Week Ending November 21, 2014
President Obama Announces Broad Executive Action on Immigration
On Thursday evening, President Obama announced long-expected executive action on immigration reform. This was necessary due to the House GOP leadership’s failure to hold a vote on any comprehensive immigration reform legislation. In fact, the House has had 511 days to vote on the Senate-passed comprehensive immigration reform legislation (S. 744), which had the strong bipartisan support of 68 senators, but House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) continues to refuse to schedule a vote, nor has he allowed a vote on a similar House bill (H.R. 15), which has 200 bipartisan co-sponsors.
The President’s executive action will protect more than four million undocumented immigrants from deportation, and will permit them to work and travel freely. It establishes a new Deferred Action for Parents program which will allow parents of U.S. citizen and legal permanent resident (LPR) children to apply for legal status. This status will be effective for three years, with possible renewal. To be eligible, the parent must have been living continuously in the U.S. for five years (since January 1, 2010). The program will begin 180 days after the President’s announcement on November 20. Applicants are required to undergo a background check and pay a fee.
The President’s executive action also expands the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which has allowed more than 600,000 undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children to attain legal status. The required date for continuous residence has been moved up to January 1, 2010, and the age limit eliminated (currently, only those under the age of 31 are eligible). And, the temporary legalization period for DACA has been extended from the current two to three years. The DACA expansion will be implemented in 90 days.
The executive action establishes three new immigration enforcement priorities: terrorists, gang members and felons; those with significant and/or numerous misdemeanors; and those who have failed to abide by a removal order or who illegally cross into the U.S. after January 1, 2015. Other actions include expanding visas for victims of domestic violence and human trafficking; allowing high skilled H-1B employment visa holders who have pending green card petitions to change jobs and allowing their spouses to receive work authorization; and replacing the Secure Communities program with the Priority Enforcement Program, which will require that local law enforcement solely notify the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) if someone in custody is undocumented, but not detain them unless they are in a priority enforcement category. And, the DHS will establish a New Immigrant Integration Task Force, which will promote legal permanent residents becoming citizens, in 10 states initially.
AFSCME will be engaging with the AFL-CIO and affiliated unions in the Department of Labor’s rulemaking process to ensure that H-1B and other employment visa workers will be hired based on real labor market need, afforded full employment rights and protections, and we will fight against continued wage suppression for information technology workers due to visa programs.
AFSCME strongly supports President Obama’s bold executive action because it makes significant progress towards fixing our broken immigration system. Bringing millions of undocumented workers out of the shadows will not only protect the employment rights of these workers but will also improve the wages and working conditions of U.S. citizens and legal immigrants whose employers now have to compete with exploitative employers in the underground economy. And, our economy as a whole will benefit, with forecasted gains in gross domestic product and increased tax revenues for federal, state and local governments.
Immigration reform is far from complete. Many hard-working, law-abiding workers and their families remain in an unprotected status because President Obama’s legal authority on immigration is limited. Only comprehensive immigration reform legislation can fully and permanently fix our broken system. This must include providing immigrants with an attainable path to citizenship and ensuring full workplace rights and protections for all workers, regardless of their immigration status.
The labor movement will be providing helpful tools to union members who themselves qualify or have family members who qualify for legal status under President Obama’s executive action.
Fiscal Year 2015 Decisions Still Pending
Congress continues to prepare a bundled version, or “omnibus bill,” of all 12 unresolved funding bills before the December 11 deadline when the temporary “continuing resolution,” or CR, expires. Key members of Congress in both parties continue to push for an omnibus that would consider individual program needs. GOP Tea Party leaders, however, have been pushing for another CR that would keep all or most programs at current funding levels. GOP leaders have also threatened retaliation for President Obama’s executive action on immigration, by blocking an omnibus, and some extremists have even threatened to shut down the government by failing to pass any funding measure. AFSCME has been strongly advocating for a more flexible omnibus bill. For example, the new child care law imposes new requirements on child care providers which necessitates additional funding.
GOP leaders have also called for a number of harmful policy provisions, or “riders.” This is an aggressive attempt to hitchhike controversial policies on the back of the must-pass funding bill. AFSCME firmly opposes harmful riders that would turn back the clock on home care workers receiving basic federal minimum wage and hour protections, impede worker safety and protection efforts, target the National Labor Relations Board and challenge collective bargaining, block key actions of the Department of Labor, provide waivers for school districts to opt out of recent nutrition standards for school meals, block the Department of Education’s efforts to impose “gainful employment” regulations that would limit federal financial aid for poor performing career education programs which mostly impacts for-profit institutions, or that block the President’s executive action on immigration from taking effect.
Additional Funding Needed to Implement New Child Care Law Requirements
This week, President Obama quickly signed a bill to reauthorize the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) after the Senate passed the bill (S.1086) by a vote of 88 to 1.
As we have previously reported, the law includes important provisions with the goals of improving safety and creating more stability in child care. This includes provisions that require background checks for providers, pre-licensure inspections, comprehensive consumer education on parents’ child care options, health and safety training, initial eligibility for child care subsidies lasting at least 12 months, at least 70% of funding used for direct services, and targeted funding for quality measures. The bill also encourages states to pay providers for children’s sick days and unscheduled days off. And, it adds an inspection requirement for license-exempt child care providers, but it is unclear if states would have flexibility to determine when these inspections must begin.
While the law strives for many improvements, it fails to address a critical issue – setting payment rates for providers that can support living wages. This serious problem is detailed in a new report from the Center for the Study of Child Care Employment (http://afsc.me/1xWPXMp). The report notes that while costs to parents for early childhood services have nearly doubled since 1997, provider rates for non-preschool or kindergarten teachers have remained nearly stagnant despite advances in educational attainment.
AFSCME is also concerned that the funding levels recommended in the new law are far too low to support the new requirements and could result in many families losing access to child care subsidies. AFSCME continues to press for increased funding for CCDBG to assist states and providers as they prepare to comply with the new law’s requirements.
House Panel Advances Emergency Ebola Aid
The House Foreign Affairs Committee approved the Ebola Emergency Response Act (H.R. 5710) which authorizes $1.8 billion in emergency aid to help West African countries stricken by Ebola. President Obama has requested a total of $6.18 billion in emergency funds to respond domestically and internationally to the current Ebola epidemic in West Africa, $2 billion of which would be used for international focused efforts. The current outbreak of Ebola in West Africa represents 86% of all the cases ever reported. AFSCME agrees with public health experts that building immediate and long-term health capacity in Africa is necessary for global health security.
Another House panel held an updated hearing on the U.S. response to the Ebola outbreak. AFSCME called for Congress to pass emergency Ebola funding and to provide ongoing funds to state and local public health departments that have cut staff. The staffing reductions have been detrimental to our nation’s ability to respond to predictable influenza outbreaks, much less emerging infectious threats like Ebola. AFSCME pressed for targeted training funds to ensure hospital workers, first responders and other workers who are at risk of exposure to Ebola be trained and protected. AFSCME urged that Congress condition receipt of federal Ebola funds to hospitals and other entities on their compliance with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines and all appropriate federal worker safety and health standards.
Additional information on Ebola and protecting workers at high risk for exposure can be found on AFSCME’s website.
President Saunders Participates in CAP Policy Conference
AFSCME’s President Saunders participated in the annual policy conference held by the Center for American Progress (CAP) on a panel “The Middle Class Squeeze and Effects of Inequality.” Also on the panel were Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), former Clinton and Obama administration economic advisor Gene Sperling, entrepreneur and venture capitalist Nick Hanauer, and CAP President Neera Tanden served as moderator. A number of other high level officials appeared at the one day conference, including Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Cory Booker (D-NJ), Gov. John Hickenlooper (D-CO), Attorney General Kamala Harris (D-CA), Mayor Bill de Blasio (D-NY) and others. President Saunders provided strategies for advancing the interests of working families who struggle to make ends meet and stay in the middle class. He cited stagnant wages, attacks on labor rights and disinvestment in services and infrastructure as the leading reasons for the decline, which must be reversed. President Saunders pressed the case that unions make the middle class and that the attack on unions worsens income inequality.
House Democrats Elect Leaders
The House Democratic caucus held leadership elections and, as expected, Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) was re-elected leader for the new 114th Congress when it convenes in January. House Speaker John Boehner and his GOP team were elected last week without significant change. Democrats also re-elected Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer (D-MD) and Assistant Leader James E. Clyburn (D-SC) in the secret ballot elections. Democratic Caucus Chairman Xavier Becerra (D-CA) and Vice-Chairman Joseph Crowley (D-NY) will both continue in their current positions. One change was the election of Rep. Ben Ray Lujan (D-NM) to serve as chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the House Democrats’ fundraising arm, replacing Rep. Steve Israel (D-NY) who did not seek reelection.
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