Senate Bill Sets Stage for Dignified Immigration Reform

Workers Prepare to Bring Voices to DC as Guestworker Programs Expand

The following statement is by Saket Soni, Executive Director of the National Guestworker Alliance:

With the introduction of the long-awaited Senate bill on immigration, American politics are finally starting to catch up with the American people. The U.S. public overwhelmingly supports a fair path to citizenship, an end to deportations, and strong protections for workers’ rights. This bill recognizes that. This bill is a new starting point in the national conversation about inclusion in democracy and a fair economy.

The Senate bill includes important worker protections from the POWER Act for immigrant workers who blow the whistle on employer abuse. Without these protections, employers use threats of retaliation and deportation to silence whistleblowers and get away with abuse. The bill also allows immigrant workers to demand back pay and reinstatement when they face retaliatory termination.

Still, the bill’s worker protections don’t go far enough. Only strong workers can build a strong economy, and this bill continues to leave immigrant workers vulnerable to abuse.

It is now clear that any immigration reform will come with a vast expansion of guestworker programs. Without strong worker protections in all of these programs—not only the new W visa program, but all existing programs—this expansion is a recipe for disaster, both for immigrant workers and the U.S. workers who work alongside them.

Employers looking to cut costs unlawfully will not use the W visa program as long as they can source cheaper, more exploitable workers through an expanded H-2B program—which is exactly what this bill gives them. The bill exempts returning H-2B guestworkers from the visa cap, which will vastly expand the H-2B program. The bill also fails to provide critical protections for H-2B workers, including the ability to change jobs and enforce their rights.

This means guestworkers will continue to be trapped in captive labor by abusive employers, and U.S. workers will be trapped in a race to the bottom as employers use guestworkers to drive down wages and conditions for all.

Americans know that a 21st-century economy needs to be built on strong labor protections for all workers. In a new poll of 1,000 Americans, 90 percent agreed that “immigration reform should protect the rights of both U.S.-born and immigrant workers because all workers deserve dignity and freedom from exploitation.” Seventy-five percent agreed that “if employers are allowed to get away with mistreating immigrant workers, it ends up lowering wages and hurting conditions for American workers as well.”

Unsurprisingly, Rep. Steve King and Sen. Jeff Sessions are trying to exploit the Boston tragedy to derail immigration reform, just as previous opponents of reform exploited the tragedy of 9/11. We won’t let it happen again. We need civil rights and worker protections in this country now more than ever, and we intend to win them.

U.S. immigration policy has to catch up with what the overwhelming majority of Americans know. This bill is just the beginning of that process. We look forward to working with those in Congress who are champions of workers’ rights to improve this bill—to include all 11 million, to unify families, to protect workers’ rights, and to make sure that future immigration to the United States comes with dignity.

NGA Executive Director Saket Soni and NGA Legal Director J.J. Rosenbaum are available for analysis and comment on specific provisions of the bill.


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