Politics, Business & Culture in the Americas

Immigration Reform to Address Labor Demand

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This week marked several milestones in the immigrants’ rights movement. On Wednesday, tens of thousands of immigrants and their allies descended on Capitol Hill to demand a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States. The “Rally for Citizenship” was held on the forty-seventh anniversary of the first farmworker march in Sacramento led by Dolores Huerta, who celebrated her 83 birthday the same day. And sources announced yesterday that the bipartisan immigration bill will include a major merit-based program for foreigners to become permanent legal residents based on their work skills.

The labor provision of the bill aims to shift immigration policy’s focus from family ties to work skills that meet the U.S. market demands at all skill levels. Today’s announcement is due in part to an agreement reached last month between top business and labor groups on a year-round guest worker program for blue collar workers. The deal established the pay level and creates a pathway to citizenship for these workers. At Wednesday’s rally, “Gang of Eight” member Senator Robert Menendez said of sweeping reform, “It is in the nation’s interest, in the economic interests of the United States and in the security interests of the United States.”

Over her half-century-long career as a labor leader, Huerta, who co-founded the United Farm Workers of America (UFA), along with the deceased labor rights activist César Chávez has worked to organize agricultural workers and protect their rights. While the guest worker provision of the forthcoming reform bill appears promising, the Senate announced today that proposed reform would bar anyone who arrived in the U.S. after Dec. 31, 2011, from applying for legal status and ultimately citizenship. The bipartisan group of senators is putting the final details on the bill and will unveil the details early next week.

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