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AZ: Posturing on Immigration; Failing on Wages

For the right wing in the Arizona state legislature, their only response to sweatshop employers using low-wage undocumented immigrants has been to try to make criminals of the undocumented workers themselves, even as they've opposed raising minimum wage standards to eliminate the sweatshops which financially benefit from exploited immigrants in the first place.

Yesterday, Gov. Napolitano vetoed a bill that would have created a new criminal charge of trespassing in the state for any undocumented immigrant picked up by local law enforcement officials. Law enforcment officials ranging from the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association to the Arizona Association of Chiefs of Police had opposed the measure as an unfunded mandate on local authorities that would have detracted from other needs.

But remarkably, while Arizona legislative leaders promote divisive immigration proposals, they still maintain their soft spot for exploititive employers driving demand for undocumented workers and have repeatedly refused to raise the minimum wage in Arizona from its $5.15 per hour federal rate. This is despite the fact that raising the minimum wage and enforcing basic labor law is a far superior way to ensure that American workers' wages are protected.

Instead, advocates have had to go to the ballot with an initiative to raise the minimum wage. But you have to ask the anti-immigrant legislators-- If you worry about the effects of immigration on pushing down wages, why not just raise wages for workers directly through raising the minimum wage?

And since they don't, you have to suspect that this wave of anti-immigrant legislation is about bumper sticker politics, not real concerns for working Americans.

Fortunately, most state legislators are not so remiss. At the Spring Meeting of the National Conference of State Legislatures, a resolution backed by the National Labor Caucus to endorse an increase in the federal minimum wage was adopted. A second resolution to endorse the Employee Free Choice Act, a federal proposal to protect workers' organizing rights, received broad support, but lacked enough votes to get the supermajority it needed for passage.

Protecting workers is a faster way to protect workers than beating up on immigrants. Perhaps if the majority in Arizona realized that, we'd be closer to some real solutions. In the mean time, though, there's little but politics emanating from that state's legislature.

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