Why the Senate’s Immigration Reform Vote Matters, A Lot

Late yesterday, the Senate passed a comprehensive immigration reform bill that would provide a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. It’s not a perfect bill, but if it were to become law, it’d be a big step towards an immigration system that respects and protects everyone.

The bill passed with a 68-32 majority—a bipartisan vote that managed to get past the usual Senate roadblocks.

This reform will be good for millions of undocumented people who could gain legal status and a path to citizenship, but it helps everyone else, too.

You’ll hear a lot of misleading talk about how this represents a big influx of low-wage labor that will drag down wages. That’s a claim that ignores some key points. First of all, undocumented workers aren’t working for lower wages and in tough conditions because of who they are; they’re in that position because, in their precarious position, they are often afraid to assert their rights or unaware of what those rights are. Corporations pay them what they can get away with, rather than what the law would require. Those workers are already here, and the mistreatment they’re subject to is the downward pressure on everyone in the workforce. It’s the undocumented status that’s the problem, not the people themselves.

Bringing people out of the shadows, into our communities, means that they’re more likely to get a fair wage and safe conditions, because they won’t have to put up with the fear and isolation. This bill would make it harder for companies to exploit these workers. Raising standards for currently-undocumented workers raises standards for the rest of us, too.

As AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka puts it, the bill

…allows people who are American in every way except on paper to come out of the shadows, lift themselves out of poverty and be recognized as contributors to our communities and our country.

That’s why this bill was necessary—so we can rein in companies that try to exploit workers and lower wages, and so we can lift everyone up together.

The next step is for the U.S. House to act. Unfortunately, Speaker John Boehner and key Republicans have said that they won’t even give the Senate’s bill a vote. The responsibility is on them to move this process forward—and, if they don’t, they’ll need to be accountable for ending this shot at reform. Boehner has a lot of excuses and explanations, but in the end, the decision is in his hands.