04/17/2013

Senate introduces bipartisan immigration bill, SPLC urges lawmakers to protect the human and civil rights of low-skill workers

With the introduction of a bipartisan immigration bill in the U.S. Senate, the Southern Poverty Law Center urged lawmakers today to protect the human and civil rights of low-skill workers as they consider ways to bring 11 million immigrants out of the shadows.

“We applaud the efforts of the U.S. Senate to address the significant need to overhaul the nation’s antiquated immigration system,” said Naomi Tsu, senior staff attorney for the SPLC. “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.”

The bill, which was filed early this morning, represents a massive effort to reform the nation’s immigration system. It attempts to address a variety of issues, including a pathway to citizenship and visas for workers.

“We support immigration reform that reflects our nation’s values of fairness and opportunity, including a road to citizenship for future foreign workers as well as the 11 million already here,” Tsu said. “We urge lawmakers to fight to keep the road to citizenship open to future foreign workers because we are a nation of immigrants, not a nation of guestworkers.”

The SPLC has represented thousands of guestworkers in the United States whose lives have been devastated by unscrupulous employers. These workers have few options to hold employers accountable. The SPLC documented the abusive nature of the H-2 federal guestworker program for low-skill workers in its 2007 report, Close to Slavery. A new edition of the report released this year shows that recent modest reforms haven’t stopped the rampant exploitation.

“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. It also must end incentives for foreign labor recruiters to gouge these hard-working men and women with excessive recruiting fees rather than helping them achieve the American Dream.”