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President Obama Woos Labor Unions in Advance of Immigration Reform Push

For those who remember the 2007 attempt to reform immigration, it was apparent that one of the groups that pushed hardest against passage were the major labor unions, who then feared that the proposed guest worker program would undermine union membership and weaken future negotiating positions. Then Senator and now President Obama clearly recalls this because he is attempting to lay the groundwork for his new immigration reform package by reaching out to union leaders. As an immigration lawyer I am eager to see if reform efforts by the President and leaders of Congress meet with success.

President Obama met with leaders of major unions within the last few weeks. AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka, Service Employees International Union leader Eliseo Medina, and Arturo Rodriguez of United Farm Workers met with the President for an hour to discuss the relevant issues. In the press meeting afterwards, they appeared to support the President’s agenda. The President is also scheduled to meet with heads of major U.S. companies like Ford Motor, PepsiCo and General Electric to also discuss immigration reform.

This is in contrast to the position of the unions only a few short years ago. The President and Congress are again likely to push for guest worker passes which are supported by businesses and the farming community. Businesses would like few restrictions on these visas, while labor groups are reluctant to grant carte-blanche to Congress. Labor groups also favor an easier path to citizenship than that proposed in 2007.

Labor leaders have voiced their desire for “data-driven” guest worker overhauls. Trumka of the AFL-CIO proposed a flexible, need dependent system that would scale up or down according to demand. This stands in stark contrast to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce which supports unrestricted number of visas.

The political math is quite different than it was in 2007. Not only is there strong bipartisan support for immigration reform, but the power of labor unions have declined in the past few years. In 2007, the legislation failed in large part due to pressure from these outside groups that convinced key Democratic leaders to vote against the measure. There may also be a shift within labor groups themselves; many of these new immigrant workers may be more amenable to union membership, thereby bolstering their falling numbers.

As an immigration attorney in the border state of Texas, I fully recognize the importance of immigrant labor in the U.S. economy. Despite some fears that border security is lacking, there have been some studies showing that more manpower at the Mexican border has slowed or halted the migration of undocumented aliens into the U.S. This has led to labor issues in key industries including farming. Hopefully, President Obama and Congress will be able to hammer out a comprehensive reform package that successfully addresses these and many other immigration issues.

If you or someone you know has questions about the current immigration system or potential changes, please contact my office to schedule a meeting. You may reach us at (512) 215-5225.

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