News/US: Union's Immigration Stance Leaves GOP Congress Cold Labor

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Subject: News/US: Union's Immigration Stance Leaves GOP Congress Cold Labor
From: Melanie Orhant (morhant@igc.org)
Date: Fri Feb 25 2000 - 09:53:03 EST


Union's Immigration Stance Leaves GOP Congress Cold Labor
+Surprise proposal to give illegal immigrants amnesty is a betrayal of
American workers that would cost them jobs and wages, key Republican says.
By Art Pine
Los Angeles Times, February 18, 2000

WASHINGTON -- Organized labor's unexpected call for amnesty for 6 million
illegal immigrants and repeal of the federal sanctions against employers
who hire them may result in changes if Democrats win the November
elections, but it is unlikely to sway the GOP Congress in the interim,
lawmakers and analysts said Thursday.

The call, adopted unanimously by the AFL-CIO's executive council Wednesday,
is expected to bolster repeal efforts by some business groups. But many
Republicans are considered likely to view the organization's turnaround as
a move to recruit more immigrants as union members.

Rep. Lamar S. Smith (R-Texas), chairman of the House Judiciary subcommittee
on immigration and a key decision-maker on such issues, all but closed the
door on labor's hopes of seeing such legislation passed soon.

"The union bosses have betrayed American workers," Smith said in a
statement issued by his office Thursday. "Legalizing millions of illegal
aliens to compete with American workers will cost them jobs and reduce
their wages."

House and Senate Republican leaders were no more receptive. "Labor isn't
even at the table on this issue," an aide to one senior lawmaker said.
"We're not expecting to see any changes just because they [AFL-CIO leaders]
have reversed their stand."

Even the Clinton administration was conspicuously noncommittal on the
AFL-CIO proposal.

Maria Echaveste, the deputy White House chief of staff who serves as
President Clinton's top liaison to the Latino community, called the
AFL-CIO's action "an important recognition of the participation of
undocumented workers in the labor force" that "needs to be reviewed."

Officials expressed concern, however, that providing amnesty for the
illegal workers and repealing the employer sanctions would encourage more
illegal immigration and exacerbate a problem that already is proving touchy
for Democratic candidates.

The AFL-CIO policy shift marks a dramatic turnabout from the organization's
long opposition to amnesty for illegal immigrants and efforts to force
employers to help keep them out.

It was pressure from labor that helped push through the original sanctions
against employers about 15 years ago. And until Wednesday night, the
AFL-CIO had been unrelenting in its opposition to accepting more immigrants.

Lawmakers have put forward dozens of major proposals for changing
immigration laws in recent years, including some that would ease quotas for
workers in specialty occupations, such as computer programming, and others
that would let more farm workers into the United States.

A bill allowing more high-tech workers into the country is expected to pass
soon. But the administration has serious qualms about a proposal to require
farm workers who obtain green cards to work in the agriculture industry for
five years.

"We really had concerns about trying to require workers to remain in a
particular industry," an administration official said. "It was almost like
indentured servitude."

Despite the seeming rejection by GOP leaders, some analysts suggested that
it may take some time to sort out the real effect of the AFL-CIO turnabout.
"There's a wait-and-see attitude," one Capitol Hill strategist said. "We'll
have to see how the election plays out."

Paul Donnelly, a spokesman for the Immigration Reform Coalition, said that,
although the consolidation of business and labor on the immigration issue
is expected to intensify pressure for amnesty legislation, it could be
months or next year before any effect is felt.

"The real question is whether this latest AFL-CIO action will cause
lawmakers to give higher priority to amnesty legislation and repeal of the
sanctions law than they were planning for the guest-worker issue," he said,
referring to the special visas for high-tech workers.

"This will take a while to sort out," Donnelly said.

Meanwhile, the congressional Hispanic Caucus welcomed the AFL-CIO shift.
Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Los Angeles), the group's chairwoman, said
that members would "look forward to working with the AFL-CIO and the
business community to reform our immigration policy."

Roybal-Allard said the caucus "recognizes that many immigrants have come to
the United States seeking refuge from instability and political unrest in
Central and Latin America."

"We believe that these immigrants have made impressive contributions to our
work force and to our nation," she said.

Melanie Orhant <<morhant@igc.org>>
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