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Greg Siskind on Immigration Law and Policy

Is the AFL-CIO Trying to Kill Immigration Reform?

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From everything I am hearing from insiders, it sure seems that way. Unions killed immigration reform back in 2007 when they opposed a guest worker visa program for future immigrants and pressured Democrats to back away from the bill. This time things were supposed to be different and unions, like the GOP, were starting to realize that being anti-immigration endangered their future. The evidence of their realizing this seemed to be their announcement of support for legalizing workers here without status and their agreeing to sit down with the US Chamber of Commerce and hammer out a deal on a guest worker program for the latest deal. Benjy Sarlin at Talking Points Memo prematurely pronounced the transformation in a January article entitled "How Unionts Went from Border Hawks to Immigration Doves."

The Chamber has been negotiating with the SEIU and the much larger AFL-CIO. I should clarify for readers that the SEIU has a great record on immigration and, not surprisingly, is the union of choice for industries dominated by Latino workers. The SEIU has long supported immigration reform including supporting a generous guest worker program. The AFL-CIO is really who I'm talking about and they are the anti-immigrant force at the table. Or, more specifically, the construction unions within the AFL-CIO. My sources tell me that the AFL-CIO leadership as well as the SEIU could close a deal with the Chamber, but the construction unions are simply not interested in allowing immigrants into the country to work in their industry. That seemed to be confirmed in a report yesterday in The Hill:

Another problem arose on Thursday when a spokesman for the Building and
Construction Trades Department at the AFL-CIO said that the union does
not support the Chamber of Commerce's desire to increase the number of
low-skilled guest worker visas that are granted. The union spokesman
told CQ Roll Call that expanding the number of "W" visas would hurt American construction workers.

At this point, if I had to point the finger at anyone who I worry about the most on the anti-immigration side, it would be the AFL-CIO and not anti-immigration Republicans or anti-immigrant groups like FAIR and NumbersUSA. The organization sees the reality that workers already in the US aren't going anywhere and the organization can only compete with SEIU if they are seen to be on board supporting legalization. But they are trying to work quietly behind closed doors to stop any future lower skilled immigrants from coming in to the country via a new guest worker program and are also trying to stop high skilled immigration by opposing the many measures being planned to encourage more science, technology, engineering and math professionals to immigrate. In short, they are hoping to get away with killing immigration reform but not being blamed for it.

Some Democrats are urging members of the party to ignore the AFL-CIO. From Bloomberg:

Former Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, a Democrat co- chairing an immigration task force with Barbour at the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington,
said it is ultimately up to Obama to persuade Democrats not to abandon
the bill if the immigrant-worker program doen't match the unions'

"If we don't get guest-worker provisions that are exactly
in line with what labor wants, we can't hold up the bill because of
that," Rendell said. "We've got to do the best we can to preserve and
protect the interests of organized labor, but in the end you can't
always get what you want."

The nation's pro-immigration advocacy groups need to go public and call out the
AFL-CIO on its hypocrisy. The organization is NOT pro-immigration. They
talk about supporting a path to citizenship, but only because they know
they have to. And they hide behind the fig leaf of claiming to want to
protect the rights of immigrants and to prevent them from being
exploited when mostly they are fighting behind the scenes to limit the
numbers of workers that can come to as few as possible and only in a
tiny number of occupations.And perhaps they should think about the thousands of illegal immigrants who die crossing the border because we lack a guest worker program when they talk about protecting immigrants from exploitive employers.

If the AFL-CIO sinks the entire immigration bill over the guest worker program then they will fairly be branded as anti-immigrant and their long march to oblivion will continue. The SEIU, the nation's genuinely pro-immigration union, is, not coincidentally, the fastest growing union in the country. That will only accelerate if the AFL-CIO doesn't correct itself on this issue and quickly.

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  1. George Chell's Avatar
    And some in the GOP such as Charles Grassley are on the side of the AFL-CIO. Meanwhile, everytime immigration reform comes Jeff Sessions becomes very AFL-CIO friendly. At other times, he is very anti-labor. Go figure!
  2. George Chell's Avatar
    Not much progress
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