On Labor Day, too many workers still in shadows

For many Americans, Labor Day barbecues and picnics mark a nostalgic end to summer.

It’s also a time to celebrate work and the people who do the work – and of course, the people who want to work but can’t find jobs.

This year, we remember especially that too many people labor in the shadows of our economy without access to the rights and protections that everyone deserves.

Over 11 million aspiring Americans attend school, work in our neighborhoods, raise families, own homes and dream of a better life. But their dreams will never be realized with the threat of deportation hanging over their heads and a path to citizenship so far out of reach.

While these immigrant workers struggle to become part of a country that benefits from their labor but doesn’t protect their rights, unscrupulous employers abuse the system by exploiting workers with little to no protections and pay them less. This vicious cycle, in turn, lowers wages and working conditions for all American workers and makes it harder for businesses that play by the rules.

No one can deny that our current immigration system is broken or that it depresses living standards for all workers. Across the country this Labor Day, people are calling for immigration reform that truly protects the rights of all workers.

At the beginning of August, 41 national leaders representing a broad coalition of advocates who support worker protections that include a road map to citizenship were arrested in a civil disobedience action just outside the offices of members of the House of Representatives in Washington, D.C.

The message is loud and clear: If members of Congress continue to obstruct a vote on immigration reform, they will have to answer to a growing majority of Americans who support a path to citizenship as part of comprehensive immigration reform.

We saw this majority reflected in the diversity of faces that spoke up to ensure that a vote on comprehensive immigration reform was successful in the Senate: faith leaders, conservatives and business owners took action together with immigrant rights groups, community organizations, working families and labor and civil rights leaders.

According to the U.S. Congressional Budget Office (CBO), modernizing our immigration system so that it is safer, more orderly, and more humane would grow our economy and reduce the deficit by almost a trillion dollars over two decades.

The CBO also reports that a set of reforms that include an earned path to citizenship would create 15,780 new jobs in Pennsylvania and increase our economic output by $1.4 billion in just one year.

Passing comprehensive immigration reform with strong worker protections, including a path to citizenship, is the economically and morally right thing to do.

Our country is watching, and the millions who have mobilized will continue to ramp up action until a path to citizenship is fully realized.

Richard Trumka is president of the AFL-CIO, representing 12.2 million working people. Rick Bloomingdale is president of the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO.