Hickenlooper and guest workers
Source Dave Anderson
Date 14/12/05/02:52
Hick clueless on guest workers
By Dave Anderson

DO WE WANT to create a permanent underclass of non-citizens in the
United States? That is a crucial question in the immigration reform

Gov. John Hickenlooper’s answer is “yes” judging by his flippant
remarks in a national newspaper. On the day before Obama announced his
executive action on immigration, the governor told The Wall Street
Journal that it would “be very combustible.”

He said: “What’s amazing to me is, a lot of young Latinos, the vast
majority don’t care about a pathway to citizenship. They want to be
able to get on an airplane and get down to Mexico City and visit their
grandparents. And they want to get a job and be able to get paid over
the table. Why don’t we just take the pathway to citizenship and say,
‘We’re not going to worry about it.’ Let’s have a robust guest worker
system where everybody gets five years and we secure the border and we
actually hold business accountable if they’re going to pay people
under the table.”

Latino and immigrant rights groups were shocked and enraged. Julie
Gonzales, board chair of the Colorado Latino Forum, said, “We are so
disappointed in John Hickenlooper because the things he said in The
Wall Street Journal article weren’t the things he said three weeks ago
when he was running for re-election. Immigrant communities for so long
and Latino voters have held a pathway to citizenship as a cornerstone,
as a marker to determine whether the bills being proposed are
meaningful or not. And to see Governor Hickenlooper try to bargain
away comprehensive immigration reform’s pathway to citizenship before
we even have a bill on the table, I don’t even have words to describe
how frustrating that is.”

The idea that undocumented immigrants should just become “guest
workers” is outrageous. Guest workers are a caste of indentured serfs.
In a report titled “Close to Slavery: Guestworker Programs in the
United States,” the Southern Poverty Law Center described the H-2
guest worker program, which provides temporary farm workers and
non-farm laborers for a variety of U.S. industries, as “rife with
labor and human rights violations committed by employers who prey on a
highly vulnerable workforce. It harms the interests of U.S. workers,
as well, by undercutting wages and working conditions for those who
labor at the lowest rungs of the economic ladder.”

Bound to a single employer and without access to legal resources,
guest workers are:

• routinely cheated out of wages;

• forced to mortgage their futures to obtain low-wage, temporary jobs;

• held virtually captive by employers or labor brokers who seize their

• forced to live in squalid conditions; and

• denied medical benefits for on-thejob injuries.

President Obama has taken an important step forward with his executive
action. But this came after years of confrontational nonviolent
activism in which undocumented immigrants reached out to the public
and told their stories — which made them vulnerable to arrest,
detention and deportation.

Today, vulnerable Wal-Mart and fast-food workers are using the same
risky, courageous tactics in fighting for a $15-per-hour minimum wage.

This is not a coincidence. Labor reporter Josh Eidelson argues that
undocumented immigrants and guest workers aren’t on the fringes of our
society but are the “bellwethers.” They are the canaries in the coal

Eidelson says they “represent what’s happening to U.S. work in three
critical ways. First, precarity: Workers lack job security, formal
contracts or guaranteed hours. Second, legal exclusion: Labeled as
“independent contractors,” “domestic workers” or otherwise, they’re
thrust beyond the reach of this country’s creaky, craven labor laws.
And third, the mystification of employment: While a no-name contracted
company signs your paycheck, your conditions are set by a major
corporation with far away headquarters and legal impunity. These
linked trends are both causes and consequences of the ongoing
de-unionization of the United States.”

Right-wingers manipulate the anxiety many Americans feel about their
increasingly insecure lives and try to direct their justified anger at
undocumented immigrants. The Republicans — and some Democrats like
Hickenlooper — push for an expanded system of indentured servitude.
That would be a step back in history. We already abolished slavery. If
we are bamboozled by them, all of our lives will become meaner as we
fight each other over the crumbs.

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