Workers must unite for better immigration policy

Never mind the $11.2 billion in taxes immigrants just paid in 2010 alone. For years, immigrant families have been unfairly targeted and scape-goated. We should never forget that today’s immigrants are tomorrow’s new Americans. The policies and attitudes that divide working people only set us further back.

As we work together to achieve common-sense immigration reform, we must also ensure that today’s immigration enforcement policies treat our nation’s immigrants with the respect they deserve. We need to support them when they take the same steps new immigrants have always taken when they arrive in this country – improving our economy by obtaining an education, enriching our nation’s workplaces by working hard and having a collective voice, and bettering our communities by advocating for safe neighborhoods.


Too many of today’s immigration enforcement policies run counter to these important goals. Last year, ICE deported almost 393,000 people from the U.S.– at a cost of nearly $5 billion. The current administration has deported the highest number of immigrants in the history of the United States—separating mothers from their children, expelling college students and tearing apart America’s working families. When we deport a DREAM Act-eligible student, destroy a unionized workplace, or deport a mother pulled over for going 35 mph in a 25 mph zone because of ICE’s misnamed “Secure Communities” program, we tear up the foundation that allows tomorrow’s new Americans to have the opportunity to achieve their own American success stories and contribute to our great nation.

While President Obama’s commitment to comprehensive immigration reform is vitally important, so much more can and should be done now to help ensure a solid foundation for tomorrow’s new Americans. The president can announce a policy of allowing DREAM Act-eligible young people to stay in America until Congress passes comprehensive immigration legislation – so we can stop deporting the next generation of America’s doctors, teachers and engineers.

President Obama can direct ICE not to interfere in workplaces where workers have fought to improve conditions or are currently doing so. ICE should target employers that exploit workers, not employers trying to do the right thing. And the President can implement a humane and common-sense new prosecutorial discretion policy in keeping with ICE’s existing enforcement priorities.

For five years now, immigrant communities around the country have responded to the scapegoating and broken policies by taking to the streets on May Day to demand fair treatment, respect and a voice. These events have brought out hundreds of thousands of people — immigrants, clergy, and working families – everywhere from small towns to our largest cities. These rallies are driven by the same spirit of activism and commitment that drives working people in Wisconsin and every other community that is now fighting back against partisan, political attacks.

Now, as in past years, working people from Arizona to Wisconsin are standing together on May Day to remind the President and Congress that the fight for workers’ rights and immigrant rights are cut of the same cloth. On May 1, working people – immigrant and native born alike – will speak in one voice to fight for better wages and benefits, job security and safer workplaces for everyone. Together, we urge the President to use his power and provide the leadership to fix these broken immigration policies.

We have a choice to make: Do we want a generation of new Americans who will become our nation’s workers, leaders, neighbors, and voters to succeed? Or the tragedy of denied Americans – immigrants who do the right thing, but are denied the opportunity to become new Americans by our broken immigration policies?

Richard Trumka is the president of the AFL-CIO.