Who's the Boss?

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Local restaurant owners and other employers worried about being forced to fire large numbers of workers can rest easy, at least for the moment. A California judge yesterday granted a temporary injunction against the Department of Homeland Security’s efforts to crack down on employers who have illegal workers on the their payrolls. But chances are the government will continue its legal fight to ferret out workers whose names don’t match their Social Security information and hold their bosses responsible for insufficiently researching employee documents.

"I don't think there's anything in the judge's ruling that is insurmountable," Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff told the Associated Press. "The key is to move forward. We're committed to using every tool available to enforce our immigration laws."

Local opponents of Chertoff’s embattled new rules are taking their views directly to the Social Security Administration in downtown Dallas tomorrow. The participants won’t necessarily be immigrants themselves -- they’ll be union leaders.

Members of North Texas Jobs with Justice -- an advocacy coalition that includes labor groups and unions such as the UAW Autoworkers, the Coalition of Labor Union Women and the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists -- will meet at 2 p.m. Friday to deliver letters of protest to the regional commissioner at 1301 Young Street.

“There won’t likely be a lot a lot of immigrants turning out, because they’re afraid of being targeted in light of what’s happening in Irving and Farmers Branch,” Margarita Alvarez, a Jobs with Justice organizer, tells Unfair Park. “There’s not going to be any sort of protest, we’ll just be symbolically arriving and turning in the letters.”

The letter reflects the larger shift that’s happened in recent years in the labor movement: Instead of opposing the presence of immigrants in the workforce, legal or illegal, big unions like the AFL-CIO have included the newcomers in their efforts for improved pay and working conditions.

“The new rule does nothing to resolve the problems with our broken immigration system,” one letter from Jobs for Justice reads. “Undocumented workers who receive [Social Security] no-match letters will not leave the country. Instead, they and their employers will move into the unregulated, cash-based underground economy, resulting in unfair competition, the loss of tax revenue, and further exploitation and abuse.”

The AFL-CIO was one of the groups whose lawsuit against the government resulted in yesterday’s ruling. The union, and the local labor representatives headed to Young Street tomorrow, argue that the presence of undocumented workers worsens wages and conditions for all workers. And the only solution, so their new view goes, is not to try to rid the country of illegal workers who are crucial in a number of industries, but instead to bring them out of the dark, enable them to demand the same rights as American employees and level the playing field for all workers.

Alvarez, who has worked with various immigrant rights groups, appreciates labor’s new outlook. “We’ve long been looking for the support of the union folks,” she says, “and now we have it.” --Megan Feldman


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