Last month, we saw our government take a step in the right direction through the introduction of the Senate bill Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013.
The good news is that the bill includes protections from employer retaliation (such as due process provisions and whistleblower protections) if immigrant workers come forward to report abuse and wrong doing. It would have helped Xiaohong Colucci, whose casino employer threatened her and other workers because they did not have American citizenship.
The bill will also prevent actors from luring immigrant workers with false promises. Let’s not forget the group of skilled Filipino workers who were promised quality jobs by Grand Isle Shipyard Inc. in Louisiana. Instead, they were paid just $5 an hour and were forced to work up to 14 hours a day, every day, with no overtime. The scheme was only uncovered when an offshore explosion in November 2012 caused the death of three Filipino workers. Recruitment regulations would have prevented this tragedy.
The bill, though, does need improvement. I, and other leaders from the National Council of Asian Pacific Americans, oppose the mandatory use of the E-Verify program to confirm the legality of workers. E-Verify is a flawed program. Immigrant workers with proper documentation continue to be incorrectly red flagged by the system because the system discriminates against foreign born individuals who are authorized to work.
Furthermore, the bill needs to do much more with regard to legalization of the 11 million undocumented immigrants who aspire to become citizens. While the bill allows some immigrants, like DREAMers, to become U.S. citizens, this is simply not enough. Domestic and low-wage workers also deserve a chance to become U.S. citizens. Instead, they remain among the most marginalized sectors in our country, despite their contributions to our economy.
The proposed fines of immigrants who seek legalization also are of concern because they are an undue burden on workers. On average, unauthorized workers earn less than $20,000 a year. How would they be able to afford $2,000 in fines in addition to the day-to-day costs of living and supporting their families?
On this May Day, we should ask ourselves: Is our country doing enough to ensure opportunity and equal rights for all immigrants? We need immigration reform for all workers, immigrants and their families. So as thousands rise up today to recognize the unity of community and labor, let us be mindful of the need to pass inclusive immigration reform as part of our collective future.
Cendana is the executive director of the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance (APALA), AFL-CIO and Institute for Asian Pacific American Leadership & Advancement. He also serves on the executive committee of the National Council of Asian Pacific Americans (NCAPA) and as chair for the Labor Coalition for Community Action. You can follow him on twitter @GregoryCendana.