A bill that would overhaul the nation’s immigration laws is headed to the Senate floor early next month, where it will need all the friends it can get to pass. The measure would give the estimated 11 million immigrants in the United States illegally a path to citizenship, as well as tighten border protections. The bill has split organized labor. Unions with workers likely to benefit from the proposed changes, including the farm workers’ union, support the measure. But the public employee unions that represent immigration workers are expressing concern and, in some cases, vocally opposing the law.
The many proposed changes are causing some trepidation among the workers who are on the front lines of the issue — for instance, the agents at the border-crossing stations. Colleen Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, which represents those agents, says U.S. Customs and Border Protection is already understaffed and underfunded. “The idea that it could be stretched thinner to cover any new responsibilities would really just be irresponsible for the country,” she says. Kelley says her union has not taken a formal position on the Senate measure, and hopes lawmakers will address her concerns.