Labor Fightback Network Charts Course to Win Immigrant Rights
In mid-May 2013, the founding conference of the Labor Fightback Network, held at Rutgers University (New Jersey), adopted a model resolution in support of immigrant rights that was distributed widely to unionists and activists across the country. The model resolution put forward the central demands raised over the past decade by a majority of the activist labor and immigrant rights’ organizations nationwide, stating:
“We as a labor movement have previously called for inclusive reform of our immigration laws, and adopted a position that demands a halt to deportations, amnesty/legalization for all undocumented workers, the strengthening of family reunification as the basis of immigration policy, protection of the right to organize for all workers, the repeal of employer sanctions, opposition to guest-worker programs, the demilitarization of our borders, and ‘fair trade’ policies that prevent the massive destruction of jobs and communities south of the border contained in the current ‘free trade’ agreements.”
Consistent with this perspective, the model resolution called on Congress to “create a rapid and inclusive way for 11 million undocumented immigrants to gain legal status and citizenship — not contingent upon border security measures or going to the ‘back of the line’ of prospective immigrants. Such a swift legalization process must lead to a green card, without requiring proof of continuous employment and without excluding people based on minor criminal records or based on learning English.”
The model resolution went on to call on Congress “to put an immediate halt to all deportations and all workplace enforcement actions. Enforcement programs such as Secure Communities, racial and ethnic profiling, and the use of detention, including mandatory and prolonged detention, should be ended. Mandatory E-Verify and I-9 audits should also be ended, as they build upon the flawed employer sanctions framework and push workers into an underground economy where workplace abuses are prevalent.”
The model resolution concluded by calling for a just immigration reform “that addresses the root causes of migration, and therefore calls for fundamental changes to NAFTA, CAFTA and all ‘free trade’ agreements; all provisions causing poverty and unemployment that force people to migrate to survive must be scrapped, and no new such agreements, like the Trans-Pacific Partnership, should be signed.”
The Labor Fightback Conference model resolution’s demands stand in sharp contrast to the provisions contained in S.744 — the Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CIR) bill adopted by the Senate, with support from a wing of the Republican Party and the strong backing of the AFL-CIO leadership.
S.744 is a “border security first” bill based on an unacceptable tradeoff: a path to citizenship promised to 11 million undocumented immigrants over a 13-year period (with countless obstacles that will likely see fewer than 2 million to 3 million people reaching the finish line) in exchange for the stepped-up militarization of the border (in fact, the Senate bill allots $50 billion to “seal” the border), increased repression against new undocumented immigrants and/or current immigrants who do not have continuous employment over the 13-year span, and a supposedly new and improved “guest-worker” program.
It is an unfixable and unamendable bill, as it was crafted, essentially, to meet the objectives of the corporations.
LFN Model Resolution Opens Wide Discussion Within Labor Movement
On September 7, a national conference in Los Angeles of more than 45 labor and immigrant rights’ organizations endorsed the Labor Fightback Network model resolution, with a few slight amendments, and voted to print and distribute 1,200 copies of the amended resolution to the delegates attending the national AFL-CIO convention a few days later.
The resolution submitted by the newly formed United Front for Justice and Dignity was read and discussed widely by the convention delegates. It helped to promote a debate at the convention itself around a resolution — Resolution #23 — that was submitted by the Alameda County Central Labor Council and that contained many of the central demands put forward in the original LFN model resolution.
Resolution #23 called for “the protection of the right to organize for all workers, the repeal of employer sanctions, and opposition to ‘guest-worker’ programs.” It called for “a path to citizenship not contingent upon border security” — in open contradiction to the CIR principles and S.744.
Resolution #23 also called for “the end of enforcement programs such as Secure Communities and racial and ethnic profiling” and “reject[ed] the use of electronic employment verification systems, such as E-verify, which builds upon the flawed employer sanctions and pushes workers into an underground economy where workplace abuses are prevalent.”
And finally, Resolution #23 called for “immigration reform that will address the root causes of forced migration by reforming our international trade policies to protect workers and families of all nations.”
Though the convention delegates ultimately endorsed the CIR principles that are contained in S.744, many convention delegates rose to speak forcefully in support of Resolution #23. In fact, most of the delegates and labor allies who spoke on the issue at the convention or during the AFL-CIO’s own press conference on immigrant rights put forward views in opposition to S.744 and in support of a truly just and dignified immigration reform.
CIR Implodes in the Congress, Creates Opening for Campaign to Halt Deportations
No sooner was the AFL-CIO convention adjourned, however, than Democratic and Republican lawmakers pronounced Comprehensive Immigration Reform dead for 2013, and most likely for 2014 and subsequent years.
The Republican House leadership, under pressure from its Tea Party wing, opposed the Senate bill on the grounds that even a 13-year path to citizenship with its myriad hurdles and impossible demands is tantamount to “amnesty” for the so-called “illegals.” They vowed to support only the border security and employer sanctions provisions of the bill, something the liberal Democrats said they could not support.
Given this impasse in the Congress and the political void it created, and given the huge anger from below over the more than 400,000 yearly deportations under Obama, far more than under George W. Bush, labor and immigrant rights’ organizations across the country realized that something had to be done to address this untenable situation.
Everywhere voices were raised to state that since the Congress was unable to fix the problem, it was now up to President Obama to use his Executive Authority to do something.
Ana Avedaño, director of immigration and community action at the AFL-CIO, put it this way in a press statement on Sept. 19. “If Congress doesn’t move, the President has a duty to act,” she said. “Just because the Republicans have buried their heads in the sand doesn’t mean that immigrant communities aren’t feeling the sting of constant deportations.”
Soon, two demands were being placed on Obama from every quarter — including from 39 Members of Congress, reacting to the growing pressure from below: Stop the Deportations Now! Deferred Action for All Undocumented Immigrants!
San Francisco Labor Council Resolution Sets Example for Labor Movement
On January 13, 2014, the San Francisco Labor Council adopted unanimously a resolution on immigrant rights that can serve as a model for labor and community organizations nationwide.
The resolution resolved to “call on the Obama Administration to take action to (1) suspend any further deportations of undocumented immigrants with no serious criminal history, (2) extend Deferred Action to all eligible undocumented members of immigrant families, and (3) end the firings of undocumented workers by ending the I-9 audits and the use of the E-Verify system.” [The full resolution can be accessed at www.sflaborcouncil.org.]
The Council resolution went on to urge the San Francisco Board of Supervisors (the City Council) “to adopt this resolution, so that, with the concurrence of the Mayor, the City of San Francisco includes in its 2013-2014 Federal Legislative Program support for administrative action” to support the three afore-mentioned demands.
Three weeks later, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors endorsed this resolution unanimously and agreed to submit it for a vote to the California State Assembly in the coming weeks.
Movement to Stop Deportations Take to the Streets
The failure by Congress to enact a Comprehensive Immigration Reform plan, unacceptable though it was, has provided the political space for grassroots activists to mobilize and demand that Obama stop the deportations and extend Deferred Action (DACA) to all 12 million undocumented immigrants.
Labor councils and city councils in many cities began adopting such resolutions.
And now this movement has been extended to the streets of cities nationwide. On February 22, an important youth congress of more than 500 DREAMer delegates met in Phoenix, Ariz., and voted to target Obama with a national campaign to stop the deportations and grant protected legal status to all undocumented immigrants. As Nativo López writes in a posting from Hermandad Mexicana, “This is a significant development considering that many DREAM groups, networks, and alliances supported the Obama immigration plan and S.744 as the proverbial ‘path to citizenship’ so touted by Washington, D.C. beltway-funded advocacy organizations and the Democratic Party leadership.”
The delegates took to the streets of Phoenix and urged youth activists, immigrant rights’ organizations and labor organizations nationwide to do the same.
Just a few days later, the National Day Labor Organizing Network (NDLON) launched a similar call to mobilize in the streets, including with direct actions and civil disobedience, to stop ICE deportation buses, to press for the fight against deportations and for Deferred Action.
In San Francisco, the S.F. Labor Council and the city’s Board of Supervisors went one step further, calling on Obama to put an immediate halt to the use of employer sanctions, E-Verify and I-9 audits, which victimize undocumented workers at their workplaces, creating divisions among the workers and preventing any union organizing drives or solidarity actions.
We encourage labor and community organizations to use the S.F. Labor Council resolution as a model when drafting their own resolutions, and we urge one and all to build strong labor-community coalitions to call for:
- Suspend any further deportations of undocumented immigrants,
- Extend Deferred Action to all eligible undocumented members of immigrant families, and
- End the firings of undocumented workers by ending the I-9 audits and the use of the E-Verify system.”