Ignore Immigrant Issues at Your Peril

195770_121793097895106_4578478_nToday is May Day – International Workers Day. It’s an official holiday in more than 80 countries, although not in the United States. May Day is a day to celebrate workers and to advocate for changes to public policies that undermine workers’ health or financial well-being.

Herein North Carolina, workers’ rights and immigrant rights groups are teaming up for marches throughout the state (you can learn more on the MayDay United NC Facebook page. They’re calling for changes to policies that make it harder for working families to make ends meet – like a regressive tax system that forces those with the least to pay the most and the weak enforcement of regulations to prevent workplace injuries.

Female workers have additional issues worth marching for, including the fact that we are paid less than men and that legislation to rectify this is stalled in the General Assembly. There’s also the lack of affordable health care and affordable child care – issues that don’t affect women exclusively but certainly affect us disproportionately.

Immigrant women living in North Carolina have additional reasons to march today. According to the recent Status of Women in North Carolina report, they are much less likely to have health insurance and are more likely to live in poverty than native-born women. They are also more likely to work in service jobs, where they are much more likely to be victims of wage theft, or in food processing, where the work is often low-paid and conditions are harsh and even dangerous.

The immigrant rights and workers’ rights movement haven’t always been partners, but they are now. Labor leaders realized some years ago what politicians are learning today – any national movement that hopes to succeed ignores immigrants at its peril. That’s why one of the changes May Day marchers are calling for today is an end to the harassment of immigrants and the dismantling of immigrant families.

Unfortunately, the situation for all immigrants in North Carolina – no matter where they’re from, how they got here, or what kind of work they do – may be about to get much harsher and more dangerous, thanks to a bill now moving through the General Assembly.

The RECLAIM NC Act seems on its surface to be a compromise. Immigrants who are undocumented would be able to apply to get driving privileges (current North Carolina law prevents them from getting licenses), but to qualify, they would have to admit to being in the country without permission.

That’s no small thing – to provide your address, name, fingerprints, and a confession in one tidy package. If North Carolina passes this law, there’s no guarantee federal agents won’t use the permit applications as deportation list.

The bill would also bring Arizona-style “show me your papers” rules to North Carolina. Law enforcement officers could detain anyone who doesn’t have a government-issued ID for 24 hours while the agency verifies the person’s immigration status. In Arizona, this law drove immigrants, both legal and undocumented, out of the state. It’s also been linked to drops in tourism, consumer spending and business investment, and it’s expected to cost the state’s agriculture industry billions of dollars. Given North Carolina’s large agriculture and food-processing industries, this law would likely hurt businesses in every part of the state and drive up food prices.

Which reminds us of the reasons why we all should be concerned about immigrant rights. Immigrants are our neighbors. They contribute to our communities. And they play an important role in our economy.

A law like the RECLAIM NC Act would not only hurt our economy by driving away immigrants – and any company that wants to do business with immigrants or even people who look or sound like they might be immigrants – it would cost us lots of money. Kentucky rejected a similar law when they realized it would cost about $40 million a year.

There are certainly ways North Carolina can spend that kind of money to support workers and families. Like not restricting access to pre-kindergarten. Or improving enforcement of safety regulations in the most dangerous workplaces. Or giving teachers a much-deserved raise.

The issues on the May Day agenda aren’t just about workers. They’re about making North Carolina a state where we all share the responsibilities of creating healthy communities, giving people opportunities for education and advancement, and ensuring that hard work pays a fair wage.

Democracy NC, in its call to people to join them at the May Day march in Raleigh, summed up the issues nicely:

This Wednesday, May 1st, people across the state will converge on Raleigh to raise their voices for a people’s agenda. They are gathering to speak out against corporate-dominated politics and an agenda to cut back many public jobs and services such as Medicaid, unemployment, public education, and much more.

Join in on Wednesday, May 1, from 3:00-8:00 p.m. in downtown Raleigh to call for a positive vision that includes things like good jobs and living wages, pay equity for women, the right to collective bargaining, justice for immigrants, a budget that fully funds public education, public sector jobs, public services, and healthcare and that ensures corporations and the top income earners are paying their fair share for these investments in our state.

Those sound like reasons worth lacing up your sneakers and marching for today.




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