The Central New York Labor-Religion Coalition Speak Out: Immigration raids undermine immigration reform

Stop The Raids

Immigration raids undermine efforts to create a fair plan

Friday, June 01, 2007

By Rev. Craig Schaub and Tim Fay

CNY Labor-Religion Coalition

The recent Central New York raid by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents to arrest undocumented workers at an Oswego County onion farm comes just as we are trying to decipher the possible consequences of an immigration bill currently debated in Congress.

These raids not only strike fear in families and communities; they create moral confusion and bully the conscience of a nation during this policy debate on immigration. They scapegoat workers who are simply trying to provide for their families and harm local economies while we as a nation shrink from the challenge of squarely addressing the realities of migration.

The moral confusion is multi-fold. We as a nation often proclaim that our values are based on religious principles. The sacred texts we read are chock full of references that speak clearly about welcoming the immigrant. Yet we criminalize and vilify people who have risked life and dignity to come to put food on the table of their families and provide much of the food and shelter for the rest of us.

We confuse protecting our nation from terrorists with stopping the flow of undocumented workers. We pride ourselves as being a cultural melting pot, tossed salad or jambalaya. Yet often the debate on this issue is one in the abstract.

By design, many immigrants are driven to silence. Let's find ways to hear the stories of real people. While we listen, let's remember the stories of each of our own families' migration to this country, so that shared humanity might guide us.

We often proclaim we are a people of family values. Deportation and the fear of deportation tears families apart. While it is heartening to see our elected officials in Washington, D.C., try to hammer out a comprehensive immigration policy, possible new provisions still require time back in home countries on the path to citizenship, with no guarantee of being reunited with loved ones, a narrow cultural definition of "immediate family" that excludes adult children and parents, and a point system that clearly favors those families with the most resources to the exclusion of many others.

Any just policy must promote keeping families together, allow for reunification of immigrant families, and take seriously the various cultural understandings of immediate family members.

We proclaim we are motivated by a vision of democracy. Yet many of those who work in the shadows endure wage theft, unsafe conditions, sexual harassment, no benefits, no right to organize or move to another job if the one they hold is abusive.

What is often billed as a "worker shortage" is sometimes the lack of employers willing to pay living wages and institute safe and respectful workplace standards.

Any just guest worker program must include full workplace protections, pay of prevailing wages, a right to organize, and a path to legal permanent residency and citizenship for visa holders.

We proclaim we respect human rights. Yet the enforcement of rights in the workplace is miserably underfunded. The Department of Labor and other regulatory agencies need the capacity to enforce the Fair Labor Standards Act, Occupational Safety and Health regulations, and other standards.

This would raise standards for all workers instead of exploiting undocumented workers and depressing the wages for other workers.

We join representatives of faith communities and justice organizations across the country calling for a moratorium on the ICE raids until we have an immigration policy that is humane, rational and fair for workers and their families already here and for hard-working people who are on their way.

Rev. Craig Schaub and Tim Fay are co-chairs of the CNY Labor-Religion Coalition.