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Daniel Kanter

Day-Labor Wage Theft and the Immigration Debate

Of 15 day laborers interviewed by the Miami Herald for a piece out today, only four said they had consistently been paid over the course of their time working as day-laborers. It seems, however, that very few laborers are aware of an under-publicized program, passed by the Miami-Dade County Commission after pressure from immigrants-rights groups, that requires employers to pay within two weeks of contracting work and established a process by which claims of wage theft are settled either through conciliation or court.

Amy has pointed to wage theft at Bank of America, a white-collar example of a characteristically blue-collar predicament: employers cheating workers out of rightfully earned money, and-- too often-- employees being afraid to take action for fear of losing their jobs. But wage theft largely affects day-laborers, often undocumented workers who depend on the quick, often cash payments that day-labor promises. Unfortunately, as hard as it is to combat this problem in companies, it seems the less organized the labor, the more susceptible it is to wage theft.

Though wage theft is a problem in its own right, this discussion seems to bring to light another byproduct of the raging immigration debates taking place across the country. Recent weeks have seen increased discourse over the role of local police in reporting illegal immigrants, with states running the gamut of stances. Just today, the Boston Globe reported that Rhode Island state troopers routinely report illegal immigrants regardless of the offense-- including things like running a stop sign-- in sharp contrast to Massachusetts’ policy of reporting illegal immigrants only in violent cases. Arizona’s immigration law just went into effect. Representatives from Virginia and, yes, Florida are calling for similar measures. The list goes on.

It’s no surprise that increased fervor for harsh anti-immigrant laws at the local level combined with stricter enforcement of flawed federal immigration policy serves to drive illegal immigrants further underground for fear of retribution. Through these debates, one line of argument has become clear, however: it seems unwise and dangerous to alienate illegal immigrants from law enforcement. But underneath that lies another good reason not to further inflame relations between local police and immigrants, demonstrated plainly here-- if immigrants are too afraid of being deported to report injustices committed against themselves, that exploitation becomes self-sustaining. The wage theft taking place in Miami is just one of many examples of how increasingly anti-immigrant sentiments and policy decisions lead to exploitation.

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Posted at 4:35 PM, Jul 06, 2010 in Immigration | Labor
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