News/US: Unions Reverse on Illegal Aliens

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Subject: News/US: Unions Reverse on Illegal Aliens
From: Melanie Orhant (
Date: Mon Feb 28 2000 - 08:56:06 EST

Unions Reverse on Illegal Aliens
By Frank Swoboda
The Washington Post, February 17, 2000

NEW ORLEANS, Feb. 16 In a significant policy shift, organized labor
today called for amnesty for an estimated 6 million illegal immigrants and
repealing current law that imposes sanctions on employers that hire them.

Labor helped enact the original sanctions program 15 years ago as part of
the last major amnesty under the federal immigration act, and business
lobbyists reacted favorably today to the policy resolution, which was
approved unanimously by the AFL-CIO executive council.

The AFL-CIO's announcement coincides with an extremely tight job market,
with labor unions finding that their best chance to boost union membership
is among recent immigrants. An estimated 40 percent of the population
growth in the 1990s has been the result of immigration, the bulk of it
legal. Other estimates indicate as many as 20 percent of the entrants to
the work force last year were immigrants, in occupations as diverse as
meatpacking, construction and computer science.

The AFL-CIO said it would continue its opposition to the proliferation of
guest-worker programs that have allowed a variety of corporations to bring
skilled workers into the country, particularly in high-tech industries.
Officials said they want fewer guest-worker programs and greater scrutiny
of claims by corporations that they can not find appropriate workers in the
United States.

Still, the broader policy shift represents a remarkable turnaround for the
American labor movement and points it back toward its roots, when the sons
and daughters of turn-of-the-century immigrants became the leaders of the
nation's industrial union drive in the 1930s.

"I think we've really come full circle," said John Wilhelm, president of
the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Union, where 75 percent of the
250,000-strong membership are immigrants. "The labor movement is on the
side of immigration in this country. The goal is to make it clear which
side the labor movement is on."

Business lobbyists called the labor plan a positive step.

"It's a welcome embrace of amnesty from an employer's perspective, since we
do have a shortage of workers in this country and will continue to have a
shortage of workers for several decades," said Bruce Josten, executive vice
president of the U.S. Chamber of Congress. Josten and Ali Cleveland, the
chamber's manager of labor policy, said concerns about a shortage of
high-tech workers have spread to industries such as the hotel and
restaurant business.

Lee Culpepper, senior vice president of the National Restaurant
Association, said he was encouraged that labor "recognizes that there are
problems with the current system" and said, "I think that the AFL-CIO
position is significant, but it is just one step toward what should be
broader reform."

On Capitol Hill, though, at least one key member of Congress on immigration
issues, Rep. Lamar S. Smith (R-Tex.), chairman of the Judiciary Committee's
subcommittee on immigration, called labor's announcement a cynical ploy.

"What a betrayal of American workers," Smith said. "Apparently union bosses
are so distraught about declining enrollments they will stoop to exploiting
illegal workers."

Union leaders, who plan to hold public forums starting in April to build
support for the plan, were quick to stress today that they were not
advocating a new open-border policy. Instead, they said, they were trying
to fix an immigration policy that clearly wasn't working.

The labor proposal outlined today has three basic components: an end to the
"I-9 Employers Sanctions" program, which penalizes employers who hire
illegal immigrants; amnesty for illegal immigrants now living in the United
States; and the granting of full workplace rights to prevent intimidation
and exploitation of illegal workers.

The AFL-CIO would leave the business of tracking down illegal immigrants to
the Immigration and Naturalization Service. But it said it would not not
take employers completely off the hook.

In exchange for taking the onus off employers for enforcing the immigration
laws, the labor federation would impose criminal penalties against
employers that knowingly hired an illegal immigrant and then used the
worker's legal status with the INS as a weapon for imposing substandard
wages or working conditions.

Once the proposed amnesty program expires--the AFL-CIO did not propose a
time frame--new illegal immigrants would be on their own in the workplace.
If they were caught by the INS they would be deported, under labor's plan.
But those same workers could get amnesty if they blow the whistle on an
employer hiring illegal immigrants and imposing substandard or sweatshop

Although the plan calls for eventual amnesty for as many 6 million people,
the AFL-CIO proposed immediate amnesty for the half-million Salvadorans,
Guatemalans, Hondurans and Haitians who fled their countries in the 1980s
and early 1990s and have been denied refugee status. In addition, the
unions want immediate amnesty for 350,000 long-term resident immigrants
they claim were denied legal status because of INS improprieties in the
last amnesty program. Labor also wants immediate amnesty for 10,000
Liberians who fled to this country during the civil war in their homeland.

EDITOR'S NOTE: The AFL-CIO policy on illegal immigration is on line at:

Melanie Orhant <<>>
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