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My Turn: Ayotte, labor movement support same core principles

Sen. Kelly Ayotte’s decision to support the comprehensive immigration reform bill under consideration in the U.S. Senate is a sensible step toward addressing immigration reform. All Americans will be better off when we fix our broken immigration system. Communities will be safer, workplaces across the country will be fairer and our country will be more just.

The New Hampshire labor movement supports the so-called “Gang of Eight” reform bill because we recognize that the current system incentivizes businesses to hire unauthorized workers and pay them less than American workers. If we want to build an economy based on shared prosperity and a strong middle class, we must embrace reform.

To that end, we are encouraged that Ayotte supports many of the same core principles that the labor movement has deemed essential to effective reform: a rigorous path to citizenship, rational control of the border and an effective worker authorization system.

We agree that we need an effective system to hold employers accountable for hiring undocumented workers, and we are open to expanding the E-Verify system if workers’ rights are protected. We need to ensure that any verification system be accompanied by robust enforcement of labor and employment laws.

We also need a process that allows high-skilled science and technological workers and other needed legal immigrants to work here, but only when based on current market needs and economic data. To allow the high-tech industry to dictate the number of H-1B high-tech visas we should issue will close the door on thousands of qualified U.S. citizens who are seeking those positions.

Comprehensive reform is not “amnesty,” as some opponents of sensible reform claim. There are 11 million undocumented immigrants toiling in the shadows without opportunities to earn legal status. Many came here legally only to see their visas expire. Others were brought here as children. They cannot drive, travel or assert their rights for fear of deportation. Refusing to remedy their plight would be a travesty that should shame us as a nation.

For at least the past decade, a broad coalition of religious, labor and business leaders has made the case that a great country can’t claim to be a beacon of freedom and opportunity while separating immigrant parents from their children and exploiting workers. Despite the efforts of some who trade in division and distortion, the movement for comprehensive immigration reform continues to gain strength. It combines the visions of young immigrant dreamers, fiscally minded CEOs, workers’ rights advocates and faith leaders.

We are happy to welcome Ayotte into that group. We may not agree on all the details, but we appreciate her participation and look forward to working with her to make sure we end up with a policy that makes sense for all of us.

It is time to reject false choices. We can protect our borders at the same time that we provide an earned path to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants. We can protect both American-born workers and aspiring Americans by reforming our immigration policy, which is a blueprint for manipulation and abuse by corrupt employers.

When employers exploit vulnerable immigrants, wages for all workers are driven down; the resulting race to the bottom erodes the middle class. The myth that immigrants take jobs from native-born Americans is not supported by the facts. In fact, a growing body of evidence suggests that immigration reform would be a boon to the U.S. economy.

Ayotte’s decision to join the growing bipartisan majority in the Senate working for comprehensive immigration reform is a good one, and we applaud her for it.

(Mark S. MacKenzie is president of the New Hampshire AFL-CIO.)

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