TIME Immigration

Labor Leader Urges Obama to Go Big on Immigration

Richard Trumka, President of the AFL-CIO Michael Bonfigli—The Christian Science Monitor.

Seeking a change in deportations policy and an energized liberal base for the midterm elections

A top labor leader predicted Thursday that President Barack Obama will use his executive authority to make changes in immigration policy without congressional cooperation, but also castigated him for the high rate of deportations under his watch.

“He’s going to do something; I just hope it’s bold enough to be worthwhile,” Richard Trumka, head of the AFL-CIO, told reporters at a Christian Science Monitor breakfast. “No matter what he does the right wing is going to go bonkers and say he doesn’t care about anything—[that] he isn’t enforcing the law.”

Obama has been under pressure from liberals to work around congressional opposition to comprehensive immigration reform by issuing executive orders. Trumka said that could be politically savvy with the midterm elections approaching—so long as Obama goes far enough to energize the liberal base.

“If he goes mild he’ll energize the right but he won’t energize the center and the left,” Trumka said.

The AFL-CIO, an umbrella union group, wants the President to defer deportations, grant work authorization to “low-priority” undocumented immigrants, and restore the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency’s authority over local law enforcement, among other demands.

Trumka said Thursday that the current “deportation policy doesn’t make sense,” and that Obama fell into a “classic trap” set by Republicans, raising the number of the deportations without guaranteeing a comprehensive immigration bill in return.

“What it did do is undermine the support [Obama] had in the Latino community because those communities really believe that they are under attack right now,” Trumka said. “You’re seeing families split up.”

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