Senate-passed immigration bill is step forward, but more must be done

The immigration bill passed by the U.S. Senate contains important and long-sought reforms but fails to protect guest workers from abuse and exploitation.

Though the U.S. Senate passed an immigration bill today with important and long-sought reforms, the legislation fails to protect guest workers from abuse and exploitation, the Southern Poverty Law Center said.

“Today’s vote is a major step forward for much-needed reform of the nation’s deeply flawed immigration system,” said Naomi Tsu, SPLC senior staff attorney. “Unfortunately, this legislation no longer represents true comprehensive immigration reform. It simply lacks too many pieces necessary for it to be considered truly comprehensive.”

The bill contains important elements – a path to citizenship, access to counsel for some detained immigrants and protections to prevent human trafficking by foreign labor recruiters – but it is missing many key reforms.

A truly comprehensive bill would reform the nation’s deeply flawed guest worker programs for foreign laborers who come here to work in temporary, low-wage jobs.

The SPLC has represented thousands of guest workers in the United States whose lives have been devastated by unscrupulous employers. Businesses have an incentive to hire guest workers over U.S. workers because they are more vulnerable and have few options to hold abusive employers accountable.

“As the House of Representatives takes up this issue, for the sake of the nation, it is essential that this legislation does not become just a costly border security bill,” Tsu said. “The House must get this legislation back on track and provide real comprehensive immigration reform.”

The SPLC documented the abusive nature of the H-2 federal guest worker program for low-skill workers in its report Close to Slavery. It also shows that recent modest reforms haven’t stopped the rampant exploitation.