By Richard Trumka and Richard Lipsitz Jr.
For many Americans, Labor Day barbecues and picnics mark a nostalgic end to summer. It’s also a time to celebrate work and all who labor. This year, we remember especially that too many people labor in the shadows of our economy without access to the rights and protections that everyone deserves.
More than 11 million aspiring Americans attend school, work in our neighborhoods, raise families, own homes and dream of a better life. 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.
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.
If members of Congress continue to obstruct a vote on immigration reform, they will have to answer to a growing majority of Americans who support a path to citizenship as part of comprehensive reform. We saw this majority reflected in the diversity of faces that spoke up to ensure that a vote on immigration reform was successful in the Senate: faith leaders, conservatives and business owners acting with immigrant rights groups, community organizations, working families and labor and civil rights leaders.
The immigration measure that passed with solid bipartisan support in the Senate, while far from perfect, lays out a reasonable road map to citizenship, lifts up workplace standards and rights for all Americans and strengthens border protections. This would boost the U.S. economy.
According to the Congressional Budget Office, modernizing our immigration system so that it is safer, more orderly and more humane 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 33,476 new jobs in New York and increase our economic output by $3.4 billion in just one year.
We elect members of Congress to do what’s best for our state and our country. That includes taking a stance in favor of fixing our broken immigration system and ensuring that we no longer have millions of people working in the shadows – and that Labor Day celebrates all people who work.
Our country is watching and the millions who have mobilized will continue to ramp up action until a path to citizenship is fully realized.
Richard Trumka is president of the AFL-CIO. Richard Lipsitz Jr. is president of the WNY Area Labor Federation, AFL-CIO.