National Voices

Saturday, Aug 31 2013 11:03 PM

ART PULASKI: Workers in the shadows

Labor Day is a time to celebrate the work that makes our country run and reflect on the people who do the work. In California, with an estimated 10 percent of our workforce living and working in our state as undocumented immigrants, we remember especially that too many people labor in the shadows of our economy without access to the rights and protections that everyone deserves.

While these immigrant workers struggle to become part of a country that benefits from their labor but doesn't protect their rights, unscrupulous employers abuse the system by exploiting workers with little to no protections -- and pay them less. This vicious cycle, in turn, lowers wages and working conditions for all American workers and makes it harder for businesses that play by the rules.

Over 2.6 million aspiring Americans attend school, work in our neighborhoods, raise families, own homes and dream of a better life here in California. But their dreams will never be realized with the threat of deportation hanging over their heads and a path to citizenship so far out of reach. That's why this Labor Day, people across the country are calling for immigration reform that truly protects the rights of all workers and creates a path to citizenship for 11 million aspiring Americans. At the beginning of August, 41 national leaders representing a broad coalition of advocates who support worker protections were arrested in a civil disobedience action just outside the Washington, D.C., offices of members of the House. In California we ramped up that momentum when hundreds of cars caravanned to Bakersfield for a rally in the heart of House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy's district. Thousands of people from over 30 cities came together to call on McCarthy.

Our message is loud and clear: if Members of Congress continue to obstruct a vote on this issue, they will have to answer to a growing majority of Americans who support a path to citizenship as part of comprehensive immigration reform. We saw this majority reflected in the diversity of faces that spoke up to ensure comprehensive immigration reform passed in the Senate: faith leaders, conservatives and business owners took action with immigrant rights groups and civil rights leaders.

The immigration legislation that passed with a solid, bipartisan majority in the Senate -- while far from perfect -- lays out a reasonable roadmap to citizenship for aspiring Americans, lifts up workplace standards and rights for all Americans, and strengthens border protections. This would boost the U.S. economy.

According to the U.S. Congressional Budget Office, modernizing our immigration system would grow our economy and reduce the deficit by almost $1 trillion over two decades. The CBO also reports that a set of reforms that include an earned path to citizenship would create over 77,000 new jobs in California and increase our economic output by $7.3 billion in just one year. Californians elected Rep. McCarthy to do what's best for our communities and our country. That includes fixing our broken immigration system and ensuring that we no longer have millions of people working in the shadows.

Art Pulaski is the Executive Secretary-Treasurer of the California Labor Federation. He wrote this in concert with Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO.

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