The 4 million women you can thank for your last meal

From the Restore Fairness blog-

They’re the backbone of our food supply. Their hands sliced the chicken breast we had for lunch. Their sweat brought the fresh tomato to our plates. Their backs bent to pick the lettuce in our salads. They are America’s undocumented workers.

Every day, on farms and factories across America, millions of women work to produce billions of dollars worth of fruit and vegetables that fill our stores and kitchens and nourish our children. At least 6 out of every 10 farm workers in this country are undocumented, and almost all of them live on the fringes of society, earning below minimum wage and facing humiliation, exploitation and sexual assault from their employers on a regular basis.

According to a new report, ‘Injustice on Our Plates,’ published by the Southern Poverty Law Center, the 4.1 million undocumented women living and working in the U.S. are among the lowest paid and most vulnerable members of our society. These women form the backbone of the agricultural system in this country, looking after their families, often working weeks without getting paid, working in unsafe and unsanitary conditions, with little or no recourse to any protection against the indignities they suffer at the workplace. They live in constant fear of being discovered and sent back to their home countries, with the looming threat of being separated from their children, many of whom are American born. It is grossly unfair that while contributing as much as $1.5 billion a year to the Medicare system and $7 billion a year to the Social Security system, undocumented immigrants will never be able to collect benefits upon retirement.

The report was compiled by SPLC researchers who conducted extensive interviews with 150 women from Mexico, Guatemala and other Latin-American countries who are or have been undocumented, and are working in the food industry, picking tomatoes, apples, green beans, lettuce, etc. in places like Arkansas, California, Florida, Iowa, New York and North Carolina. From a CNN article about the report-

Regardless of what sector of the food industry these women worked in, they all reported feeling like they were seen by their employers as disposable workers with no lasting value, to be squeezed of every last drop of sweat and labor before being cast aside.

Interviewed for the report, a woman called Maria reported being paid as little as 45 cents for each 32-pound bucket that she filled with tomatoes, and said that one employer did not allow his workers to go to the bathroom during their work-shifts. Olivia, a 46-year old meatpacker who came to the U.S. from Mexico to run away from her abusive husband and build a better life for herself, told the SPLC the horrific story of how she was raped by one of her supervisors after working a 12-hour shift. When she tried to report the incident to the senior management, her complaints were met with the retort, “What is so bad about that? He left you in one piece, didn’t he?” Despite extreme medical injuries and severe emotional trauma from the attack, Olivia was too scared to report the rape to the police out of fear that her immigrant status would be found out and she would be deported. Like countless women in similar circumstances, she was bound by the desperate need to work in order to look after her daughter and her parents who depended on her, and she had no option but to continue working for the man that beat her unconscious and raped her. The new report tells us that Olivia’s story is not the anomaly, but the norm-

Undocumented immigrant women are, in most cases, virtually powerless to protect themselves against such attacks…Some feel too much shame to report harassment or sexual violence, leaving them extremely vulnerable to exploitation by male co-workers or supervisors…Their abusers use their lack of legal status against them, knowing they are not likely to report sexual harassment or even violent attacks. Because of the many obstacles arrayed against them — fear, poverty, shame, lack of access to legal resources, language barriers, immigration status and cultural pressures — few immigrant women ever come forward to speak out against the wrongs committed against them. Too often, they are forced to compromise their dignity — to endure sexual harassment and exploitation — to obtain a better life and a measure of economic security for themselves and their families.

These women are economic refugees, running away from lives beneath the poverty line, hunger and desperation in their home countries, with the hope of working hard to provide their children with basic amenities like education, health and stability. The fact that such injustice and degradation is suffered by tens of thousands of hard-working women in this country on a regular basis is horrific and shameful on a number of levels. These women, responsible for putting food on our tables, are part of a systemic malady that is only getting worse. This is indicative of the sad irony of a world where high-level trade and capital move across borders with uncanny speed and ease, lining the pockets of nations and people in power, while the hands that build these “globalized” empires are forced to remain circumscribed within their lot, regardless of how unfair a lot it might be.

Deporting all 10.8 million undocumented immigrants would cost the economy over $2.6 trillion over the next ten years, not to mention the huge human rights violations that would occur as a result. Moreover, legalizing undocumented workers would raise the U.S. gross domestic product by $1.5 trillion over a decade. The report stresses the importance of immigration reform that would address these injustices in a way that is comprehensive, while respecting fundamental American values of dignity and justice.

Learn. Share. Act. Go to restorefairness.org

 

 

 

Colbert Congressional Testimony: The Truthiness of the Matter

Polls suggest large swaths of the country get their news from faux newsers Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. Well, except the far righties who get their news from the faux newsers on Faux News, but that’s a whole other post.

It’s no wonder, Stewart is less biased than most real anchorbots and he’s a master at repeatedly demonstrating that technologically-challenged politicians still don’t get the concept that video never goes away.

Damn that infernal TV contraption!

Colbert – who isn’t a Republican, but plays one on TV – refers to the “truthiness” of his news, which is an unfair assessment. His news is usually far more truth(FULL) than the “real” stuff.

That might be the reason Colbert is scheduled to testify before the House Immigration Subcommittee on Friday.

He’ll appear in character to testify about his experiences after interviewing United Farm Workers President, Arturo Rodriguez, on his show. Rodriguez invited the President of the Cobert Nation to participate in the UFWs Take Our Jobs Initiative – a program that asks regular American softies to apply for jobs as farm workers. The UFW provides training to erstwhile farm workers so they can replace immigrants in the fields. It’s meant as a not-so-subtle bit of hyperbole to answer claims that farm workers are stealing American jobs.

“Somehow, undocumented workers are getting as much blame for our economic troubles as Wall Street, but missing from the immigration debate is an honest recognition that the food we all eat at home, in restaurants and work-place cafeterias, including those in the Capitol, comes to us from the labor of undocumented workers,” Rodriguez said. “According to the federal government, more than 50 percent of the workers laboring are undocumented.”

I once knew a man who traveled all over the world after his retirement as an air traffic controller to play amateur migrant farm worker. He picked oranges in California, avacados in Australia, and tomatoes in Wisconsin. He even had the business cards to prove it. But, that’s a whole other post too.

I’m sure Colbert’s testimony will be just as hilarious as say, Alberto Gonzales’ “I’m sorry, but I can’t recall that particular felony Senator” deny-a-thon during the Bush the Lesser™ administration. However, it’s still a sad state of affairs that Americans have so monumentally wigged out over issues like immigration that we’re better off depending on a comedian to tell us the truth – at least a different “truth” than Jan Brewer can muster.

What’s next the cartoon version of the Constitution?

Cross posted at The Omnipotent Poobah Speaks!

Weekly Diaspora: The High Cost of Cheap Labor

 

by Catherine A. Traywick, Media Consortium blogger

A new study about the effects of immigration on U.S. employment supports the long-standing arguments of immigration advocates: Rather than displacing American workers, immigrant labor actually makes our economy stronger. Kevin Drum has the details at Mother Jones.

Now, with reports that undocumented laborers are a mainstay of disaster relief efforts all over the country, Americans are beginning to get a sense of the unsavory work relegated to many immigrants, and the high price immigrants pay for the simple privilege of employment.

Undocumented workers driving wages up

Going back to Mother Jones, new research examining the relationship between immigration and U.S. employment found that—contrary to conventional anti-immigrant wisdom—immigration does not negatively affect American employment. Instead, immigration drives wages up by pushing low-wage American workers into higher-paying jobs.

Here’s how it works: As less-educated immigrants gravitate towards work that requires fewer English language skills (like manual labor), their less-educated American counterparts move on to higher-paying, communications-intensive work that capitalizes on their comparatively better English language skills. This naturally drives wages up, and makes for a more productive economy overall.

The irony, as Drum notes, is that those who complain about immigrants stealing American jobs are the same people who want immigrants to learn English and assimilate as quickly as possible. “If they did,” Drum argues, “then they’d just start competing for the higher paying jobs that natives now monopolize.”

Stiffed in New Orleans

The reality of being an undocumented worker in the U.S. is starker than most Americans realize. Not only are immigrants doing work that most would rather not, they are also often cleaning up the messes that Americans leave behind.

Five years after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, undocumented laborers remain a key component of reconstruction efforts. Initially drawn to the city by the prospect of work and the Department of Homeland Security’s decision to suspend employment immigration enforcement, many undocumented laborers relocated to New Orleans to assist with rebuilding. But, as Elise Foley reports at the Washington Independent, their immigration status renders them especially vulnerable to rampant wage theft, threats of deportation and workplace violence.

The situation is so dire for many workers that numerous nonprofit groups have initiated projects in the city and are calling for legislation to combat the problem. However, a key concern is that rising anti-immigrant sentiment in other parts of the U.S. could exacerbate difficulties in New Orleans. If such sentiment results in even greater labor abuses or renewed immigration enforcement, whole communities of people who have been dedicated to rebuilding the city could find themselves without livelihood, or even be displaced.

Exploited undocumented workers clean up oil spills

Given the reality that undocumented workers are  charged with some of the dirtiest and most unsafe work American employers have to offer, it shouldn’t be surprising that U.S. companies rely on immigrant labor to clean up their worst messes. Not only do undocumented workers have fewer employment options, their immigration status renders them far less likely to report unsafe working conditions, exposure to hazardous materials, and underpayment—making them especially attractive to employers looking to save money or hide bad behavior.

So, naturally, undocumented workers were called in to deal with the catastrophic BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico (though their compliance only earned them the undue attention of Immigration and Customs Enforcement) and, more recently, an oil spill in Michigan.

As Todd A. Heywood at the Michigan Messenger reports, one company in particular has come under fire for hiring and then exploiting undocumented laborers. Hallmark Industrial, a Texas contractor hired to clean up the oil spill, allegedly paid its workers only $800 for up to 100 hours of work per week. Additionally, the company subjected them to unsafe and hazardous working conditions, and even failed to provide workers with on-site toilets—forcing workers to relieve themselves in the areas they were charged with cleaning.

Just 24 hours after the Michigan Messenger broke the story, Hallmark Industrial was fired from the oil spill clean up, its contract terminated by the company which hired it, Garner Environmental Services, Inc. Whether that’s a victory is questionable. Following the termination of the contract, 40 undocumented workers were arrested in Texas, on a bus chartered by Hallmark—presumably just returned from Michigan. While the termination of the contract ensures that its workers won’t be subjected to further workplace abuses, it also ensures that those same individuals must begin the difficult task of finding similar work elsewhere.

Unemployed in California labor camps

Clearly, despite an inexorable willingness to perform low-wage manual labor, undocumented workers are not impervious to the unemployment epidemic. In U.S. labor camps—where migrant agricultural workers can find seasonal or even long term lodging near ranches—farm work is increasingly harder to come by.

As David Bacon highlights at New America Media, both undocumented immigrants and legal “guest workers” are adversely affected by the recession. While the latter possess work visas and may therefore stay in the country legally, both groups live together in the same labor camps, where they remain, ironically, unemployed. Given the present economic climate, there isn’t enough work for even the lowest-wage workers. And in spite of their legal status, even guest workers are barred from applying for unemployment benefits.

The recession has cast both undocumented and legally sanctioned agricultural workers into circumstances even more dismal than those advertised by UFW when it launched its “Take Our Jobs” campaign earlier this summer. Outlining the long hours, low pay, and back-breaking labor associated with farm work, UFW satirically invited American citizens to replace the scores of overworked and undocumented laborers that keep our agricultural industry afloat.

Though meant to be a tongue-in-cheek response to the misconception that immigrants steal American jobs, the campaign exposes a real, if unfortunate, truth about undocumented workers: Even as their presence drives Americans into higher paying jobs, Americans employers are all too happy to subject the undocumented to the worst indignities.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about immigration by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Diaspora for a complete list of articles on immigration issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, and health care issues, check out The Audit, The Mulch, and The Pulse . This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

 

Weekly Diaspora: The High Cost of Cheap Labor

 

by Catherine A. Traywick, Media Consortium blogger

A new study about the effects of immigration on U.S. employment supports the long-standing arguments of immigration advocates: Rather than displacing American workers, immigrant labor actually makes our economy stronger. Kevin Drum has the details at Mother Jones.

Now, with reports that undocumented laborers are a mainstay of disaster relief efforts all over the country, Americans are beginning to get a sense of the unsavory work relegated to many immigrants, and the high price immigrants pay for the simple privilege of employment.

Undocumented workers driving wages up

Going back to Mother Jones, new research examining the relationship between immigration and U.S. employment found that—contrary to conventional anti-immigrant wisdom—immigration does not negatively affect American employment. Instead, immigration drives wages up by pushing low-wage American workers into higher-paying jobs.

Here’s how it works: As less-educated immigrants gravitate towards work that requires fewer English language skills (like manual labor), their less-educated American counterparts move on to higher-paying, communications-intensive work that capitalizes on their comparatively better English language skills. This naturally drives wages up, and makes for a more productive economy overall.

The irony, as Drum notes, is that those who complain about immigrants stealing American jobs are the same people who want immigrants to learn English and assimilate as quickly as possible. “If they did,” Drum argues, “then they’d just start competing for the higher paying jobs that natives now monopolize.”

Stiffed in New Orleans

The reality of being an undocumented worker in the U.S. is starker than most Americans realize. Not only are immigrants doing work that most would rather not, they are also often cleaning up the messes that Americans leave behind.

Five years after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, undocumented laborers remain a key component of reconstruction efforts. Initially drawn to the city by the prospect of work and the Department of Homeland Security’s decision to suspend employment immigration enforcement, many undocumented laborers relocated to New Orleans to assist with rebuilding. But, as Elise Foley reports at the Washington Independent, their immigration status renders them especially vulnerable to rampant wage theft, threats of deportation and workplace violence.

The situation is so dire for many workers that numerous nonprofit groups have initiated projects in the city and are calling for legislation to combat the problem. However, a key concern is that rising anti-immigrant sentiment in other parts of the U.S. could exacerbate difficulties in New Orleans. If such sentiment results in even greater labor abuses or renewed immigration enforcement, whole communities of people who have been dedicated to rebuilding the city could find themselves without livelihood, or even be displaced.

Exploited undocumented workers clean up oil spills

Given the reality that undocumented workers are  charged with some of the dirtiest and most unsafe work American employers have to offer, it shouldn’t be surprising that U.S. companies rely on immigrant labor to clean up their worst messes. Not only do undocumented workers have fewer employment options, their immigration status renders them far less likely to report unsafe working conditions, exposure to hazardous materials, and underpayment—making them especially attractive to employers looking to save money or hide bad behavior.

So, naturally, undocumented workers were called in to deal with the catastrophic BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico (though their compliance only earned them the undue attention of Immigration and Customs Enforcement) and, more recently, an oil spill in Michigan.

As Todd A. Heywood at the Michigan Messenger reports, one company in particular has come under fire for hiring and then exploiting undocumented laborers. Hallmark Industrial, a Texas contractor hired to clean up the oil spill, allegedly paid its workers only $800 for up to 100 hours of work per week. Additionally, the company subjected them to unsafe and hazardous working conditions, and even failed to provide workers with on-site toilets—forcing workers to relieve themselves in the areas they were charged with cleaning.

Just 24 hours after the Michigan Messenger broke the story, Hallmark Industrial was fired from the oil spill clean up, its contract terminated by the company which hired it, Garner Environmental Services, Inc. Whether that’s a victory is questionable. Following the termination of the contract, 40 undocumented workers were arrested in Texas, on a bus chartered by Hallmark—presumably just returned from Michigan. While the termination of the contract ensures that its workers won’t be subjected to further workplace abuses, it also ensures that those same individuals must begin the difficult task of finding similar work elsewhere.

Unemployed in California labor camps

Clearly, despite an inexorable willingness to perform low-wage manual labor, undocumented workers are not impervious to the unemployment epidemic. In U.S. labor camps—where migrant agricultural workers can find seasonal or even long term lodging near ranches—farm work is increasingly harder to come by.

As David Bacon highlights at New America Media, both undocumented immigrants and legal “guest workers” are adversely affected by the recession. While the latter possess work visas and may therefore stay in the country legally, both groups live together in the same labor camps, where they remain, ironically, unemployed. Given the present economic climate, there isn’t enough work for even the lowest-wage workers. And in spite of their legal status, even guest workers are barred from applying for unemployment benefits.

The recession has cast both undocumented and legally sanctioned agricultural workers into circumstances even more dismal than those advertised by UFW when it launched its “Take Our Jobs” campaign earlier this summer. Outlining the long hours, low pay, and back-breaking labor associated with farm work, UFW satirically invited American citizens to replace the scores of overworked and undocumented laborers that keep our agricultural industry afloat.

Though meant to be a tongue-in-cheek response to the misconception that immigrants steal American jobs, the campaign exposes a real, if unfortunate, truth about undocumented workers: Even as their presence drives Americans into higher paying jobs, Americans employers are all too happy to subject the undocumented to the worst indignities.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about immigration by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Diaspora for a complete list of articles on immigration issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, and health care issues, check out The Audit, The Mulch, and The Pulse . This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

 

Weekly Diaspora: The High Cost of Cheap Labor

 

by Catherine A. Traywick, Media Consortium blogger

A new study about the effects of immigration on U.S. employment supports the long-standing arguments of immigration advocates: Rather than displacing American workers, immigrant labor actually makes our economy stronger. Kevin Drum has the details at Mother Jones.

Now, with reports that undocumented laborers are a mainstay of disaster relief efforts all over the country, Americans are beginning to get a sense of the unsavory work relegated to many immigrants, and the high price immigrants pay for the simple privilege of employment.

Undocumented workers driving wages up

Going back to Mother Jones, new research examining the relationship between immigration and U.S. employment found that—contrary to conventional anti-immigrant wisdom—immigration does not negatively affect American employment. Instead, immigration drives wages up by pushing low-wage American workers into higher-paying jobs.

Here’s how it works: As less-educated immigrants gravitate towards work that requires fewer English language skills (like manual labor), their less-educated American counterparts move on to higher-paying, communications-intensive work that capitalizes on their comparatively better English language skills. This naturally drives wages up, and makes for a more productive economy overall.

The irony, as Drum notes, is that those who complain about immigrants stealing American jobs are the same people who want immigrants to learn English and assimilate as quickly as possible. “If they did,” Drum argues, “then they’d just start competing for the higher paying jobs that natives now monopolize.”

Stiffed in New Orleans

The reality of being an undocumented worker in the U.S. is starker than most Americans realize. Not only are immigrants doing work that most would rather not, they are also often cleaning up the messes that Americans leave behind.

Five years after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, undocumented laborers remain a key component of reconstruction efforts. Initially drawn to the city by the prospect of work and the Department of Homeland Security’s decision to suspend employment immigration enforcement, many undocumented laborers relocated to New Orleans to assist with rebuilding. But, as Elise Foley reports at the Washington Independent, their immigration status renders them especially vulnerable to rampant wage theft, threats of deportation and workplace violence.

The situation is so dire for many workers that numerous nonprofit groups have initiated projects in the city and are calling for legislation to combat the problem. However, a key concern is that rising anti-immigrant sentiment in other parts of the U.S. could exacerbate difficulties in New Orleans. If such sentiment results in even greater labor abuses or renewed immigration enforcement, whole communities of people who have been dedicated to rebuilding the city could find themselves without livelihood, or even be displaced.

Exploited undocumented workers clean up oil spills

Given the reality that undocumented workers are  charged with some of the dirtiest and most unsafe work American employers have to offer, it shouldn’t be surprising that U.S. companies rely on immigrant labor to clean up their worst messes. Not only do undocumented workers have fewer employment options, their immigration status renders them far less likely to report unsafe working conditions, exposure to hazardous materials, and underpayment—making them especially attractive to employers looking to save money or hide bad behavior.

So, naturally, undocumented workers were called in to deal with the catastrophic BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico (though their compliance only earned them the undue attention of Immigration and Customs Enforcement) and, more recently, an oil spill in Michigan.

As Todd A. Heywood at the Michigan Messenger reports, one company in particular has come under fire for hiring and then exploiting undocumented laborers. Hallmark Industrial, a Texas contractor hired to clean up the oil spill, allegedly paid its workers only $800 for up to 100 hours of work per week. Additionally, the company subjected them to unsafe and hazardous working conditions, and even failed to provide workers with on-site toilets—forcing workers to relieve themselves in the areas they were charged with cleaning.

Just 24 hours after the Michigan Messenger broke the story, Hallmark Industrial was fired from the oil spill clean up, its contract terminated by the company which hired it, Garner Environmental Services, Inc. Whether that’s a victory is questionable. Following the termination of the contract, 40 undocumented workers were arrested in Texas, on a bus chartered by Hallmark—presumably just returned from Michigan. While the termination of the contract ensures that its workers won’t be subjected to further workplace abuses, it also ensures that those same individuals must begin the difficult task of finding similar work elsewhere.

Unemployed in California labor camps

Clearly, despite an inexorable willingness to perform low-wage manual labor, undocumented workers are not impervious to the unemployment epidemic. In U.S. labor camps—where migrant agricultural workers can find seasonal or even long term lodging near ranches—farm work is increasingly harder to come by.

As David Bacon highlights at New America Media, both undocumented immigrants and legal “guest workers” are adversely affected by the recession. While the latter possess work visas and may therefore stay in the country legally, both groups live together in the same labor camps, where they remain, ironically, unemployed. Given the present economic climate, there isn’t enough work for even the lowest-wage workers. And in spite of their legal status, even guest workers are barred from applying for unemployment benefits.

The recession has cast both undocumented and legally sanctioned agricultural workers into circumstances even more dismal than those advertised by UFW when it launched its “Take Our Jobs” campaign earlier this summer. Outlining the long hours, low pay, and back-breaking labor associated with farm work, UFW satirically invited American citizens to replace the scores of overworked and undocumented laborers that keep our agricultural industry afloat.

Though meant to be a tongue-in-cheek response to the misconception that immigrants steal American jobs, the campaign exposes a real, if unfortunate, truth about undocumented workers: Even as their presence drives Americans into higher paying jobs, Americans employers are all too happy to subject the undocumented to the worst indignities.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about immigration by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Diaspora for a complete list of articles on immigration issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, and health care issues, check out The Audit, The Mulch, and The Pulse . This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

 

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