For immediate release
March 29, 2006
The following is a statement by John Wilhelm, President/Hospitality Industry of UNITE HERE, in response to the approval of comprehensive immigration reform legislation by the Senate Judiciary Committee. UNITE HERE represents more than 440,000 active members and more than 400,000 retirees throughout North America. Its diverse membership includes a high percentage of immigrant workers who labor primarily in the hotel, restaurant, textile, apparel, and hospitality industries.
UNITE HERE congratulates the Senate Judiciary Committee for approving a comprehensive immigration bill this week. The approach adopted by the Committee rises to the challenge of fixing our broken immigration system in a way that protects our borders and protects American and immigrant workers. Our industry and our Union agree on these principles. The hospitality industry continues, as it always has, to rely on immigrants.
We commend the leadership of Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA), and the courageous votes of the twelve Judiciary Committee members who supported the Judiciary Committee bill. The 12-6 margin on final passage suggests there is strong bipartisan support for a balanced and comprehensive approach. Majority Leader Frist should stop threatening to bring his own enforcement-heavy bill to the floor instead. The basis for full Senate action over the next two weeks must be the product of the Committee of jurisdiction and expertise.
Unlike the enforcement-only approach taken by the House of Representatives, the Senate Judiciary Committee enacted comprehensive reform. The bill may not be perfect, but it has the right architecture. It will do the following: 1) bring undocumented immigrants out of the shadows and then, after waiting at the end of the line, allow those immigrants who want to settle here a chance to eventually earn permanent residence and get on a path to citizenship; 2) reward those who have waited in line to join close family members with timely processing of their visas; 3) avoid the exploitation and abuses of flawed guestworker programs by creating a “break-the-mold” worker visa program with improved worker protections; 4) strengthen targeted enforcement that tackles illegal immigration at the border and at the workplace.
We are especially pleased that Senator Kennedy (D-MA) and others were able to strengthen the worker protections under the “future flow” worker visa program contained in the Senate Judiciary Committee bill. The bill now contains the following important protections for workers: a mechanism to ensure that jobs are first offered to American workers; an annual cap on the number of workers admitted; prevailing wage protections; a prohibition on treating those on three-year temporary visas as independent contractors; a prohibition on hiring temporary workers in the midst of a labor dispute; immediate visa portability so that workers can vote with their feet and change jobs; and a mechanism for immigrant workers to apply for permanent residence without having to rely on an employer. Such protections are essential if we are to substitute the current unregulated flow of easily exploitable undocumented workers with a regulated, legal flow of workers with equal labor rights and an eventual path to citizenship.
The architecture and provisions in the Judiciary Committee bill promise to replace a chaotic system rife with illegality with a system that is safe, legal, orderly, and fair to all. It will make our immigration policies more enforceable, bring immigrants out of the shadows, make it easier for immigrants to cooperate with the authorities, ensure full labor rights for all workers, and create an even playing field for employers. Yes, the details will be difficult and the details matter. But all of us should stretch to craft a reform that will work.
Our union was founded by immigrants. Many of our members are immigrants. They are desperate to be recognized for their hard work and accepted as part of the nation’s family. The estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. make our clothes, bus our tables, clean our hotel rooms, cook our food, care for our children, tend to the elderly, harvest the nation’s crops, and help build and clean America’s homes and buildings. These immigrant workers want to get on the path to citizenship, to reunite with their families, to have a voice on the job, and be treated fairly. The Senate should build on the Judiciary Committee’s strong start to turn these aspirations into reality.