The debate on illegal immigrants have helped in unfolding the plight of undocumented workers. In the US there are an about 6.5 million undocumented workers in many sectors including manufacturing and agriculture.
The official estimates are that the US is home to more than 11 million undocumented workers. In New York itself there are 2 million migrants in the work force. They also work as drivers, domestic workers, and construction staff. Paid far less than the minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, these undocumented workers in the US are mistreated by their employers.
For the undocumented workers’ rights the immigration reform Bill approved by the US Senate and waiting to be passed by the House of Representatives will be a great relief even if it takes 13-year path to citizenship for undocumented migrants.
After Latinos, South Asians are the largest undocumented population in New York.
Hiring undocumented workers is an unlawful act. But employers tell the undocumented workers that I have hired you even though you are illegal. So you should say ‘thank you’, no matter how much I can pay you. Also many undocumented migrants are ready to work for low wages and are pressured to accept the bad working conditions.
There is extreme mental pressure in the workplace. The undocumented worker can be fired for any reason being late; feeling sick; if any complaint made. Many employers often do not pay workers for a week or a months vacation at a time. They also hold up passports and threaten to call immigration to trap the worker further. Despite the federal law having provisions to protect undocumented workers in the matter of minimum wage that is often flouted.
Local immigration is enforced by police officers who are accused of high handedness, profiling and discrimination.
So the undocumented workers are highly exploited segment in America. They are victims of unpaid wages, dangerous working conditions and discrimination. If undocumented workers try to stand up for their rights they face physical and immigration-related threats and retaliation.
Of late there is more awareness about their rights. They are getting organized also. Media exposure and initiatives by the government can ameliorate their conditions. The comprehensive immigration bill was a step in the right direction in bettering their lot.
The undocumented workers facts have aroused concern and there is consensus that a tremendous need exists to inform workers and employers of their rights and responsibilities under new labour laws so as to provide greater resources for enforcement of rules including minimum wage. This can increase access of workers to legal solutions and organized bargaining.
To adopt immigration policy reforms means the vulnerability of undocumented workers can be curtailed. The wave of non-profit worker centers across the country is a tool to empower immigrant workers in accentuating their working conditions and effectively defend their employment rights and restore their dignity in the workplace. It has to be complimented with a real commitment from the public and private sector to protect the rights of all workers.