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As Labor Day Approaches, New Report Highlights Need for Comprehensive Immigration Reform

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Study Documents Clear Link Between Worker Abuse and Dysfunctional Immigration System

A new report cataloging the pervasive mistreatment of American workers at the lowest rungs of the economic ladder bolsters the case for stronger labor law enforcement and comprehensive immigration reform. The study from the Center for Urban Economic Development, National Employment Law Project, and U.C.L.A. Institute for Research on Labor and Employment, Broken Laws, Unprotected Workers, explored the treatment of nearly 4,500 workers in New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago and found widespread labor and employment violations across a number of industries and occupations.  The report also found that the current dysfunctional immigration system makes it harder for immigrant workers to assert their rights in the workplace – to the detriment of all workers.

In an editorial, the New York Times noted that “Workplace abuses are flourishing in the absence of a working immigration system, where illegal immigrants are vital to the economy but helpless to assert their rights. The report upends the argument that the way to help American workers is to make illegal immigrants ever more frightened and exploitable. Only by protecting all workers will the country begin to rebuild a workplace matching its ideals of decency and fair play.”

“As we approach Labor Day, it’s never been clearer that our dysfunctional immigration system leads directly to worker abuse and exploitation,” said Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice. “As we’ve seen in Postville, IA and elsewhere, when immigrant workers are without the protection of the law, unscrupulous employers can undercut the wages and working conditions of all, and gain unfair advantage against honest businesses who do play by the rules.”

The report lays out an array of workplace abuses prevalent in a number of low-wage industries.  For example, over two-thirds of workers suffered an illegal wage violation in just the past week; more than one quarter received pay below minimum wage; and only 8 percent of workers who had been injured on the job had filed for workers’ compensation, largely because of threats and fears of employer retribution. The report authors concluded that we need to “strengthen government enforcement of employment and labor laws,” “update legal standards for the 21st century labor market,” and “establish equal status for immigrants in the workplace.”

According to the report, “The best inoculation against workplace violations is ensuring that workers know their rights, have full status under the law to assert them, have access to sufficient legal resources, and do not fear retaliation. But for unauthorized immigrant workers today, this can be a near impossibility. Any policy initiative to reduce workplace violations must prioritize equal protection and equal status in national immigration reform, and ensure status-blind enforcement of employment and labor laws.”

Steps to make these recommendations a reality are already underway.  The two largest labor federations in America, the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) and Change to Win (CTW), have developed a common framework for comprehensive immigration reform that includes a path to legal status for undocumented workers, a commission to regulate the entry of workers in the future, increased labor protections, and enforcement standards to guard against the types of abuses documented in the report and in the devastating aftermath of the 2008 Agriprocessors immigration raid in Postville, IA.

“Strong labor law enforcement combined with immigration reform that brings undocumented workers under the umbrella of labor and political rights will restore integrity to both the labor market and the immigration system,” said Sharry.

America’s Voice — Harnessing the power of American voices and American values to win common sense immigration reform.