Earlier this week, SEIU nurses, janitors, public city employees, security officers, homecare and childcare workers marched on Congress to call for a new American Dream for workers across the country. As they gathered here in Washington, D.C. for our political action convention, SEIU members once again stood united for affordable health care for all, an end to the Iraq war, and a livable wage for our hardest workers. This year, our members also made their voices heard on immigration reform.
Today, more so than at any other time in our nation's history, it is clear that we cannot reclaim the American Dream for workers--nor can we claim to honor the principles this country was founded upon--until we get serious about defending immigrant rights.
I once believed we were on an inevitable path to pass comprehensive immigration reform that would strengthen this nation and provide hardworking families with a path to citizenship and a chance at the American Dream. Yet last spring, this Congress and the Bush administration failed us. They failed to take the moral stand in the midst of a national crisis. They failed to lead, to provide a vision, and to restore hope.
As a result of that failure, we have witnessed an alarming increase in local anti-immigrant laws across the country. Instead of fixing the root causes of a broken immigration system, the Bush administration has chosen to spend billions of dollars to round up and detain thousands of innocent workers, break up families, and send children to lives of uncertainly in faraway places. Green card replacement regulations are suddenly subject to Byzantine new rules that will convert thousands of immigrants to the ranks of the undocumented. We await with dread social security "no match" provisions that threaten massive worksite disruptions, government sponsored discrimination, and a collapse of the Social Security Administration's infrastructure.
If these enforcement-only regulations are left unchecked, a year from now we will have more than just a deeply marginalized low-wage workforce and a battered immigrant population; we will also still have millions of low-wage workers--both native-born and immigrant--trying to eke out a meager existence amidst the ruins of this broken system. As the U.S. Census recently revealed, we stand witness to an ever-growing divide between "the haves" and the "have-nots," more people lacking basic health insurance, and more people living in abject poverty.
We are creating a system with first-class citizens and second-class workers, and institutionalizing the kind of racial discrimination we hoped this country left behind years ago. In short, we are creating a system that undermines the very foundations of the American Dream.
This is not the kind of hope and optimism that America needs today.
In spite of these grim realities, I did feel hope and enthusiasm with my brothers and sisters this week. During SEIU's Member Political Action Conference (MPAC), I witnessed an outpouring of energy and commitment to our shared values of treating all persons with respect and dignity. There was talk of securing healthcare for children, ending the war, finding a way to reward our work, and ensuring that hardworking people have the chance to become citizens.
If you are committed to the American Dream, you must value the lives and reward the work of all people. And part of valuing lives and rewarding work is making sure that those who have come to this country in search of a better life for their families are given the same chance to succeed as those who have come here before them.
Five of the Democratic candidates for President visited MPAC this week, and each pledged their commitment to comprehensive immigration reform. Senators Dodd, Clinton, Obama and Edwards and Governor Richardson all called for a path to citizenship for hardworking and taxpaying immigrants. Listening to them speak, I was reminded that we all share not only a similar dream, but also the great responsibility of making this a great nation.
Together, unified, we can and we must show how politics can change lives.
In the coming months, we will continue to mobilize, register new voters, and hold Presidential candidates and our elected leaders accountable to the highest standards. Together, we will use the power of our votes to ensure that America continues to be a land of opportunity for all and we will create a new American Dream in 2008.
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