On Labor Day, and just two months before the midterm elections in November, many political pundits have predicted President Barack Obama will soon sign a form of amnesty for many of the 11 million illegal immigrants estimated to be in the United States
But in the past week, there has also been mounting speculation Obama will instead use his executive authority for the less risky (and perhaps more advantageous) political course of protection for the 8 million illegal immigrants estimated to be employed and facing deportation.
At a two-hour press briefing last Tuesday at the George Meany Room of their Washington headquarters, leaders of the AFL-CIO spelled out the action they want Obama to take for "advancing workers rights" and "work without fear."
"We've been very active in calling for the White House to take administrative action," said Matt Ginsburg, the AFL-CIO's Associate General Counsel, "and the president is considering taking action to protect the eight [million]out of 11 million undocumented employees."
In what organized labor's umbrella organization considers "the most important action the administration can take for [undocumented] workers," Obama is urged to use his pen to "act urgently to grant deferred action to all those who would qualify for a pathway to citizenship under the bipartisan Senate bill."
By "deferred action," the union lawyers and their allies mean that the 8 million employees who are in the United States illegally would be protected from deportation or other penalties until they begin the process of becoming citizens under Senate Bill 744, the "comprehensive immigration" measure favored by the White House and passed by the Senate in June 2013.
The highly controversial bill is strongly opposed by many House Republicans, such as Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte of Virginia, who prefer an "incremental" approach to illegal immigration in separate bills that begin with border security. The "comprehensive package" is considered "dead on arrival" in the House, especially if Republicans retain their majority in November.
"The bill is not perfect, but it is comprehensive," said Ginsburg of S.B. 744, adding that crafting immigration reform is something the AFL-CIO has worked on since it formed a special committee on the issue in 2009 under F. Ray Marshall, Jimmy Carter's secretary of labor.
Also high on organized labor's 10-point agenda is its call for the president to "create a process though which workers engaged in protected activity, such as forming or joining a union or filing a health and safety violation, would be safe from retaliation based on their immigration status.
In other words, employers would be discouraged, or even banned, from sharing information about their employees' status as immigrants with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which oversees civil immigration enforcement and any deportation.
Underscoring the AFL-CIO's argument at their meeting that undocumented workers are harassed and threatened were emotional presentations by some of the workers themselves.
Reyna Sorto of the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades told of experiencing "a lot of sexual harassment" on her job as a laborer separating recyclables at a plant.
"And [employers] threatened to call ICE on us," she said, "Companies use us because they know we're afraid."
Emilio Garcia of the United Steel Workers spoke of harassment he experienced for wearing his union T-shirt on the floor of the U.S. Fiber Company plant where he works in South Carolina.
Both Sorto and Garcia spoke in Spanish and had their remarks translated to English for reporters by interpreters provided by the union.
As to how big an executive order Obama can issue dealing with the AFL-CIO's agenda for protecting undocumented workers, Counsel Ginsburg said: "As big as he wants. But it's a political question."
There are second opinions about the political wisdom of Obama dealing with this "political question" by taking this action.
"If President Obama essentially floods the employment market with millions of illegal immigrants by granting them the right to work in the U.S., he will make it even more difficult for unemployed citizens to find work in this stagnant economy," Hans von Spakovsky, senior fellow at the Edwin Meese Center for Legal and Judicial Studies, told Newsmax.
"And the biggest losers will be African-Americans, Obama's biggest supporters, who are unemployed at a much higher rate than other Americans. This could cause quite a backlash to Democrats in the November election and would make them an easy target for Republicans."
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