David Bacon Stories & Photographs
What Does LION Stand For?
by David Bacon

On January 23, the Labor Immigrant Organizers Network adopted the following positions, working towards an alternative pro-immigrant and pro-worker immigration policy. The conference recognized differences of opinion on some important issues, and therefore agreed to establish a policy task force to explain the policies already adopted, while organizing further discussions.

These policy positions were then ratified at a general LION meeting on March 23. The four adopted positions are:

Social Security

The Social Security Administration has adopted a policy of sending lists of employee names and Social Security numbers to employers when those names and numbers don't match up with the SSA database. Employers have then used those lists as a pretext to terminate employees, accusing them of not having proper documentation. When this has occurred during union organizing drives, the "no match" letters have provided an excuse to terminate union activists. Employees themselves have no right to see the letters.

LION opposes the practice of sending out "no match" letters. It is an effort to use Social Security numbers as a form of national identification and work authorization. Every attempt, however, to pass a national identification proposal through Congress has failed, because the U.S. people reject that idea. The current "no match" letters therefore implement by administrative action an illegal policy rejected by Congress.

Social Security numbers are confidential information. They are strictly a means of ensuring that workers receive the Social Security benefits to which they are entitled. For many years, neither SSA nor employers would provide them to outside parties. We call for a return to that policy of confidentiality. Social Security number should not be used as a form of national identification, for immigration or any other purpose.

No cooperation

The Immigration and Naturalization Service has approached many other government agencies, asking them to turn over information provided by workers and community members in the course of their activity. Department of Labor inspectors have been required to provide INS with copies of workers' immigration documents (the I-9 forms) when responding to complaints of violations of wage and hour laws. The Social Security Administration is expected to verify Social Security numbers for immigration enforcement purposes. Law enforcement agencies are required to ascertain the immigration status of individuals with whom they come in contact on unrelated matters. Driver license information, hospital intake forms, school registrations and other documents increasingly are being treated as sources of information for immigration law enforcement.

The INS is attempting to turn many other agencies and public institutions into arms of its enforcement apparatus, risking the welfare of the public these bodies are intended to serve. As this process develops, immigrants are less and less able to use the services to which all working people are entitled. They are forced to choose between exercising their Federally-protected job rights and deportation.

LION opposes cooperation between the INS and other government and public institutions, in which information provided by immigrants is misused for immigration enforcement purposes.

A new amnesty program and expedited citizenship for immigrants

When the Immigration Reform and Control Act was passed in 1986, an amnesty program allowed millions of undocumented immigrants to normalize their immigration status. As a result, people were able to achieve stability in their jobs and communities, and were no longer fearful that asserting their workplace rights would provoke threats of deportation. Union membership climbed and organizing drives became widespread among immigrant workers.

The amnesty program has since expired, leaving additional millions of workers unable to normalize their status and achieve stability in our communities. Another amnesty would allow these workers to regularize their status. It would strengthen unions and communities, and make it easier to enforce good working conditions by eliminating the threat of deportation.

As a result of amnesty and the process of legal immigration, millions of legal resident immigrants live in the U.S. Over the past decade, many have decided to become citizens. Citizenship has allowed workers to participate in the political process, and the political power of labor and progressive community organizations has grown as a result. The defeats of anti-worker initiatives like Proposition 226, along with the anti-immigrant candidates of the Republican right, owe a lot to the increased voting strength of new citizens.

Yet the INS has been unable to process citizenship applications in a timely manner, and the waiting time endured by applicants has grown. The backlog of unprocessed applications in California has grown to 698,568, and nationally to 1,878,543. Meanwhile, application fees have been increased drastically, making the citizenship process even more difficult and inaccessible.

LION therefore calls for a new amnesty program, allowing undocumented immigrants to regularize their status, and an inexpensive and expedited citizenship process to allow immigrants to become citizens as quickly and easily as possible.

Cut the enforcement budget and use the money to enforce workers' rights

In Federal budgets passed in the last decade, appropriations for the INS have skyrocketed. With increased budget appropriations, the Border Patrol has grown to over 10,000, making it now the largest armed force in the Federal government outside of the military. Rather than making the border safer, however, abuses of immigrants have grown, including beatings and shootings by INS personnel. The border itself has become a militarized zone, as though we were at war with Mexico, or at least Mexicans.

Increased immigration enforcement away from the border has led to a wave of immigration raids in workplaces and communities. These raids have whipped up discrimination against immigrants, and terrorized immigrant communities. Increased fear of deportation in the workplace has had a chilling effect on workers trying to organize unions and defend their rights.

INS enforcement practices have given a green light to employers, to impose sweatshop wages and conditions and bust immigrant-based union organizing drives. A new INS national program to enforce employer sanctions has already led to mass firings of thousands of workers, including many actively involved in union organizing drives and in contract negotiation efforts. After provoking these terminations, the INS then cooperates with employers in further enforcement.

Rather than preventing the proliferation of sweatshops and sweatshop conditions, this enforcement program encourages it.

At the same time, the budget for agencies with a real mission and track record of enforcing workers' rights and fair labor standards has been cut to the bone. The Division of Fair Labor Standards, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and the National Labor Relations Board are all suffering from inadequate enforcement budgets and personnel reductions.

LION proposes that the budget for immigration enforcement be cut drastically, and the money used instead to increase enforcement of workers' rights and fair labor standards.

For further information on the policy positions, or to get the time and place of LION's next policy task force meeting, call David Bacon at 510-549-0291.

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