By Mike Matejka
The U.S. Senate, including leadership by Illinois’ Richard Durbin, has come up with a proposed immigration bill.
What is appealing with this bill is that it has three main provisions that cover main concerns. It offers currently undocumented workers a path to legal status and eventual citizenship. It calls for tighter border enforcement and requires employers to verify a workers’ legal status before hiring.
From a moral viewpoint, it will bring 11 million current U.S. residents out of the shadows. These individuals live amongst us, do various jobs, their kids go to our schools and we’ll find them in our church pews. The children born here might have legal status but their parents do not. These individuals work very hard to feed and care for their families, but constantly hanging over them is the threat of deportation. They will have to report themselves, pay a fee and be free of felony convictions to gain what is called RPI – Registered Provisional Immigrant status. After six years these immigrants will then have to prove they’ve paid their taxes and are economically self-sufficient. After ten years, they can apply for citizenship. However, before they can attain this status, the border must be certified as secure. Young people brought here as children will have an accelerated path to citizenship.
Also important here is that employers have to verify their workers’ legal status. This will hopefully end abuse by employers and undocumented workers using false social security numbers. One problem with this is that no verification is required of self-employed individuals. Construction and other industries have numerous problems when workers are misclassified as self-employed, independent contractors, when the workers really are employees.
One last minute addition to the bill that is problematic is an allowance for the meat packing industry to bring in thousands of guest workers. Meat-packing is one of the most dangerous, poorly paid jobs. Rather than giving this industry a blank check to continue importing workers, the industry needs decent and safe working conditions, so it does not need desperate workers. Until the 1970s, meat packing was one of the most unionized and highest paying industrial jobs. Then the meat packers played a bankruptcy shell game and moved to small town America. Today it is an accident heavy, low wage cycle of exploitation. Meat packers don’t deserve this blank check.
Aside from that, there is hope – hope for a tighter border, employers needing to verify status and immigrants coming out from the shadows.
Mike Matejka is the Governmental Affairs director for the Great Plains Laborers District Council, covering 11,000 union Laborers in northern Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska and South Dakota. He lives in Bloomington with his wife and daughter and their two dogs. He served on the Bloomington City Council for 18 years, is a past president of the McLean County Historical Society and Vice-President of the Illinois Labor History Society.
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