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Exploited: The Plight of the Undocumented Worker

To address the decline in working conditions caused by immigrant exploitation, we should not be deporting workers but enforcing workplace laws.
 
 
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We all know that undocumented workers are vulnerable to abuse and exploitation, but under this administration, the abuses and violations of human, labor and civil rights have become obscenely worse. A recent clear example: Iowa's meatpacking plant raid.

Much has been written about the unjust and abusive means used by the Justice Department and Homeland Security to deport these workers and their families. But a recent finding reported by the New York Times is even more upsetting- Agriprocessors, the raided meatpacking plant, hired undocumented immigrants as young as 13.

Among the 389 detained, more than 20 workers were found to be under-age. But this is not all. The young immigrants declared that they were exploited, mistreated, beaten, and abused. Some of them worked 17 hours a day, six days a week. And if you think they were making some money by getting paid overtime, you are wrong. Overtime was rarely paid.

As soon as they come to the United States, undocumented workers start desperately seeking for job opportunities to sustain and provide a better life for their families-the very reason for migrating. And of course, employers are more than happy to take advantage of the availability of this vulnerable and desperate pool of workers. Conveniently, employers create low-quality jobs that immigrants are forced to take because their immigration status prevents them from getting or demanding good jobs. While working, undocumented workers endure unfair treatment and wages because they fear being fired or reported to immigration.

The existence of this under class of workers affects working class Americans more than we think. Undocumented workers' lack of rights and vulnerable situation in the workplace enables employers to drag down labor standards, leaving fewer decent jobs available and forcing all workers regardless of citizenship or immigration status to either accept the same low quality conditions and wages or be excluded from labor sectors that mainly hire undocumented workers. This labor dynamic is evident at Agriprocessors, the nation's largest kosher plant.

After the raid, an influx of Somali immigrant workers, who have appropriate paperwork to work in this country, are arriving to Postville, Iowa to take on the jobs previously held by the undocumented workers detained in May. According to the Des Moines Register, despite having immigration status, the Somali immigrants are being mistreated like the undocumented workers from Guatemala. Brilliantly, instead of complying with labor standards, Agriprocessors decided to keep their abusive labor tactics for future recruits.

Our current immigration system and this administration punish immigrants, not those who profit from them. To really address the decline in working conditions and wages caused by immigrant exploitation, we should not be raiding and deporting immigrant workers but enforcing workplace laws. Further, our immigration system needs to be reformed to ensure that both, native born and immigrant workers are guaranteed fair wages and equal labor rights.

Cristina is an Immigration Policy intern at the Drum Major Institute for Public Policy.