Our VoiceImmigration

Immigrants are Vital to Our Communities

Carlos Rich • May 20, 2011

A few months back workers were let go from their jobs at a local processing plant in Iowa due to discrepancies with their immigration status.

I started to get calls on a cold Monday in January. Workers were in a panic. Many received letters from their employers telling them to resolve their immigration status in the next 24 to 48 hours.

I cannot imagine the amount of fear they must have been feeling, with so much uncertainty about what would happen to them and their families.   Many of the workers had been working with the company for eight or nine years. The workers told me that the plant knew who had and who did not have proper documentation; they told me that some supervisors use this information to control and disrespect them. 

For example, if a supervisor knows that an individual does not have proper documentation, the workers are not given bathroom breaks when they initially ask.   Some have to tolerate petty abuse and some have to put up with sexual harassment.  One worker was fired just for requesting her vacation time.

Many of the workers were let go because of a program called; ICE Mutual Agreement between Government and Employers. IMAGE Best Employment Practices;  along with other enforcement programs like E-Verify, Secure Communities and 287g Immigration and Nationality Act are just a few of the ways that the federal government is claiming to curb immigration.

The reality is that these programs are costly and they really have not resolved the immigration issue.  They contribute to declining wages for many Americans who have blue collar jobs.

After the workers felt that they could not fight for their jobs, they asked for help in at least recouping the vacation they were due. The workers should have been given their vacation pay; unfortunately the employer claimed that workers were paid in full all that they were owed. The workers said to me “independent of our working situation, and we all have our opinions, we believe at the very minimum the employer should pay us  for the vacation time we earned.”

I think that many would agree with me that immigration reform that can lead to citizenship is overdue.  However some in our government are blocking any progress.  They would rather alienate and continue to classify undocumented immigrants as criminals.  The reality is quite the opposite.

Immigrants are vital to our economy and to keeping our communities vibrant.

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