President Obama's pick for secretary of labor, Rep. Hilda Solis, could
help shape a new approach to immigration control that emphasizes the
robust enforcement of labor laws.
Where the Bush administration stepped up workplace immigration
enforcement, sweeping up migrant workers and not always going after the
employers who illegally hire them, the Obama administration is expected
to take a different tack.
Immigrant advocates hope that strengthening compliance with
workplace health and safety laws and wage and hour standards - which
Solis promised in her hearing before the labor committee in January -
will protect workers in general and could reduce the likelihood that
some employers will seek to profit by hiring undocumented workers.
Alex Aronson is hard to pin down for an interview. He's on a bus
when I finally reach him by phone, and he is returning from an
excursion to Oregon's state Capitol. "What are you up to?" I ask.
"Well," he says, "I'm covered in gold body paint and shiny gold
clothing." The only thing missing from his homage to the golden pioneer
perched atop Oregon's Capitol is an ax. Aronson explains that his was
confiscated when he went into the house chamber to watch the
swearing-in of the state legislators--among them, founder and president
of the Oregon-based Bus Project, Jefferson Smith.
News item #1: As of Nov. 30, 13 states had enacted 19 employment laws
related to immigrants since Jan. 1, 2008, according to a December
report issued by the National Conference of State Legislatures. The
laws covered hiring unauthorized workers, employment verification,
unemployment benefits and so forth.
The states: Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Maryland,
Missouri, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia
and, of course, Mississippi.
LUDDEN: Nathan Newman(ph) is with the Progressive States Network which supports immigrant-friendly legislation. He points out that in 2006 a number of Congressional candidates who ran on a hard line anti-immigration platform lost. The same thing happened in the Republican presidential primaries. And Newman says states which have past immigration crackdowns have had mixed results. That may explain why for all the immigration bills considered by state legislators in recent years few have actually passed.
Mr. NEWMAN: There's been a message that this wasn't going to be the magic wedge issue that some political opportunists on the conservative side had hoped for. I think that meant that both the money and volunteer time to try to support new ballot initiatives just wasn't there in these states.
A handful of conservative states with a recent influx of immigrantshave drawn national attention for passing "punitive" immigration laws,but the reality is most state legislatures are quietly welcomingnewcomers, according to a new report released Thursday.
As families in Iowa struggle to make ends meet, they are justified in feeling threatened when they see what were once good jobs turned into low-wage, sweatshop labor.
In industries across the country, workers are not receiving the wages owed them under minimum-wage and overtime laws. Earlier this decade, a U.S. Department of Labor report found that 60 percent of U.S. nursing homes routinely violated overtime, minimum-wage or child-labor laws. Other studies have found similar levels of violations in the garment and restaurant industries.
In Iowa, the minimum-wage and overtime laws have some of the weakest enforcement provisions of any state in the country. Penalties usually amount to no more than telling employers to pay what they originally owed their workers. Because legal action is so expensive and so likely to produce meager returns, few employees can afford to pursue claims. Because civil fines are so low, the state doesn't collect enough for strong, ongoing enforcement.
Democratic activists and state lawmakers are working fast to make sure that illegal immigration is not an issue that can be used against them in elections next year, but the debate already is dogging some presidential candidates.
The Progressive States Network, a liberal advocacy and research group, released a strategy memorandum Thursday that outlines how Democrats can fight the outcry over illegal immigration in 2008. The paper urges Democratic candidates to emphasize the political and economic costs of aggressive anti-immigration proposals and to challenge attempts by Republicans to lump together the issues of illegal immigration and terrorism. The memo is part of the network's ongoing project to shape the immigration debate at the state level next year.
Progressive States Outreach Coordinator Marisol Thomer
talks about the states and immigration
on The Progressive News with John Scott on the Bay Area's Green 960.
The section with Marisol is just past halfway through the hour.