and effective worker authorization system,” she said. “Our framework doesn’t call for E-Verify by name; it’s a program similar to it in principle.”

Though DiBitetto said that Congress would have to come up with a more specific proposal, AFL-CIO believes any worker authorization program would need to be more accurate than E-Verify in its current form and ensure “strong privacy protections, that it doesn’t encourage discrimination, and strong due process authorizations.”

Trumka used the expression “data-driven” several times throughout the call Thursday, as he emphasized that a “data-driven system” for analyzing work flows “has the flexibility to meet the needs of everyone concerned,” including employers. He said such a policy would be superior to guest worker programs which allocate employer-based visas, tying immigrants to their employers and thereby forming “a second class of workers unable to exercise even the most fundamental rights.”

Trumka also said that AFL-CIO was in “good faith” discussions with the Chamber of Commerce, a frequent opponent of organized labor. He declined to discuss the details of those discussions, particularly any points of policy disagreement. “On those issues where we agree, we’ve been trying to work for the best of the country,” he said.

Maria Elena Durazo, the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor executive secretary-treasurer, said AFL-CIO would hold “fourteen major launch events” over the next few weeks to get the word out. “These events will take place in every region of the country,” she said, including cities like Miami, Chicago, and Seattle.

“Remember how labor passed health care reform? How we helped elect and re-elected President Obama? That’s exactly how were going to pass sensible, humane immigration reform with citizenship for over 11 million people,” she said. AFL-CIO’s commitment to the cause, she said, reflects the organization’s transition from “an election-to-election structure to a year-round campaign structure.”

Trumka emphasized “America’s unions are all in” on the initiative, though there is some dissent within the ranks. National ICE Council 118, an AFL-CIO affiliate which represents federal immigration agents, has repeatedly demanded expanded authority to arrest and deport undocumented immigrants.

However, alternative non-union labor organizations which represent undocumented immigrants are already planning actions to bring pro-undocumented worker reform to the forefront. The United Workers Congress—a coalition which includes the National Domestic Worker Alliance, the National Day Labor Organizing Network and the National Guestworker Alliance—will bring over 250 immigrant workers to Washington, D.C. on the day of the State of the Union address “to expose the impact of deportations and push for workers’ rights principles to be included in any immigration reform.”