America’s unions ensuring immigration reform is not ‘if’ but ‘when’

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    Farm workers unload eggplants while working at Green Pepper Farms in Delray Beach, Fla. Immigration reform might be just around the corner. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

    Farm workers unload eggplants while working at Green Pepper Farms in Delray Beach, Fla. Immigration reform might be just around the corner. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

    Ana Avendaño, assistant to the president and director of immigration and community action for the AFL-CIO, discusses immigration reform and the recent deal on the W Visa program. 

    Recently, the bipartisan group of senators — known as the “Gang of Eight” — who are crafting immigration legislation in Congress signed off on yet another piece of the reform puzzle: A mechanism for new workers to come to the United States regardless of whether they have family living here or the ability to qualify for one of the existing visa programs.

    The new visa program, known as the “W Visa,” is the product of negotiations between the AFL-CIO and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and meets the interests of key stakeholders. Employers have the comfort of knowing that, as the economy picks up, workers — foreign or domestic — will be available to fill jobs that will fuel economic growth.

    Workers have the comfort of knowing that local workers will have the chance to apply for those jobs, and given that millions of workers across the country remain without a job, that’s an important provision of our deal. It gives all of us hope. When foreign workers join our communities and our workplaces, they’ll do so with full rights.  They won’t be stuck in temporary status and they won’t remain tied to a single employer.

    W Visa program recognizes immigrants are here to stay

    Ana Avendano on immigration reform

    Ana Avendaño. (Courtesy photo)

    The W Visa program — the “W” stands for “worker” — breaks from the old “temporary” or “guest worker” program mold. This new program recognizes that people are not temporary and that they may want to stay here. It also recognizes that if a new worker ends up with an abusive supervisor, or not getting paid what she/he was promised or is subjected to harassment, she/he should have the ability to walk away from that job without risking deportation.

    Under the W Visa program, workers will come into the country with the ability to change jobs. They’ll be able to self-petition for a green card after a year here, and they will be covered by state and federal employment laws to the same extent as workers already here. They’ll earn decent wages, the same as American workers, so they won’t be seen as lowering standards and working conditions for all workers.

    Unions followed Dreamers’ footsteps to reach deal

    In negotiating this deal, America’s unions took a page out of the Dreamers‘ playbook: We focused on the interests of the stakeholders, not on pre-determined outcomes, and we knew when to hold the line. When some Republicans tried to hijack the deal by insisting that new workers should be paid poverty-level wages, we said no.

    With the help of allies, including United We Dream, we let the Gang of Eight know — most recently, by using our nationwide political and grassroots infrastructure to mobilize working families — that immigrants are here to be part of our country and contribute to our economic and cultural fabric. At our many recent immigration reform campaign events around the country, our message was clear: It’s time for the commitment to the 11 million aspiring Americans to be recognized with a road map to citizenship.

    W Visa program is one piece of the immigration reform puzzle

    And there has already been overwhelming support for this new program. Editorial pages across the country have praised the deal as a common-sense solution, and some unexpected voices, most notably in the Republican Party, have been forced to recognize that immigration reform with a road map to citizenship is not only doable; it’s desirable.

    This new visa program is only one piece of the whole reform puzzle, to be sure, but it also represents further proof that, this time around in Washington, the question is not “if” a common-sense immigration reform will manage to pass. The question now is “when” it will pass.

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