SEIU on immigration reform

Without comment, a letter from SEUI’s International Executive Vice President to Senator Kennedy of immigration reform.
January 17, 200
SEIU Announces Agenda for Comprehensive Immigration Reform
January 16, 2007
Dear Senator Kennedy:
As you know, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) has long been an advocate of comprehensive immigration reform. We have worked diligently with you, your Senate colleagues, and your staff to craft the best immigration reform proposals that would fix our broken system. SEIU is willing to consider any fair, practical and tough proposal that will bring out of the shadows an estimated 12 million undocumented individuals, reunite families, secure our borders and create a legal channel for new workers to enter our economy, have workplace protections, and join our civic society.
This architecture is essential to fix our broken borders, workplaces and families. However, many of the provisions in the Senate bill that passed during the 109th Congress, S. 2611, failed to reflect our principles, and fortunately died. Last November, voters sent a strong message to elected leaders that Americans want Congress to fix our nation’s problems, including our failed immigration system. Candidates who ran on anti-immigrant, anti-immigration, and enforcement-only messages lost their races because voters saw through the political rhetoric, not solving the problem. Voters know that deporting 12 million individuals is unrealistic and morally repugnant.
Looking ahead, we anticipate working with you in the 110th Congress to pass a workable, effective comprehensive immigration reform package the President can sign. While imperfect, S. 2611 included the architecture of comprehensive immigration reform: border security; earned legalization for the undocumented population currently living in the United States; family unification; and a mechanism to regularize the flow of workers to reduce future illegal immigration. The Senate-passed bill also included two important measures SEIU has long supported: AgJOBS that would put undocumented farm workers on a path to earned legal status; and the DREAM Act that allows eligible undocumented students to adjust their status and have the opportunity to pursue higher education. Your continued leadership is critical to ensuring that such bi-partisan comprehensive legislation passes both the House and Senate.
As you know, SEIU represents workers who perform some of our most needed, yet under valued work that is essential to our economy, families and communities. Hard working, tax-paying immigrants who are living in this country should be given every opportunity to come forward, pay a fine, and earn legal status and a path toward citizenship. This will enhance border security and buttress our economy. To this end, we are committed to the following provisions being included in this year’s comprehensive immigration reform legislation:
Legalization – The three-tiered legalization provisions included in S. 2611 are unacceptable and unworkable. Successful reform mandates the most expansive earned legalization provisions that would make eligible the largest number of undocumented persons. Congress should not be satisfied with a program that would legalize an estimated 6 to 8 million, when an estimated 11 to12 million individuals are undocumented and living within our borders. We must face reality that long-term undocumented, but otherwise law-abiding workers will not leave the country voluntarily.

We must all agree that if only half or two-thirds of the targeted population would be eligible for legalization, undocumented workers will continue to fuel an underground economy, with negative impacts on all workers, employers, and communities. We must put an end to a system in which employers avoid payroll taxes, receive an unfair advantage over their competitors by violating labor laws, depriving communities of revenue, and all of us as taxpayers pick up the tab for uncompensated health care, education and other costs.
The benefits of an expansive legalization program are clear: employer compliance with withholding requirements is best achieved by the highest level of participation in the legalization programs; people will come out of the shadows and be able to work at higher paying and more secure jobs; and families will be reunited.
Because a goal of any legalization program should be to legalize as many people as possible, it is counterproductive to include provisions that would erect permanent barriers to people achieving lawful status, such as S. 2611, which included document fraud provisions in Title II. The bill would have barred some people, with no possible waiver or pardon, from participating in legalization due to minor or inadvertent errors or omissions on passport and visa applications or other documents. If the bill had become law, an immigrant currently working with a false I-9, for example, could have been barred from legalization, and faced detention and deportation. Such measures have no place in reform legislation. Again, the legalization provisions must be expansive to capture as many undocumented as possible, not make ineligible the very people who need to come out of the shadows.
New worker program – SEIU recognizes the need for new workers in the low-wage sector of our expanding economy. However, any new worker program must include worker protections including: portability of visas so that workers can change jobs, the right to join unions and have full labor rights, the right to bring their families with them, and the ability to self-petition for permanent residency and citizenship. We support expansion of green cards to create legal channels for workers and ensure workers have full labor protections in their workplaces. Visas should not be tied to employers who can threaten workers with deportation if not compliant. We must craft a new worker program that will include labor certifications for needed workers and transform our current illegal flow into a program with legal channels that leads to an increased number of permanent work authorizations. Finally, any new worker program should include sufficient enforcement mechanisms to ensure the labor rights of both U.S. citizens and new worker visa holders.
We neither subscribe to nor endorse a repeat of the failed “guest worker” programs that are temporary in nature and require immigrants “touch-base,” or return. Mandating return to country of origin repeats the failed “guest worker” programs of the past, as 45 percent do not return and enter the underground economy. If workers are good enough to be brought to our country to do our least desirable work, they should be given the option to put down roots and become full participants in our nation and or civic society. If they are good enough to care for our children and aged, cut our grass, and clean our toilets, they are good enough to be given the option to become permanent residents and eventually citizens.
Worker Conditions, Rights and Workplace Enforcement – We must replace the current regime of employer sanctions with vigorous labor and civil rights law enforcement. All workers – U.S. born and immigrant – must be protected by local, state and federal labor and civil rights laws – regardless of their immigration status. Immigration reform legislation must include vigorous labor and civil rights enforcement provisions by both governmental and non-governmental agencies, with these agencies given the necessary resources to ensure that employers who seek to reap economic competitive advantages by exploiting workers will face significant fines and barred from future immigrant worker programs.
Our childcare providers, home health care aides, janitors and thousands of other service sector workers toil hard each and every day to feed and make a better life for their families. Our members are working on payrolls and paying taxes through employer withholding. Many are immigrants, some legal and some working with false documents. Reform must help ensure that all workers will be paid legally, under local, state and federal law, with proper withholding for employment taxes, social security, eligibility for unemployment and worker compensation programs. Employers must be required to meet their tax and employment payroll obligations, and not allowed to misclassify workers as independent contractors to avoid payroll obligations, Social Security, unemployment compensation, and Medicare taxes. When employers are allowed to pay workers in cash, under-the-table, or as “contractors”—everyone loses—businesses, communities, workers and taxpayers.
Family backlog reduction- We strongly support all efforts to eliminate the family backlog and increase the number of visas available to reunite families. This should be the highest priority and be implemented immediately. Expanding both who is considered under “immediate relatives” and the numbers in the family based categories to capture the greatest number of eligible individuals, including family members currently residing in the U.S., could go a long way to reducing the undocumented population.
Eviscerating Due Process Protections is not enforcement – Many of the provisions contained in Title II of S. 2611 are not enforcement measures, but would have eviscerated the due process protections and civil liberties of the “other” 12 million, legal permanent residents who are living in the U.S. They have no place in this, or any, bill. If enacted, they would have criminalized individuals, NGOs and unions for helping immigrant family members, friends and co-workers; expanded detention and imposed mandatory detention without bond for failing to file a change of address card; imposed immigration penalties on U.S. citizens and caused enormous delays in family backlog reduction; sped up deportation without sufficient safeguards; deported suspected gang members who have not committed or been convicted of any crime; blocked paths to citizenship for many immigrants, even legal permanent residents; expanded the definition of aggravated felony; lessened judicial review of certain immigration matters; and eliminated the number of people who qualify for voluntary departure and imposed unduly harsh penalties for both accepting and failing to comply with an order. These provisions are unacceptable to SEIU.
Finally, S. 2611 would have empowered and encouraged state and local law enforcement officials to enforce civil violations of federal immigration laws. This provision also must be rejected. Such proposals would irreparably harm the critical relationships law enforcement officials have built in order to fight crime and interact with immigrant neighborhoods and communities.
SEIU is committed to passing comprehensive immigration reform, and continues to work in partnership with immigrant advocates, business, religious and labor leaders who recognize the need for a “break the mold” reform package. We have rededicated our efforts and the resources of SEIU to make reform a reality. We look forward to working with you and your staff to complete this legislation in the 110th Congress. If you have any questions please contact SEIU Director of Legislation, Alison Reardon at (202) 730-7706.
Andrew L. Stern
International President
Anna Burger
International Secretary-Treasurer
Eliseo Medina
International Executive Vice President
With 1.8 million members, SEIU is the fastest-growing union in North America. Focused on uniting workers in three sectors to improve their lives and the services they provide, SEIU is the largest health care union, including hospitals, nursing homes, and home care; the largest property services union, including building cleaning and security; and the second largest public employee union.