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News From the Front: The POWER Act

By Sarita Gupta & Saket Sohni | Originally posted in HuffingtonPost.com
Posted: 06/20/11 01:33 PM ET

In the fight for workers’ right to organize in America, link a 19-year-old migrant construction worker is on the front lines.

Josue Diaz is a member of the Congress of Day Laborers in New Orleans. After Hurricane Ike struck the Gulf Coast, Josue was taken to Texas to do treacherous clean-up work. He gutted houses, removing toxic sludge with his bare hands. His work allowed families to come home.

Josue was denied the masks and respirators given to the American workers on the site. He was refused breaks, worked to exhaustion, and forced to sleep in a makeshift labor camp. In response, Josue acted in the proudest tradition of labor leaders in America: he led workers in a strike to demand their dignified working conditions. The employer’s response was to fire Josue and his fellow workers and evict them in the middle of the night without pay.

Retaliatory firings are illegal under the National Labor Relations Act. Josue should have been able to go to government agencies to report the abuse. Instead, he was greeted outside by police and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents. They detained Josue, and disappeared with him into the vast darkness of the post-hurricane landscape. He is now fighting removal, and his case has become a national flashpoint for the debate on ICE’s role in undercutting worker power.

Why does Josue’s story matter for American workers? Because across the nation, employers are exploiting immigrant workers — whether day laborers or formal guestworkers on H2A and H2B visas — in a way that undercuts struggling American workers even further.

When brave migrant workers like Josue try to assert their basic rights to full wages and safe, dignified conditions, employers conspire with ICE to turn immigration enforcement into a weapon. The result for U.S. workers is that job opportunities, wages, and working conditions decline every day. Because immigrant workers cannot organize to protest labor abuses, employers have a captive workforce that has no choice but to work for less at lower standards. In the race to the bottom, all workers lose.

Stories like Josue’s — and what they mean for American workers — are what inspired the Protect Our Workers from Exploitation and Retaliation Act, or POWER Act. Senator Robert Menendez re-introduced the bill to the Senate on June 14, and Reps. George Miller and Judy Chu introduced a parallel version in the House. The POWER Act protects the right of immigrant workers to hold employers accountable without fear of retaliation. It would provide temporary protection for immigrant victims of crime and labor retaliation so that employers who are guilty of labor violations may be held accountable. In the process, it would protect the security and dignity of work for American workers as well.

Workers across the country need the POWER Act. In New York, domestic workers face physical violence on their way to winning a domestic worker Bill of Rights. In California, day laborers fear deportation as they combat wage theft. The New York Times has revealed details of how ICE advised a major marine fabrication company on how to carry out illegal private deportations of metalworkers from India who organized to break up a labor trafficking chain.

Protected by the POWER Act, these workers and many thousands of others will be able to organize, without fear, to end the severe labor exploitation that marks our era. American workers would see wages rise, working conditions improve, and their own right to organize become more se. If the current race to the bottom is one we all lose, the fight to pass the POWER Act — the fight of Josue and his allies across America — is one where all workers win.

Sarita Gupta is executive director of Jobs with Justice. Saket Soni is executive director of the National Guestworker Alliance.

Follow Sarita Gupta on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@jwjnational

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What the Government Should Be Verifying: Jobs, Training, and Safety

In America, we desperately need to address the hardships everyday people increasingly face. As Rep. Lamar Smith points out, unemployment rates in the U.S. have reached nearly 10%. Those who do have jobs increasingly face lower wages, longer hours, and less protections at the work site.

To address the challenges U.S. workers and the unemployed are facing, Washington has an unprecedented opportunity to invest in job creation, workplace safety, and training opportunities that would usher those excluded from the workforce into meaningful employment.

To raise the floor for struggling and working families, we need policies that grow our economy, ensure job security, and offer new opportunities. We don’t need more scapegoating.

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Cosmetic Reforms to Dangerous Se Communities Program More Spin than Substance

Obama Administration dismisses evidence of Failed Deportation Program
(NYC, LA) In response to mounting criticism, the Obama Administration announced reforms to the “Se Communities” jail deportation program today. The reforms which acknowledges problematic and indiscriminate implementation fall short of the call for a moratorium on the program.
Revelations from a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit in which the National Day Laborer Organizing Network is a plaintiff represented by the Center for Constitutional Rights and the Benjamin Cardozo School of Law Immigration clinic, have described Se Communities as a deportation program in disarray, with deleterious effects on community safety, and potentially resulting in grave civil rights violations.
In recent weeks, the debate around S-Comm has reached a peak with Illinois and New York terminating the program and Massachusetts pledging not to join in. As a bill to regulate and reinforce the voluntary nature of S-Comm, the TRUST Act, is expected to pass the California Senate soon, Los Angeles and Oakland both passed resolutions seeking out of the program. Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi recently denounced S-Comm as “a waste of taxpayer money.” The Congressional Hispanic Caucus and Congressional Progressive Caucus have both called for an outright moratorium on the program pending its review by an expedited Inspector General investigation set to begin in August, 2011.
The following is a statement from Pablo Alvarado, Director of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network:
“We are stunned by the inadequacy of this announcement. Reform before review not only puts the cart before the horse, it continues to take the country in the wrong direction. Given the inherent problems to the program and the continued secrecy in its implementation, S-Comm should be suspended immediately until the Office of the Inspector General can complete its report.
Any program meant to revolutionize our immigration systems should be implemented with deliberation, care, and consultation with impacted communities. The Se Communities program has failed to do that, and these so-called reforms are more of the same. One cannot name a program that makes us all less safe, “Se Communities.”
ICE has gotten into the snake oil business, and we’re not ing. You don’t put a collar on a snake and call it a pet. As long the federal government insists on inserting the fangs of ICE Access into local law enforcement, we’ll all be wounded by its poisonous effect.
ICE has become a rogue agency, and it cannot be tursted to reform itself. Do the reforms announced today protect the women who faced the double violation of being placed in deportation proceedings after calling for help when facing domestic violence? Do the reforms create an open and transparent government that corrects the dissembling and dishonest approach taken? Do the reforms set standards to prevent local prejudiced policing from resulting in racial profiling? What about Sheriff Joe Arpaio in Arizona? Has his reign of terror- triggered by DHS- been brought to a halt? Hardly.
The Se Communities program is a Frankenstein. It doesn’t need make-up or cosmetic changes. It needs to be stopped immediately. The Latino community has come to view Se Communities as the symbol of President Obama’s broken promises on immigration reform. Cancellation of the program would help repair that trust and would be a step in the right direction. Anything less than suspension at this point is another symbol of the President’s approach to immigration: more spin than substance with disastrous consequences to our community.”
Chris Newman, Legal Director for NDLON, added, “Contrary to the administration’s claims, S-Comm undermines our shared goal of having a unified and reformed federal immigration policy. By delegating federal immigration authority into the hands of thousands of different state police, the federal government is gauranteeing the fragmentation of immigration enforcement. It is a force-muliplier for a broken status quo that has resulted in Arizona’s SB 1070 and copycat legislation. As a result of SCOMM, our immigration system begins to be shaped by potentially pernicious local policing patterns, and the long term unintended consequences to civil rights protections for immigrants are yet unknown.”
The National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON) is a plaintiff in an on-going FOIA lawsuit against DHS/ICE for access to documents related to the Se Communities Program. NDLON plays a central role in California advocacy for the TRUST Act and coordinates the Turning the Tide campaign nationally.

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Lamar Smith’s E-Verify Proposal Launches Backward Arizona Policies to National Level

Washington, DC. Rep. Lamar Smith added steam to the backward trend of Right-wing politics hijacking the political arena by introducing the overreaching e-verify bill that would mandate employer participation in the costly, inaccurate, and untested e-verify database.
The bill, a blend of Arizona’s anti-immigrant policies and Wisconsin’s anti-worker efforts, creates a toxic morass in Washington that would have devastating effects on the economy and is seen by many as a distraction to the real solutions Americans are seeking from Washington.
Pablo Alvarado, Director of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, stated, “It’s nearly criminal that Lamar Smith would hijack the cause of those suffering from joblessness for his extreme political ends when Washington has an actual opportunity to provide real solutions to the hardships everyday people are facing in America.
Smith has compiled the worst practices from Arizona’s immigration policy and Wisconsin’s recent approach to unions and somehow combined them into an immoral piece of legislative scapegoating.
The America I want to live is one that welcomes the newest members of our communities and creates opportunities for all of us to succeed. Lamar Smith would like to roll up the sentiments of welcome expressed by the Statue of Liberty and toss them and the unions along with them into the Hudson. E-verify’s result would be to sink the country into an even deeper economic crisis, one that none of us could afford.
In one fell swoop, Smith alienates immigrants, unions, and those with concerns over government programs encroaching on our privacy with his fortress USA style policy.
However, our efforts together will move the country forward toward a better America. Congress should be verifying that everyone has access to a dignified job and quality education, that those who immigrate here to provide for themselves and their families have a pathway to inclusion.
As a national network of day laborers, we’re proud of the partnership we made with the AFL-CIO in 2006 that recognized the humble workers, street corner day laborers, as key partners in the labor movement whose efforts make a rising tide to lift all boats in the country.
We will not allow Rep. Smith’s efforts divide us or turn us around.”…

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Baltimore Opposes Se Communities, Adds Voice to Chorus Calling for Suspension of the Discredited Program

Baltimore, MD. Last night the Baltimore City Council adopted a resolutioncondemning the “Se Communities” program which entangles local police in federal immigration issues. The Council expressed concern for the of the cities newest residents and urged the Maryland’s Congressional delegation to support the demand of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and Congressional Progressive Caucus by calling for a suspension of the program pending an Inspector General review.
Pablo Alvarado, Director of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, applauded the resolution by saying, “The tide is turning on the dangerous, dishonest ‘se communities’ program. S-COMM was sold to the American public by DHS under false pretenses. The more we learn about the program, the more urgent it becomes to end it. It makes communities less safe, it imperils civil rights, and it is poisoning political efforts to reform unjust immigration laws. Yesterday, the Baltimore City Council took action to prevent the Arizonification of the community.
There is an urgent need to stop the harm being caused by the falsely named “Se Communities” and end to the program all together. Se Communities has become a symbol of President Obama’s broken promises on immigration reform. Ending it would be a concrete step to repair that trust, and it would be the first step on a path to immigration reform. ”
The resolution by the Baltimore City Council is part of a growing trend of local opposition to the coercive federal program. In the past month, Illinois and New York pulled out of the program while Massachusetts refused to join in. State legislation in California is being heard in the Senate today as calls for California’s Governor to suspend the program grow. Last Friday, Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi described S-Comm as a “waste of taxpayer money.” For more background information, download http://ndlon.org/pdf/scommbrief.pdf
The National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON) is a plaintiff in an on-going FOIA lawsuit against DHS/ICE for access to documents related to the Se Communities Program. NDLON plays a central role in California advocacy for the TRUST Act and coordinates the Turning the Tide campaign….

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