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Immigration Letter from Anna Burger to Arlen Specter

Thursday, February 2, 2006

February 2, 2006

The Honorable Arlen Specter
Chairman
Senate Judiciary Committee
224 Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington, D. C. 20510

Dear Senator Specter:

We write on behalf of our 5.5 million members who care about our nation's response to our deeply flawed immigration system.

The need to reform our immigration laws is one of the most important tasks facing this Congress. In your role as Chair of the Judiciary Committee, with jurisdiction over immigration, we look forward to your leadership on the highly complex issues that riddle this debate and which affect working Americans. The legislation that Congress develops will have serious consequences for all Americans, immigrants and citizen alike, and for our economy.

Our country must get control of its borders, both North and South. Border enforcement can only work when the law is realistic and enforceable. It should include smart inspections and screening practices, fair proceedings, efficient processing, and strategies that focus on detecting and deterring terrorists and cracking down on criminal smugglers and lawbreaking employers. Such a system will better enable the nation to know who is already here and who is coming in the future, and will bring our system back into line with our tradition as a nation of immigrants and a nation of laws.

The enforcement approach that was central to the recently passed House measure will not work. Among other elements, it makes felons of millions of undocumented working people. That makes no economic sense. It will criminalize millions of hard-working, tax-paying undocumented immigrants, driving them further underground. And it will create chaos in whole industries that are vital to our national economy, such as the meatpacking, hospitality, manufacturing, food processing, construction. agriculture, and building services sectors where literally millions of immigrants are employed.

Our flawed immigration program requires a truly comprehensive approach that goes beyond border enforcement. While we appreciate your willingness to move beyond an enforcement-only strategy, as demonstrated by your recently released Chairman's Mark, we ask that you put increased focus on several issues that will determine whether these reforms succeed in the real world.

    * Your proposal must include a realistic plan that would bring into the open the estimated 11 million immigrants living in America without proper documentation and who play a vital role in our economy. Our nation can never be secure when we have people living within our borders who fear deportation and are vulnerable to employer exploitation. The fate of both immigrant and American workers would be markedly improved by a new program that would legalize hardworking, tax paying, deserving immigrants by requiring them to undergoing background checks, pay a penalty and become law abiding residents.
    * The shape, size and ground rules for any temporary worker program are all critical components of reform in which we are keenly interested. Temporary worker programs must include a rigorous labor market test that would determine the need for new immigrant workers and the absence of willing US workers; mandate fair wages and working conditions for all workers, U.S. native and immigrant; ensure that the program does not undermine the wages and working conditions of Americans; provide multiple avenues for enforcing these standards; bar new workers from being hired as independent contractors to avoid employer payroll taxes, social security and workers compensation coverage; and provide a path for foreign workers to self-petition for permanent status to minimize the likelihood that foreign workers may feel compelled to remain silent about violations of labor protections in the hope that employers will sponsor them for permanent immigration.
    * Any temporary worker program that requires workers to leave the country after a number of years is economically foolish, will fail, and will undermine effective reform. Work and return requirements guarantee that employers will not invest in training, wages, and benefits for this workforce. This scheme also creates second class residents who have no personal ties to their communities or workplace.

Certainly, there are many details to be discussed and debated. We hope to work with you to reach a truly comprehensive solution. We urge you to use your leadership to ensure that legality in the workplace is once again the rule. We look forward to a day when we have a rational solution to economic migration that respects our American values and both U.S. and immigrant workers.

Sincerely,

Anna Burger, Chair
Change to Win

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