Organized Labor Calls for Limited Amnesty – Is the Mood of our Nation Changing?
March 31, 2000

As featured in a previous edition of the Philippine Weekly, the American Federation of Labor – Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) has announced its support for the enactment of amnesty legislation for certain undocumented workers in the U.S. Their proposal also calls for stiffer penalties to be imposed against employers who exploit undocumented workers, including criminal prosecution for the more egregious cases of exploitation.

Which “undocumented” workers stand to benefit and obtain permanent resident status from the AFL-CIO’s proposal?

  1. Salvadorans, Guatemalans, Hondurans and Haitians who arrived in the U.S. in the 1980’s and early 90’s after fleeing the chaotic conditions brought on by civil wars in their respective countries and who have already been granted temporary permission to remain in the U.S., but to this point denied permanent refugee status. Approximately 500,000 individuals stand to benefit in this category.
  2. Individuals filing “late amnesty” applications pursuant to various class action lawsuits initiated the early to mid 1990’s (e.g. CSS, LULAC, Zambrano). Many such individuals have been granted temporary employment authorization over the years but have been denied permanent resident status to this point. Approximately 350,000 individuals stand to benefit in this category.
  3. Approximately 10,000 Liberians who have been granted temporary status in the U.S. as a result of widespread civil war past in their country but to this point, have been without an avenue toward obtaining permanent residence.

Why is this proposal significant? Organized labor in the U.S. has come to the realization that undocumented workers make up a significant percentage of the overall U.S. workforce and as opposed to seeing these workers as a threat, now see them as allies – especially since the demand for labor seems to be exceeding the supply these days. With an amnesty, the undocumented worker gains the right to live and work in the U.S. and in turn, labor unions gain members who will not be afraid to stand up for their rights as workers and express grievances to address unacceptable working conditions.

It is important to remember, though, that this proposal is just that, a proposal, and it is not even up for consideration by Congress. However, regardless of whether this or any other amnesty proposal ever makes it to the floor of Congress in the near future, the AFL-CIO proposal is also significant because it can be seen as the start of a changing mood in our nation when it comes to immigration. More specifically, in the past 5 years – with anti-immigration sentiment at unprecedented levels, the U.S. Congress passed some of the most restrictive immigration legislation ever – most notably, the harsh deportation provisions now in place that deny even long term permanent residents a chance to fight to stay in the U.S. after being convicted of, in some instances, just one criminal act.

Now, as it appears that our economy grows more solid by the day and unemployment continues to reach record lows, the U.S. public, and in turn, Congress, may be becoming more receptive to measures that welcome, and not repel, immigrants. Clearly, this is exemplified by the AFL-CIO measure, as well as by proposals now before Congress to undo some of the harm caused by the extremist legislation enacted over the past 5 years.

As always, important legislative developments will continue to be covered in this column.

Copyright © 2000-2008, By Law Offices of Richard Hanus, Chicago, Illinois