This Year’s May Day Protests Highlight the Importance of Protecting All Workers’ Rights
By Josh Stehlik, NILC supervising attorney
APRIL 27, 2017
May 1—or May Day, or International Workers’ Day—is just around the corner. It has long been recognized in different parts of the world as a day to celebrate workers and labor organizing. This year in the U.S., immigrants’ and workers’ rights organizations, labor unions, worker centers, and allied groups not only are planning public marches, but are also preparing for what may be the largest nationwide strike by immigrants in the past decade.
The planned action—dubbed the “Day Without an Immigrant,” in honor of a similar May Day strike in 2006—comes at a time when immigrant workers are facing increased threats of heightened immigration enforcement under the Trump administration and when U.S.-born and immigrant workers alike are suffering from the administration’s aggressive rollback of workplace protections. On this May Day, workers across the country will unite and take to the streets to protest these ongoing attacks on them, which undermine the workplace rights and standards of all workers.
(More information about immigrant workers’ rights when engaging in protest activities and about how best to protect these rights when joining May Day protests can be found in NILC’s Immigrants’ Participation in Protests: What Every Worker Should Know.)
May Day marches and the Day Without an Immigrant strike have taken on added urgency this year, now that we have seen the Trump administration’s deportation machine in action and the devastation and fear it has stoked in immigrant communities—and the broken families left in its wake. The importance of this year’s May Day protests is especially acute as a counter action to the dragnet immigration enforcement we’ve seen under this administration, which has included U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) arrests of immigrants leaving a church hypothermia shelter, seeking access to justice at courthouses, and dropping their children off at schools.
While the Trump administration has already targeted some workplaces for enforcement, recent signals from the administration unfortunately suggest a likely increase in immigration enforcement specifically targeting immigrant workers. In early April, Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a memorandum to all federal prosecutors making the prosecution of immigration-related offenses “a high priority of the Department of Justice.” The memo singles out for enforcement immigrants who may be working without proper authorization to do so.
The Trump administration also recently released two executive orders focused on “guest workers” (workers recruited from abroad to do temporary jobs in the U.S.) and on regulation of the agricultural workforce—neither of which acknowledges, let alone addresses, the high rates of workplace exploitation and abuse faced by guest workers and farmworkers, most of whom are immigrants. The administration’s rhetoric about these executive orders continues to push a false choice between protecting U.S.-born workers and protecting all workers, failing to recognize that protecting vulnerable immigrant workers ultimately protects workplace standards for everybody.
Contrary to the Trump administration’s rhetoric of vilification and scapegoating, immigrant workers—both authorized and unauthorized—are significant contributors to the U.S. economy. A recent study by the Center for American Progress (CAP) found that mass deportation of unauthorized workers from the U.S. would cause severe economic losses to the national economy. Beyond the whopping $114 billion it would cost to physically deport the nearly 11 million immigrants living in the U.S. without authorization, the economic impacts of specifically removing the nearly 7 million unauthorized workers in our economy would be even greater, according to the CAP report.
Mass deportations will not grow our economy. In fact, as the CAP study shows, mass deportations of immigrant workers would undermine the economy and reduce the nation’s cumulative gross domestic product over 10 years by $4.7 trillion dollars.
Other scholarly research confirms that an increase in deportations of immigrant workers would cause a loss of jobs for U.S. citizens and would lower their wages. It concludes that if “the goal of policy reform is to encourage legal immigration, promote job creation and reduce the number of undocumented, legalization has a much better performance” than deportation-only policies—policies such as those currently being pursued by the Trump administration.
This May Day comes at a time when immigrant workers are facing increasingly aggressive immigration enforcement, while U.S. and foreign-born workers alike are suffering from continued federal attacks on workplace protections. Now is the time for workers across the country—regardless of their immigration status—to come together to protest these regressive policies and to advocate for workplace protections that will raise the workplace standards for all.
Don’t have plans for May 1 yet? Find a local event here.