A major national union called upon President Barack Obama Tuesday to pardon immigrants with minor criminal offenses so they don’t get deported.
The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) argued the pardon would help protect families and the economy. President-elect Donald Trump promised to prioritize those with criminal backgrounds in his deportation push. The union fears that will include legal immigrants who have minor infractions.
“Immigrants do the work that our families need and that drives our economy like caring for our children, the sick and the elderly and securing and cleaning our offices, hospitals, and airports,” SEIU Executive Vice President Rocio Saenz said in a statement. “Since the election, millions of immigrant families have been living in fear of deportation forces targeting them in their workplaces and tearing their families apart.”
Trump promised that he will immediately begin working to deport criminal aliens. There are an estimated two million convicted criminal aliens currently in the country. By definition, an alien includes any person who is not a citizen or national of the United States.
“By exercising the presidential pardon for immigrants who have committed minor infractions, President Obama can take action now to protect our economy and our communities from the divisive politics of Trump that threaten to profoundly impact all families,” Saenz said.
The SEIU admits that the pardon powers are limited and can’t be used to grant legal status to illegal immigrants. The union, however, argues it can be used to protect legal immigrants that have broken the law. It cites Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Jimmy Carter as former presidents who have pardoned broad groups of people.
The SEIU called for the president to pardon the criminal aliens as part of a larger coalition of advocacy groups. The coalition includes labor unions, immigrant rights groups, and community organizers. It also issued an open letter to the president earlier in the month.
Labor unions also have a lot to lose if the president-elect deports millions of legal immigrants. Service unions, especially, have many members that are legal immigrants. Unions also have a lot to gain by efforts to help illegal immigrants gain legal status since that would open the door to millions of potentially new members.
Union membership rates in 1983 were at 20.1 percent nationally, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. It was the first year comparable union data became available. The union membership rate, however, dropped to just 11.1 percent by 2014.
President Obama signed a 2014 executive order which granted legal status to millions of illegal immigrants. Labor unions praised the decision as both good for families and the economy. National unions were also quick to capitalize on the millions of newly legal immigrants.
The AFL-CIO launched a national campaign aimed at reaching, mobilizing and organizing immigrant workers. It was started in response to the executive order. The U.S. Supreme Court later ruled June 23 that the president overstepped his authority with the executive order.