August 19, 2006
a slave by any other name...
If you read my post about Los Pineros, you realize that the existing "guest" worker program is about as hospitable as Cinderella's wicked stepmother. While I'm sure there are plenty of companies that treat their guest workers with fairness and dignity, there are plenty of others exploiting their workers. Because of this, comprehensive reform must include an overhaul of the guest worker program to include job portability. The Southern Poverty Law Center is fighting for this change. They recently filed a lawsuit on behalf of immigrant workers (with honest-to-goodness visas) being exploited by their employer:
Filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana on behalf 82 guest workers, the suit alleges Decatur Hotels, LLC and its president, F. Patrick Quinn III, violated the Fair Labor Standards Act when the company failed to reimburse workers for the exorbitant fees they paid to aggressive labor recruiters working as agents for the hotel chain. Decatur owns about a dozen luxury hotels in New Orleans and is one of the largest locally owned hotel chains in Louisiana.
To pay labor recruiters in their home countries, the workers from Peru, Bolivia and the Dominican Republic plunged their families into debt. Recruiters charged workers between $3,500 and $5,000 to take them to New Orleans under the federal government's H-2B guest worker program.
"Four thousand dollars is a lot of money in Peru," said Humberto Jimenez, one of the hotel workers. "I mortgaged my house to work for Patrick Quinn. I came here to make enough money to see my child through college. If I had known the truth I would never have come."
Recruiters under Quinn's employ promised workers 40 hours of work per week and plenty of overtime. Instead, they found themselves working about 25 hours a week, sometimes far less. Under current immigration law, they are bound to their employer and unable to legally work for anyone else.
"They're on a dead-end road," Bauer said. "Their profound debt makes them desperate to work -- but Decatur doesn't give them enough hours. And if they switch jobs, they're breaking the law. In effect, they are captive workers in a situation of virtual debt peonage."
Said Teresa Ortiz, another worker, "It's modern-day slavery. What are my options? I go home to Bolivia, poorer than when I got here and deeper in debt. Or I break the law to find another job."
Tracie Washington, a New Orleans civil rights attorney and co-counsel in the case, said, "This guest worker program is a continuation of the racial exploitation that began with slavery in this country. It's corporate-driven; Decatur profits from it. And it's state-sponsored; the Department of Labor signs off on it."
"These courageous workers are exposing guest worker programs as an opportunity for predatory employers to seek out and exploit cheap labor," said Marielena Hincapie, director of programs at the National Immigration Law Center, which is also co-counsel in the case. As guest worker programs are increasingly seen as the answer to future migration, Hincapie cautioned against expansion of a historically flawed system.
"The solution is for all workers to be afforded decent work opportunities with a living wage in the just reconstruction of the Gulf South," said Washington. full article
June 22, 2006
los pineros -- men of the pines
A key point in the bill that passed the Senate is "portability" of guest worker status - the right to move to a different company without jeapardizing immigration status. Current guest workers do not have that privilege and many essentially work as indentured servants -- without knowledge of their labor rights.
The Southern Poverty Law Center is currently working on a class action law suit on behalf of many forestry guest workers. Bear in mind that these are legal immigrants -- and this is yet another reason why our broken system must be reformed. In this article, Beneath the Pines: Stories of Migrant Tree Planters you can read first-hand accounts of the abuses endured.
Then watch this PBS video Be our Guest.
The crumbling immigration policy cannot be repaired by politicians filled with self-ambition. It long ago became less about fixing policy and more about fixing an election year. It is tragic -- not necessarily for the taxpayer, but for the human lives that broken laws allow to be abused each day.
April 29, 2006
let the racial profiling begin
Welcome to the new reality for dark-skinned Latinos -- undocumented, documented, U.S. born and raised alike.
Manuel Mendez was removed from his work site on Wednesday because he had not brought his identification with him to work that day. Manuel is a U.S. born citizen. Text and video from News 8 Austin here.
The Southern Poverty Law Center reports:
A prominent anti-immigration leader has secretly urged the nationís largest neo-Nazi group to launch a campaign of violence and harassment against undocumented workers in the United States. article here
As bad as this news is, in one case, an African woman who was strip searched and jailed won a settlement for the abuses she endured. Acticle here.
The media would have us believe that the pro-immigration forces are merely screaming for Amnesty. But there is so much more at stake in this debate. We are fighting for U.S. citizens of non-European origin, for legal residents AND for the humane treatment of undocumented immigrants.
The issues are not as simple as the media would have us believe.