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 (Updated: February 17, 2000)

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Union Leaders Stand With Immigrants

(February 17, 2000)
The AFL-CIO Executive Council on Feb. 16 took a stand in solidarity with immigrant workers, calling for reforms that will protect workplace rights and freedoms and hold employers accountable when they exploit immigrant workers. 

Meeting in New Orleans, council members unanimously passed a resolution that calls for replacing the current system of employer verification of workers' eligibility to work in the United States. It also urges a new amnesty program and full workplace rights and freedoms for all workers—immigrant, native born, documented and undocumented. 

"Immigrants have played an important role in building democratic institutions," said Linda Chavez-Thompson, AFL-CIO executive vice president. "The current system of immigration enforcement in the U.S. is broken. If we are to have an immigration system that works, it must be orderly, responsible and fair." 

The current system not only has failed to stop the flow of undocumented immigrants into this country—it also has led to discrimination and does not punish employers who exploit undocumented workers, "thus denying labor rights for all workers," the Executive Council statement said. 

A new system should prevent employer discrimination against individuals who look or sound foreign. Workplace immigration laws should protect all workers and hold employers accountable for criminal activity, such as massive illegal importation of workers, or using workers' undocumented status as a way to break laws governing workplace safety, wages or the freedom to choose a union. 

Union leaders noted that the recent case of undocumented hotel workers in Minneapolis who came together to form a union and now are faced with deportation shows why such workers should be provided protected immigration status. 

"Employers often knowingly hire workers who are undocumented, and then when workers seek to improve working conditions, employers manipulate the law to fire or intimidate workers," Chavez-Thompson said. "This subverts the intent of the law and lowers working standards for all workers. The law should criminalize employer behavior, not punish workers." 

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