Improving the Lives of Immigrant Workers
Abel Moreno can’t forget the day last December when he and his girlfriend were pulled over by Officer Marcus Jackson. After ordering them from the car, the Charlotte cop fondled Moreno’s girlfriend and arrested Moreno when he intervened. The department fired Jackson and charged him with sexually assaulting six women – including Moreno’s girlfriend – all while on duty.
Police dropped the charges against Moreno. But now he faces deportation because, when falsely arrested, authorities learned that he’d been working here for six years without documentation.
Fortunately, an immigration judge recently granted Moreno six more months in the U.S. to try and obtain a visa that’s available to immigrants who assist with criminal prosecutions.
The program, called a U-Visa, provides victims of certain crimes with up to 4 years of temporary legal status and work eligibility. Victims’ family members may also be included, if they meet certain criteria.
It’s a smart policy that makes our country safer and ensures we don’t punish people who work with police. However, the law falls short. It fails to address one of the biggest problems facing our country: the abuse of workers.
I [recently] joined Farmworker Justice and Oxfam America as they unveiled their new report, (http://www.farmworkerjustice.org/resources-publications/articles-and-reports/weeding-out-abuses). It outlines our broken farm labor system and offers recommendations to increase enforcement and improve the lives of workers across the country.
The words that most struck me during Wednesday’s briefing came from Margarito Martinez Saucedo, a dairy farmer from Washington state. He explained that many immigrant workers don’t speak out for fear retaliation from their employers and punishment from the government. And he’s pretty justified – when Margarito’s employers learned he was organizing his fellow farmworkers, they fired him on the spot.
You see, current law deters immigrant workers from reporting labor violations because it offers no protection from employers who report workers to immigration authorities just for asserting their rights. If undocumented workers complain about working conditions, employers can just report them to immigration officials, have them deported, and find someone new to mistreat and pay a substandard wage.
Even workers here legally on visas tied to their employers often back down because they lose their status if they’re fired. This lets underhanded employers abuse our country’s immigration laws to evade their responsibilities to provide fair wages and working conditions.
This situation undermines opportunities for immigrants and U.S.-born workers alike.
That’s why we need to fix this problem, and protect Margarito and others like him. And that’s why I am pushing to protect immigrant employees who report labor violations from retaliation. We need legislation to ensure unscrupulous employers can’t undercut honest businesses that play by the rules. Doing so will improve the conditions, wages and opportunities of every person working in America – and that’s a cause everyone can get behind.
Dr. Judy Chu was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives from the San Gabriel Valley and East Los Angeles in July 2009. Congresswoman Chu is a strong advocate for effective and humane immigration reform. She is on the House Immigration Subcommittee and is an original co-sponsor of the Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CIR-ASAP).