Labor unions Wednesday increased pressure on President Obama to use executive action to ease immigration laws, saying that’s the best hope for undocumented workers who are being exploited and mistreated by unscrupulous employers.
The AFL-CIO made its case at a panel discussion in Washington that highlighted the plight of undocumented workers, including testimony by illegal immigrants who describe the indignities they suffered because of their status.
“The labor movement is driven by its mission to ensure workers have good jobs and fair treatment. This cannot be fully accomplished without immigration relief for the millions of undocumented workers who labor in not only unjust, but dangerous, working conditions,” said Karla Vegas, legal director of the Worker Defense Project, which assists day laborers.
Lorella Praeli of the youth-led immigrant group United We Dream called on Mr. Obama to show “courage” by unilaterally granting legal status to undocumented workers.
“The president has a historic opportunity to show courage where Republicans showed cowardice by starting the process that only Congress can finish,” she said.
The unions have been strong allies of Mr. Obama, putting their muscle behind both his election campaigns. But they’ve been vocal about their dissatisfaction with the president’s actions on immigration reform.
Mr. Obama is expected to soon announce executive actions to limit deportations. He promised to act before the end of the summer after the effort for comprehensive immigration reform stalled in Congress.
At the union event, illegal immigrant Reyna Sorto described her struggles working for more than 10 years as a laborer sorting recyclable materials.
“Although my work was physically heavy on me I always gave it my best effort; I have always been very proud of doing my job as a woman,” she said. “At the same time I also had to endure a lot of sexual harassment in my workplace; working even when I was sick out of fear of losing my job, and almost losing it in 2008 when I got pregnant.”
Union leaders also argue that the exploitation of undocumented workers for cheap labor has the effect of suppressing wages for all Americans.