The Exploitation of Immigrants and Immigration Reform

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While there has been a lot of attention paid to how immigration reform would provide a pathway to citizenship for the nation’s undocumented immigrants and beef up border security, another key effect that this bill would have is that it would help all workers, legal and undocumented alike.

The recent raids by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials of 14 7-11 convenience stores on Long Island and in Virginia expose a serious problem of our broken immigration system – the exploitation of undocumented immigrant labor by unscrupulous employers looking to take advantage of fear.

In what has been described as a “modern-day plantation system,” dozens of employees were forced to work as many as 100 hours a week, while only being paid for one-quarter of that, with the store owners pocketing the rest. Workers were also forced to live in housing owned by the store operators and hand over most of what little cash they made for rent. The failure to comply with these strict conditions would be threatened with loss of job, deportation, or worse.

“These defendants ruthlessly exploited their immigrant employees . . . in effect creating a modern-day plantation system,” said Loretta Lynch, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District, at a news conference yesterday.

The store operators have been accused of wire fraud, identity theft, wage theft and other abuses of workers.

But this case would not have been brought to light had it not been for a few brave undocumented workers, who despite their immigration status, came to the authorities to report that they were not being paid for their work.

Rightfully, the only individuals that have been arrested in relation to the ICE raids were the owners and operators of the stores, and not the employees, according to reports.

This is significant in that it might help to encourage further reports of such abuse from our nation’s undocumented workers. If immigrants can report crimes such as these to the police without the fear of deportation, then we would all be safer.


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