Trumka lauds Senate immigration bill, but calls for changes

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
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The AFL-CIO is calling for changes to the Senate’s immigration bill, even as it also loudly endorses the bill’s multi-staged legalization measure.

“The United States urgently needs a roadmap to citizenship for more than 11 million aspiring Americans. … Our cause is unstoppable. There will be a roadmap to citizenship in 2013,” said the Wednesday statement from AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka.

Trumka did, however, say the union has some objections to the bill, but did specify which sections he finds problematic.

“There are several details in the bill that cause unintended, but serious harm to immigrant workers and the broader labor market,” Trumka said.

“We will work to correct those problems now that a bill is before the Senate Judiciary Committee,” he wrote.

The bill would annually bring in roughly 112,000 agricultural workers and roughly 350,000 blue-collar and professional workers and put them on track to gain citizenship and vote at the ballot box.

In early April, the union’s leaders negotiated a deal with the U.S Chamber of Commerce that would funnel up to 200,000 low-wage, blue-collar and white-collar “W visa” workers to the United States.

Under the W visa, after one year, the imported workers — and their spouses — would be free to seek jobs in the United States, and to apply for a green card that would be a step toward citizenship. The bill would also allow the workers to bring their children into the United States.

The visa deal also helped win business support for the immigration rewrite, which would provide conditional legalization for at least 11 million illegal immigrants.

The AFL-CIO’s support for the immigration deal is a sharp change from 2006 and 2007, when the union leaders helped defeat bills less ambitious that the 2013 bill.

Since 2007, the unemployment rate has risen sharply. Roughly 20 million Americans are now unemployed or underemployed.

In 2009, Eliseo Medina, then a vice president at the Service Employees International Union, called for a law that would provide citizenship — and ballots — to 12 million illegal immigrants.

“We reform the immigration laws, it puts 12 million people on the path to citizenship and eventually voters. … We will create a governing coalition for the long-term, not just for an election cycle,” he declared.

On Wednesday, Medina endorsed the immigration rewrite.

“SEIU members are committed to making sure that Members of Congress strengthen this bill so that it not only addresses concerns about border security, but also creates a clear roadmap to citizenship and enables 11 million aspiring Americans to truly become part of the fabric of our society,” said Medina, who is now the union’s second-ranked official, the secretary-treasurer.

In March, the union’s talks with the Chamber of Commerce stalled over wages and jobs, threatening the overall immigration deal.

But talks were restarted under the direction of Ana Avendano, whose title is “assistant to the president and director of immigration and community action at the AFL-CIO.”

According to an April 17 story by Politico, “the AFL-CIO’s Ana Avendaño, the Chamber’s Randy Johnson and [Leon] Fresco [an aide to Democratic aide Sen. Chuck Schumer] continued to try and hammer out the details — and they continued to narrow their differences until they struck a March 29 agreement.”

Since then, Avendano has touted the citizenship deal.

“Yes we will! AFL-CIO: We Will ‘Steamroller’ Any Lawmaker Who Opposes Amnesty,” she tweeted April 10.

On April 17, Trumka promised a major AFL-CIO spending and lobbying effort to pass the bill.

“We will dedicate presidential campaign style resources to ensuring that all workers have a place on the roadmap to citizenship, to reuniting families, and establishing long overdue worker protections,” he said in his statement.

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