Immigrants are vital members of the U.S. workforce, yet far too many work in jobs with low wages, no benefits, unsafe working conditions, and no career ladder. For many, their undocumented status makes them especially vulnerable to abuse and exploitation, including wage theft, health and safety violations, and more. Guest workers are lured to the U.S. by false promises of decent work and fair pay. Instead they find themselves mired in debt to recruiters and living and working under the employer’s complete control, often severely exploited under forced labor conditions. For undocumented workers and guest workers alike, fear of retaliation, including loss of livelihood and the possibility of deportation – which for many would mean separation from family members and loved ones, cause them to remain silent, reluctant to join in collective action to build power for change.
The Discount Foundation considers comprehensive immigration reform (CIR) a key labor standard essential to ensure that all U.S. workers have the same basic protections and the ability to organize to gain power in their workplaces and be active members of movements fighting for social and economic policies that will make economic opportunity – the “American Dream” – a reality for all. With the re-election of President Obama, there is a new opening to pass CIR. The overwhelming support of Latino and immigrant voters for Obama in November has the administration and members of congress on both sides of the aisle talking about comprehensive reform. But there is much debate about what should be included in a legalization program for the 11 million undocumented immigrants currently living in this country, including “future flow” issues such as whether there should be programs for temporary or guest workers, and if so under what circumstances and with what labor protections. Passage of CIR is far from certain.
The Discount board set aside a pool of funds for general operating support grants to organizations engaged in education and mobilization in support of “pro-worker” immigration reform. This includes informing and educating policymakers and the public about the need for CIR that ensures that all workers have basic rights and workplace protections, and mobilizing people to demonstrate support for such reform. The following grants were made in January 2013.