Friday, August 7, 2009

Reform, Not Raids

It's not hard to see that the current immigration system discourages undocumented workers from speaking up for their rights in the workplace and encourages employers to take advantage of immigrant workers' rights. Even though laws such as the Fair Labor Standards Act, which guarantee workers the right to the minimum wage, cover all who work regardless of their immigration status, in reality many immigrant workers are afraid that if they speak up about stolen wages, they risk deportation. Several workers who came to WIN after not getting paid for their work have told us their employer threatened to call immigration if they asked for their pay again.

As this article in The American Prospect demonstrates, union organizers can tell story after story of how, once union organizing drives began, ICE raids begin to talk place at a company to try to intimidate workers from organizing.

And of course, immigration raids tear apart mothers and fathers from their children. For people of faith, immigration policy must be about protecting the human rights of all and ensuring hospitality for our neighbors.

We must fix our broken immigration system with real reform that includes a path to citizenship for workers already in this country if we want justice in our workplaces. Many of us working for immigration reform had high hopes for the Obama administration changing the misguided immigration policies of the Bush Administration, but a series of actions by DHS Secretary Janet Nopalitano have advocates seriously concerned that the administrations action and rhetoric are not matching up:

- the decision to expand the controversial 287(g) program, which deputizes local police to be immigration agents. Davidson County (Nashville) Police participates in the program, which activists say encourages racial profiling of Hispanics, and has a chilling effect on immigrants willingness to report when they've been the victims of crime. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has criticized the program for not rooting out violent criminal, the supposed purpose of the program. The most disastrous example of the 287(g) program abusing immigrants' rights is in Arizona, where Sherriff Joe Arpaio has arrested thousands of Latinos, many on traffic stops, which has led to lawsuits accusing the department of racial profiling.

- expansion of the E-verify program, an electronic database employers are supposed to be able to use to verify the employment eligibility of new hires. Secretary Nopalitano has announced that all federal contractors will be requiring to use E-verify beginning this fall. Organizations including the National Immigration Law Center have criticized the database for being riddled with errors that would bar many citizens from being able to work.

- ICE continues to carry out harsh and frightening raids, often devastating entire communities like Postville, IA. Raids give the illusion of addressing the immigration crisis without addressing any of the causes of illegal immigration.

It is encouraging that ICE announced last week that it intends to reform the nation's immigration detention system. Human rights organizations have criticized the deplorable conditions of some facilities, and the denial of due process to immigrants detained there. A hunger strike by detainees in a Louisiana facility began last week over unsanitary conditions, and being denied the right to speak to family members.

For those of who care about the rights of immigrant workers, now is the time to lift our voices and call upon the Obama administration to focus on real reform, not raids and other misguided enforcement measures. Change will only come when we push our leaders to live up to their promises.

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