50% of the Texas construction workforce is undocumented, and an additional 20% of workers are documented immigrants in the US with visas. As an organization that focuses its policy work on the Texas construction industry, WDP believes that real solutions to poor working conditions must include immigration reform that protects workers. WDP is a leading immigrants’ rights organization, working with groups across the state to advocate for federal immigration reform and build the capacity of immigrant workers to be their own advocates.
- Co-founded the Austin Immigrant Rights Coalition which mobilized 30,000 Austinites for just immigration reform in 2006—the largest march in the city’s history
- Coordinated “A Day without an Immigrant” along with the Austin Immigrant Rights Coalition, closing down an estimated 80 percent of restaurants and construction sites in the city to demonstrate the significant role immigrants play in the U.S. economy
- Reduced Austin immigrant deportations by 60 percent through the formation of a broad-based coalition, compelling the Austin Police Department to issue citations for misdemeanor offenses instead of arresting offenders, which could have led to deportation
What’s the difference between “illegal alien” and “undocumented?”
Most immigrant rights organizations consider the term “illegal alien” to be derogatory and legally inaccurate. The word illegal carries a series of negative implications. For example, it is often assumed that “illegal” people have no civil or workplace rights, when in fact, all people have rights regardless of immigration status. Additionally, some people falsely think that entering the country without a visa is a felony crime, when in fact it is a civil violation (such as not paying your taxes accurately). “Undocumented” is a more accurate and dignified term because it simply means an immigrant’s status is not documented by immigration authorities.
Fair and Humane Immigration Reform
As a workers’ rights organization, WDP believes that comprehensive immigration reform is a necessary step in protecting all workers’ rights and ending abusive treatment of undocumented immigrants. It is time for Congress to stop legislation based on hate and pass real policy solutions that will improve the quality of life for 12 million undocumented immigrant men, women, and children. Any immigration reform must:
- Keep families together. Too many families have been separated by our broken immigration system. Comprehensive immigration reform must include provisions to guarantee families can stay together without fear that their loved ones may be deported. This protection will limit an unscrupulous employer’s ability to intimidate a worker exercising his or her workplace rights.
- Honor hard work. Our nation has long valued and rewarded hard work. However, our current immigration system fails millions of hardworking people and businesses every day. Policymakers must ensure that immigration policy protects the employment rights of undocumented workers, guaranteeing that they will not face deportation if they come forward to report workplace abuses and giving them the opportunity to earn a pathway to citizenship. These policies honor the hard work of those doing some of the most difficult, dangerous, and necessary jobs in our nation.
Reward honest businesses. Current immigration policy forces employers to break the law and turn a blind eye to illegal practices, or face unfair competition. In industries that depend on undocumented labor, companies must be able to hire their workforce legally to ensure that all companies are operating on a level playing field. Guest worker programs reward unscrupulous employers; a worker’s legal status should not be dependent on employment with a specific employer.
- Create a system that works for the industry. Providing all undocumented workers with a pathway to citizenship is necessary to ensure that the industry can continue to employ its current workforce. Because of of rampant misclassification and the fact that many workers change employers frequently, it is necessary that any reform employ a flexible standard of proof for workers who have been living and working in the US. All workers who are free of serious convictions and can demonstrate they are self-sustaining should qualify for legal status as they build an employment record in the mainstream economy.