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Immigrant Crackdown - In Whose Interest?

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They stand in icy water; in crowded conditions; wet to the skin for 18 hour shifts. They work for one of the largest food processors in the world. They are paid below legal wage, and not paid overtime. Now, 167 of them sit in ICE custody after a raid on the North Portland (Oregon) plant at which they were employed. Some had ICE agents show up at their homes and take them into custody.

The workers (including legal immigrants) were employed at $7.00 an hour (below Oregon's minimum wage of $7.80). They worked up to 18 hour shifts with no overtime in appalling conditions. Why did the workers stay?

Rodriguez, the former worker, said most employees did not report poor conditions and long shifts to authorities for fear of losing their jobs.

"Most of them didn't have papers to work, so they had no choice; this is where they could find work," Rodriguez said. "It made me sad, because these people came here to work. The women had little kids at home to feed." [Work complaints hang over plant]

Now those children, like the children of the workers arrested at Michael Bianco, Inc - a military contractor being paid with our tax dollars - sit waiting for parents who will never come home.

Meanwhile, half a world away, Chinese authorities free 200 people from slavery in the brick kilns in Xinhua Province, China. The workers, including 29 children, had been held against their will (in some cases for years), without pay, and tortured with hot bricks if they did not work "hard" enough.

Human trafficking, which seems to be an ongoing issue, has again hit the news recently. The U.S. State Department has added more countries to the trafficking list. Some are "enemies," and some are "allies," but they include: Iran, Uzbekistan, and North Korea, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman and Qatar. Human trafficking is virtually synonymous with slavery - or at the very least extreme exploitation. According to an article by Grant Podelco "U.S. Report Decries 'Modern-Day Slavery'" at Tolerance Canada:

"According to U.S. government estimates, approximately 800,000 people are trafficked across international borders each year and about 80 percent of them are female. Up to half are minors."

- 640,000 women
- 400,000 children
- almost a million people a year
- many of these are for the so-called "sex trade"

They too are "illegal immigrants" and their illegal status keeps them captive - as does the undocumented status of the workers as Del Monte or Michael Bianco. No papers, no protection, easily controlled and exploitable. These are not different issues, but part of the same issue.

I just go up the wall every time I hear an employer saying "We have absolutely nothing to gain by hiring illegal immigrants." Or, I hear "THEY are driving down our economy," "stealing our social services," "taking jobs away from Americans," COSTING us BILLIONS of dollars a year ..."

The undocumented worker is much more controllable than a documented or even citizen worker who has the protection of law on their side. The "legal" worker can file an OSHA complaint, or a pay complaint, without fear of losing their family and their home. The legal worker has at least some "legs" to demand the law be followed. The undocumented worker does not. The employer has the only reasons they need to recruit and hire undocumented workers - the bottom line and a compliant workforce.

Let's look at the Del Monte situation in Portland.

There were 167 workers rounded up. If we take one 18 hour "shift" for 167 workers, getting $7.00 an hour and no overtime, it looks like this:

Undocumented Worker
7.00 * 18 hrs = $126
$126 * 167 employees = $21042.00

Legal Worker
7.80 * 8hrs= $62.40
7.80 * 1.5 (overtime)= $11.70 * 10 hours= $117.00
One worker for a full 18 hour "shift" = $179.40
$179.40 * 167 employees= $29959.80

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Rowan Wolf is an activist and sociologist living in Oregon. She is the founder and principle author of Uncommon Thought Journal, and Editor in Chief of Cyrano's Journal Today.

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