By Terry O’Sullivan - 09/03/13 11:25 PM EDT
In considering the contributions of all workers this past Labor Day, I hope that our nation took time to recognize that our approach to immigration must be rooted in our values. We believe in hard work, in the dignity of all work and in respect for one another. What unites us as Americans is our belief in shared values and in the country we call home, not where we were born.
Reform of our immigration laws must reflect America’s values as a democratic society, and not create a second class of workers, whether through a temporary worker program or by restricting the ability of the undocumented to someday attain citizenship.
From failed guest worker programs, inefficient employment verification systems and bureaucratic backlogs that keep families apart, to the exploitation that workers in the construction industry can face when they fear deportation because of their immigration status, we urgently need comprehensive immigration reform.
Hardworking immigrant families came to this country for the promise of freedom and the opportunity to provide a better life for their children — even if it meant uprooting their families. We’re all the better for their contributions to our communities. And to fully contribute, the 11 million immigrants we call neighbors and friends must have a viable path to citizenship.
The comprehensive reform bill that has already passed the Senate with bipartisan support allows aspiring Americans to come out of the shadows, lift themselves out of poverty and be recognized as contributors to our communities and our country. Overall, these reforms could help boost America’s economy and create new jobs for up to 140,000 workers, according to a recent White House report.
We must keep pressure on House Republicans and Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to act on reform and oppose extremists that are trying to strip labor protections for workers, make the path to citizenship even more arduous than it is in the Senate bill and allow large numbers of additional worker visas without having to ensure that there are no qualified U.S. workers available.
Instead of taking a responsible role in this debate, some business interests are using it as an opportunity to argue for an increase in the allowable number of guest workers, falsely claiming there is a labor shortage. In the construction industry, the unemployment rate still lags the national rate significantly and there is a jobs shortage rather than a labor shortage. The construction industry visa cap in the Senate bill helps address this issue and is an essential component in the final reform bill.
Boehner and his leadership team face a decision that will have ramifications for a generation: Block a road map to citizenship vote, obstruct the will of overwhelming majorities of working people and face a generation of electoral decline, or support citizenship and embrace America’s diverse future.
Every day we wait on a vote for reform, our immigration system continues to get worse. Boehner should give us a vote on citizenship.
O’Sullivan is the general president of the Laborers’ International Union of North America.