Unions, Business, Ethnic Activists Seek Immigration Expansion

The new Democratic-controlled Congress has brought a fresh “to-do” issue list.  And with the exception of the war in Iraq, arguably no issue ranks higher on the lawmakers’ agenda than immigration reform.  “Reform,” however, is a highly fungible term.  Too often, it means perpetuating, and even expanding, Third World mass immigration – the very thing that led to the cries for reform in the first place.  Opinion polls this decade repeatedly indicate most Americans want more restrictions placed on immigration, and not because they are “anti-immigrant,” but because they believe the nation needs a breather from the consequences of high levels of immigration, especially by ethnic groups whose leaders often are avowedly hostile to assimilation.  But the pressure that citizens exert on Congress tends to be less pronounced than that exerted by interest groups with a stake in maintaining a high flow of immigrants, legal or not.  Last year, a Special Report issued by the National Legal and Policy Center presented strong evidence that unions, along with big business and radical ethnic separatists, during this decade have worked closely with one another to block immigration reform under the guise of promoting it.  Already this young year, the coalition has asserted itself.


On January 18, a new group, the Alliance for Immigration Reform 2007, announced its formation at a Washington, D.C. press conference.  Among the nearly dozen representatives present were two unions affiliated with the Change to Win labor federation:  the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and UNITE HERE, the latter representing textile, laundry, hotel and restaurant workers.  The unions, with a combined 2.25 million members, joined such prominent immigration enthusiasts as the National Immigration Forum, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Restaurant Association, the National Council of La Raza, the Asian American Justice Center, and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.  They want Congress to pass a law to their liking before next year’s presidential race forces too many compromises.  The alliance bitterly opposes December’s raids by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents at Swift & Co. meatpacking plants across six states, resulting in nearly 1,300 arrests of suspected illegal, mainly Hispanic, employees.  Swift is a participant in a federal pilot program that runs Social Security numbers through a national employer database. 


The alliance’s ideal immigration reform bill includes a large-scale guest-worker visa program to bring foreign workers here and a path to U.S. citizenship for illegal immigrants who have lived here for a certain minimum period of time.  In other words, though few are willing to use the “a” word, this measure looks like an amnesty.  And it is, for all intents and purposes, highly similar to the none-dare-call-it-amnesty proposal unveiled by the Bush administration three years ago.  Led by the Senate, Congress last year very nearly created such legislation, but was stymied by a large bloc of Republican House members whose own bill focused on strengthening U.S.-Mexico border security.  A limited version of the House bill, which would build 700 miles of fencing, was passed and signed into law in October.  House-Senate conferees were so far apart on the amnesty and guest worker issues that they decided to shelve them until this year. 


The Alliance for Immigration Reform thus represents a strategic, and stepped-up, regrouping by mass-immigration supporters.  “We can keep the heat on the back of the neck of the leadership to get this thing done,” said R. Bruce Josten, executive vice president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.  “This is the year,” said Tamar Jacoby of the New York-based think tank, the Manhattan Institute.  “Neither our economy nor our security can wait.”  Frank Sharry, executive director of the Washington-based National Immigration Forum, also conveyed urgency.  “Our Alliance wants what America wants:  results, not rhetoric.  The legislation has to be bipartisan to pass and comprehensive to work.”  Yet experience has shown more than once that “bipartisan” and “comprehensive” are euphemisms for “watered-down” – and with plenty of loopholes.  


Business, particularly within the restaurant, construction and other immigrant-heavy sectors, favors mass immigration as a way to maintain a steady stream of inexpensive labor – inexpensive for employers that is, not taxpayers.  The National Council of La Raza and other ethnic pressure groups favor mass immigration as a way of building political clout, especially at the voting booth once all those illegal immigrants complete their “path” to citizenship.  Unions see high levels of immigration as essential to organizing members and expanding the welfare state.  The fast-growing 1.8-million-member Service Employees union, with its high proportion of Hispanic membership, views amnesty and a large-scale guest-worker program as ways to recapture organized labor’s glory days of a half-century ago, when about a third of the private-sector labor force belonged a union.  Today, notes the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, that figure is a mere 7.4 percent.  The union thinks mass immigration is their meal ticket, and that the American people support it.  “Demagoguing the issue didn’t work,” SEIU spokesman Eliseo Medina said of the November elections.  “If anything, immigrant-bashing drove away voters.”  Apparently, to his union, supporting better enforcement of immigration law constitutes “bashing” those who break it.    

It says something about the unions’ current disdain for the law that they see nothing wrong with retroactively granting lawful resident status to people who have no right to be here in the first place.  That’s a far cry from the position organized labor took from the 1920s until the mid 80s, when they viewed cheap immigrant labor as undercutting wages and benefits of established workers.  The turning point, the enactment by Congress of the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, wound up granting amnesty to some 3 million persons.  The consolation for immigration restriction advocates, sanctions against employers who hire illegal workers, have proven nearly useless.  Even if the recent raids against the Swift plants amount to more than window dressing – and already politicians from affected states such as Colorado and Nebraska have demanded that the feds halt further enforcement – the mass immigration lobby will push to keep real reform from happening, regardless of the erosion of national identity and sovereignty by continuing along the current path.  Unions need to rethink the issue – and soon.  (Alliance for Immigration Reform, 1/18/07; McClatchy Newspapers, 1/19/07; Washington Post, 1/20/07; other sources).