Immigration reform shouldn’t sacrifice human rights, civil rights of U.S. and foreign workers

As House Democrats introduced immigration reform legislation this week, the Southern Poverty Law Center urged lawmakers to protect the human and civil rights of vulnerable low-skill workers as they consider ways to bring 11 million immigrants out of the shadows.

“We are encouraged by the efforts of House Democrats to fix the nation’s broken immigration system,” said Naomi Tsu, senior SPLC staff attorney. “We strongly urge lawmakers to keep in mind the health, safety and wages of our nation’s vulnerable low-skill workers – both U.S. and foreign workers – during this reform process.

“We support immigration reform that offers a broad path to citizenship for current and future foreign workers. We are a nation of immigrants – not a nation of guest workers. Foreign workers should have the opportunity to put down roots in the communities they help build.”

Since 2004, the SPLC has represented thousands of guest workers in the United States whose lives have been devastated by unscrupulous employers and foreign labor recruiters who have stolen wages and harassed and retaliated against workers who stand up for their rights. These workers have few options to hold employers accountable.

The SPLC documented the abusive nature of the H-2 federal guest worker program for low-skill workers in its report, Close to Slavery. Despite a handful of modest reforms by the federal government in the past four years, the rampant exploitation of guest workers continues.

“Lawmakers should seize this opportunity to end the second-class treatment of workers,” Tsu said. “Any new worker programs must offer sufficient protections and stronger enforcement provisions that allow workers to hold abusive employers accountable. Reform legislation also must end incentives for foreign labor recruiters to gouge hard-working men and women with excessive recruiting fees instead of helping them achieve the American Dream.”