Since 1919, the International Labor Organization has brought together governments, employers, and workers from 187 UN Member States to set labor standards, develop policies and devise programs promoting decent work environments for all women and men. During a convention to address migrant workers’ rights, the ILO pronounced that employers should provide migrant workers “treatment no less favorable than that which is applied to its own nationals,” and that it is necessary “to respect the basic human rights of all migrant workers.” Here in the United States, that is simply not the case.
It may be illegal, but hiring undocumented workers is a long-standing practice in the agriculture and food production industries. While the oft-given justification is that these workers “do jobs Americans won’t,” this is not necessarily the reason many employers hire them. A more accurate statement might be that undocumented immigrant workers tend to do jobs Americans would do, but they do it for lower pay and under unsafe conditions. And that, at its core, is the problem: employers who hire undocumented workers often treat them poorly because they can. Meanwhile, undocumented workers are risking life and limb for their income, and if they complain, they risk losing their jobs or being deported.
When he turned 18, Fernando Vanegaz immigrated from his home country of Ecuador to the United States. His parents had made the move years earlier for work, so when Fernando arrived there was a home in Queens waiting for him. He was eager for financial independence, and quickly found a job with a Brooklyn-based construction company.
The work was dangerous. Fernando would often frighten his mother with accounts of close calls on the job. One such incident occurred at a construction site at 656 Myrtle Avenue in Brooklyn, when a retaining wall nearly toppled over.
A little under a month later, there was another incident with the retaining wall. This time, it collapsed entirely. Fernando was working underneath the wall at the time. He was killed less than a year into his new life in the US.
President Donald Trump, though his executive order on immigration released on January 25, 2017, prioritized for deportation any “alien” accused of or convicted of a crime. Since crossing the border without proper documentation and using a false social security number — as many undocumented immigrants do in order to obtain work — are both crimes, Trump essentially put all “aliens” on notice.
Understandably, this order has sent shock waves through immigrant communities. “Right now, the paranoia and sense of fear is overwhelming,” said Ramiro Orozco, an immigration attorney. “All the raids and the rhetoric… have created so much anxiety… people are pulling their children out of school, they’re not going to work.”
In the face of these threats to undocumented immigrants, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, along with the mayors of many other major cities, has promised hope: “We’re going to defend all of our people regardless of where they come from, regardless of their immigration status.”
Immigrant communities are left asking: To what extent is this promise legitimate, and on what grounds?
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Last week, presidential candidate Jeb Bush came under fire for trying to shift the birthright citizenship debate from Latinos to Asian Americans. After he was criticized for his use of the derogatory term “anchor babies” to describe the American-born children of undocumented immigrants, Bush attempted to justify his poor word choice by stating, “it’s more related to Asian people coming into our country, having children in that organized effort, taking advantage of a noble concept with birthright citizenship.”
Early last week, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump released his plan for immigration reform. This is particularly significant because Trump now leads the race in a Reuters/Ipsos poll with 32%. This is close to double the support of his closest rival, Jeb Bush. Trump’s hard line stance on immigration is credited as one of the reasons for his soaring popularity, and it has already influenced the positions of the other Republican candidates.
Each spring, Harvard University sends out rejection letters to roughly 94% of its applicants. The school’s astonishingly low acceptance rate (this year marked a record low at 5.3%) leaves many highly accomplished high school seniors at a loss at how to compete in an environment saturated with valedictorians and perfect SAT scores.
Like many top universities, Harvard claims to use a “holistic” approach to the admissions process that stresses diversity of backgrounds and experiences in addition to test scores. However, in the last two decades, a group of victims has emerged from this particular stress on diversity, and now they’re starting to fight back.
In the two decades that I’ve worked as a lawyer in the New York Chinese community, I’ve encountered an astonishingly high number of cases of immigrants being taken advantage of by fraudulent immigration services, scam artists, and even other attorneys. Scams directed at recent immigrants are common because of many immigrants’ unfamiliarity with the language, laws, and rights provided to them in their new home.The good news for immigrants living in Brooklyn is that District Attorney Kenneth Thompson has just announced the formation of an Immigrant Fraud Bureau to protect their rights. The unit will prosecute unlicensed attorneys attempting to take on clients from the immigrant community, as well as the perpetrators of housing and investment scams.”Immigrants, especially those without documentation, are especially vulnerable to fraud, particularly in the areas of employment, housing and the procurement of proper immigration documents. Our Immigrant Fraud Unit will serve to open a channel of communication to victims of crime who might not otherwise feel that they have a voice,” said District Attorney Thompson. He’s enlisted Assistant District Attorney Maritza Mejia-Ming, an immigrant from the Dominican Republic herself, to serve as chief of the new unit.The Brooklyn Immigrant Fraud Bureau joins the ranks of other programs designed to protect immigrants in New York, like Manhattan’s Immigrant Affairs Program, which was formed in 2007 to provide aid to the victims of fraudulent attorneys, ICE agents, and immigration services. Hopefully with more programs like this we can see a decrease in cases of immigrant victimization in New York, and help ensure a more hospitable home and workplace for our city’s newest residents.New York Law Journal, “Immigration Fraud Bureau Created in Brooklyn,” 10 April 2014.The New York County District Attorney’s Office, “Immigrant Affairs Program.”