WASHINGTON (PAI) - Providing a path to eventual citizenship for 11 million undocumented workers "is a worthy #1 goal" of proposed immigration reform legislation, the head of labor's leading group representing Latino-American workers says.
But proposals from a bipartisan coalition of senators and Democratic President Barack Obama still provide many hurdles for people trying to become citizens, and that's a worry, adds Hector Sanchez, director of Labor's Coalition for Latin American Advancement (LCLAA).
Sanchez told Press Associates Union News Service that LCLAA "welcomes this great move with anticipation" and that its members, spread out over organized labor, would campaign strongly for the reform bill. By providing a path to citizenship for the undocumented workers, its passage would mean "they can have rights," he said.
The path to legalization would begin only after border protection increases to a to-be-determined point that stops the future flow of undocumented workers. And even after that, the 11 million would have to prove they worked in the U.S., pay fines, be free of criminal records, learn English and civics, and then apply for legalization.
And they'd still be at the back of "a line to citizenship that is too long and painful," Sanchez adds.
All those requirements concern Sanchez. So do increased deportations of Hispanic-named workers "over the last 15 years," even by the Obama administration. "All this increases the probability of violations of workers' rights," he says.
Legalizing the undocumented workers, bringing them under U.S. labor law, is important for all workers, Sanchez points out. Right now, employers not only underpay, low-ball or don't pay undocumented workers, but also use the threat of hiring them to force other workers into wage and benefit cuts, unionists point out.
"We need to continue to work" on the details of the proposed law "to prevent these probabilities of exploitation," he notes.
LCLAA and its members will lobby on those specifics - and remind lawmakers of one key fact: Latino Americans are the nation's largest and fastest-growing minority group - and that they vote. Almost three-fourths backed Obama in last year's election. That prompted Obama to put immigration at the head of his priority list, and prompted Republicans to seek bipartisan compromise, to reverse political alienation.