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Immigration Reform is Critical Part of the Road to Recovery for America's Workers

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Rep. Gutierrez's (D-Ill.) immigration bill, introduced this week, charts a new course for our country -- a course that protects workers and respects families. It also reflects our nation's interests and our better instincts.

The legislation upholds our values as a nation of immigrants and embraces the vitality and diversity that are the fabric of a vibrant and strong society. It truly could not have come soon enough for America's workers -- both immigrant and native born.

As wages fall and unemployment rises, as the middle class shrinks, working families need bold policy solutions that lift wages, create quality jobs and build our economy for the long term.

Immigration reform is a critical part of that road to recovery.

This is the case because the immigration debate is really about all workers, and their ability to live a decent life.

Because of our broken immigration system, native-born and immigrant workers are pitted against each other in the job market, entangled in a dangerous race to the bottom. The status quo of a two-tiered workforce makes it easy for employers to exploit undocumented workers, driving down wages and labor standards for everyone. Workers are denied the opportunity to demand vigorous labor and civil rights protections that will raise living standards for everyone. Instead, employers have all the power -- dividing and conquering American and immigrant workers so they are left fighting over the crumbs.

This is unacceptable.

The only way we can truly turn around declining working conditions in America is to get undocumented immigrants out of the underground economy, into the system and on an equal playing field with all workers. Only then will we be able to restore economic fairness and raise wages and living standards for everyone.

SEIU and UFCW represent workers in a broad range of industries -- including nurses, long-term care providers, meatpackers, food service, grocery and textile workers, janitors, and security guards. While their specific job challenges vary, over the past 20 years, these workers have all seen their productivity go up while their incomes have gone down. The companies and the CEOs that they work for have made record profits, and yet these workers have seen their pensions dry up, their wages freeze and their co-workers dismissed. For their non-unionized colleagues, life has been even tougher. Wages have plummeted, layoffs have soared, and job quality has suffered new lows.

While the cause for these dismal working conditions are complex -- due in large part to an economic system that has benefited the wealthy few at the expense of the majority -- fixing our immigration system is an important part of the solution. Indeed, as President Obama has said, comprehensive immigration reform is a necessary part of any plan for sustained economic growth.

Today, as comprehensive immigration reform legislation begins to move in Congress, we face an historic opportunity to pass smart, comprehensive reform that works. For the first time, the union movement is in broad agreement on the framework for reform, and we are committed to ensuring that all workers have an opportunity to work a job they can be proud of -- one with middle class wages, benefits they can raise their families on, safe working conditions, and secure employment they can count on.

So, to those out-of-touch, anti-immigrant legislators who decry "amnesty" but offer no realistic solution -- we say that the patience of the American worker is wearing thin. In the coming months, labor unions will join with concerned American workers across the country to make our voices heard.

Contrary to that tired CEO argument about immigrants being willing to work jobs that Americans won't do, nobody wants a job with low wages, few benefits and no security. We can't allow America to become a country where a person's race, color or origin relegates them to such a path. And we can't allow America to become a place where multi-national corporations, by way of our immigration system, create an economy where low-pay no-benefit jobs are the only jobs available to anyone who lives here. America's workers need Congress to act now.

Joe Hansen is President of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW), which represents more than 1.3 million workers, primarily in the retail and meatpacking, food processing and poultry industries.

Eliseo Medina is Executive Vice President of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), the largest union of immigrants in North America, representing 2.2 million members.