Skip to comments.Illegal Workers Lead Shadowy Existence
Posted on 07/23/2003 3:45:42 PM PDT by oceanperch
Illegal workers lead shadowy existence
By JENNIFER HEMMINGSEN of the East Oregonian
Roselia's husband planned his crossing for weeks. He had come to work in the United States nine years ago. This time, he told Roselia, he'd probably be gone a long time. He asked if she and the children wanted to come too.
The idea made Roselia nervous, she said through a translator. But the last time her husband was gone it had been difficult there were times when he couldn't find work so she had no husband and no income. Better to all be in the same place, she finally decided.
"She just came like that," Roselia's translator said. "She just left everything so they wouldn't leave her behind. She'd been through it before and didn't want to go through it again, with her husband gone for so long."
Nearly half the nation's 2.5 million farm laborers are undocumented workers. Most are unlikely outlaws like Roselia and her children who had never left their home state of Michoacan, Mexico, until this spring when they crossed the border to find work.
Experts estimate there are almost 8 million people in this country illegally, but that number can be misleading since it includes people that overstay student, work or travel visas, said Maria Andrade, managing attorney for the Oregon Law Center in Ontario. There are now about 5.3 million undocumented workers in the United States. About 58 percent of those workers are from Mexico. Getting here:
When it was time to go, Roselia asked a neighbor to take care of her horse and house. She left in the morning, without luggage, direction or any idea what would happen from one moment to the next.
It cost Roselia's family $5,800 $1,200 apiece to cross the border with the help of smugglers, sometimes called "coyotes." From the United States, they had to pay other people to get to Milton-Freewater. Poor subsistence farmers with little savings, they borrowed most of the money, hoping to pay off their debt with American wages.
But financial hardship isn't the biggest struggle for undocumented workers crossing into the United States, said Diego, also from Michoacan, who crossed the border illegally dozens of times from 1976 until he received working papers in 1988. Mexicans risk their lives to cross the border, wading rivers or walking through mountains and deserts, he said. Though he is no longer an illegal alien, Diego asked not to be identified when talking about his past.
"It's always been dangerous. They'd cross rivers and they'd drown," Diego said. "The river would take them."
Since the Border Patrol increased its presence along the 2,000-mile border in the past decade, more than 300 illegal immigrants have died each year while attempting to cross most from exposure or drowning, according to the Associated Press.
Workers like Diego and Roselia risk the crossing because they can make more money working in the United States than in Mexico. In most cases, the worst penalty they will receive is deportation back home. When that happens, they just try again until they can cross, Diego said.
Getting a job once they get here is not a problem, he said. Diego got his first farm labor job in the United States through other migrant workers he knew. Once he found a job, he returned to it each year. In his experience, undocumented workers can have an easier time finding work than those with working papers.
"The person hiring them doesn't really care if they (papers) are real or not," he said. "They just want the job to be done."
Though it is illegal to hire workers without documentation, employers such as farmers who are likely to have undocumented workers on their work crews rarely have the time, inclination or skill to spot illegal aliens, Andrade said.
Employers usually don't worry much about immigration violations, she said. Immigration officials have limited resources and are unlikely to check workplaces. If they do raid a place of employment, they are more likely to round up the employees than to fine the employer.
The nature of business in Eastern Oregon also makes it unlikely for employers to spot undocumented workers, she said. In agriculture, farmers hire a lot of short-term employees to meet seasonal deadlines.
"That creates a lot of anonymity between the employer and the applicant, and not a long employment relationship," she said. "It makes it easier to not really look very closely because this person isn't going to be around very long."
Employers can't accept work documents that are obviously falsified, but they are also prohibited by law from discriminating by race or national origin, she said.
"If you present a legal permanent resident card, and I say to you, 'I don't believe this is yours because you have brown skin or speak with an accent or whatever,'" it is a civil rights violation, she said.
In practice, only United States citizens are likely to call an employer to the carpet for discrimination, but the law still puts employers in a difficult situation, she said.
"All of those factors taken together create a situation where it's easier to accept the documents and not be keyed in when something isn't right," she said. Getting by:
Just as any person is subject to U.S. laws when they're in this country, any worker in the United States has the same rights and protections under employment law: the right to minimum wage, safe housing, to be paid based on accurate time records and so on.
The theory behind the single standard is it keeps employers from "a race to the bottom" in terms of salary and business expense, Andrade said. Without equal protection, some employers might use an undocumented labor force to cut costs.
"That's in addition to all the policy reasons and moral reasons and humanistic reasons for ensuring minimum standards for treatment of workers," she said. But undocumented workers are often unaware of their rights or reluctant to seek aid, she said.
Most local agencies don't serve illegal populations. Some, such as Legal Aid, that receive federal funds are prohibited from assisting undocumented workers.
Even private organizations such as transient aid or community action programs are unlikely to serve undocumented workers, representatives from those agencies said.
Undocumented workers are reluctant to trust people they don't know with personal information and unlikely to know how to navigate sometimes complicated aid networks.
While she waited for her husband to find work Roselia's family didn't get public assistance or help from charitable organizations. They relied on Hispanic neighbors for clothes, dishes, other necessities and advice. Without that social network, undocumented workers wouldn't be able to survive here, said Rita Monahan, manager of Orchard Homes farm labor camp in Milton-Freewater.
"If they don't have friends or family, they are lost," she said. "There's no company that wants anything to do with them."
It is a lot more difficult for non-citizens to get assistance from government agencies than most people believe, Andrade said. Even legal residents have to live in the United States five years before qualifying for housing assistance, food stamps and other benefits.
The Oregon Law Center was created after 1996 legislation barred Legal Aid offices from assisting undocumented people. The center, run completely without federal assistance, represents undocumented people in court mostly on work-related issues, she said.
There are only five Law Center offices in Oregon, the closest one in Ontario. But work schedules and lack of available transportation mean most undocumented workers can't make office visits anyway.
Andrade and her coworkers usually travel to high schools, Head Start parent meetings, law enforcement agencies and labor camps to tell workers about their rights and resources.
Even then, undocumented workers can be reluctant to trust strangers with personal information and legal status, she said.
The last person out TURNED OFF THE LIGHTS !
The Immigration and Naturalization Service is emphasizing a little known provision that would give certain illegal immigrants in the United States, the ability to obtain legal status. The temporary provision, known as LIFE Act, is available to eligible illegal immigrants only till April 30.
"The Act provides relief for a number of individuals seeking to become lawful permanent residents, but it is not amnesty for all persons unlawfully in the United States," Mary Ann Wyrsch, acting commissioner for the INS said.
To qualify, the eligible illegal immigrant must meet the following criteria: the applicant has to show that she/he was in the US on December 21, 2000, the day
former president Bill Clinton signed the provision under section 245(i) as a bill; the applicant must have a sponsor - an immediate family member to file a visa petition or an employer to file a labour certification; as in all cases related to filing of labour certification, the prospective employers will have to demonstrate that they are unable to hire qualified legal workers.
To be eligible, the illegal immigrants could have entered the US illegally or became out of status (and hence become illegal) while residing in the country.
The applicant will have to pay $1,000 as penalty fee, plus $225 for processing the application.
"There has been a lot of confusion about this provision," Murali Krishna Devarakonda, a spokesman for the Immigrants Support Network said.
"People need to understand the implication of the December 21 rule. If you were in the US until December 21, but not on that day, bad luck. If you came after December 21, again bad luck."
"Most people seem to think that it is only an employment-based green card, because that's what they all go for," Devarakonda added. "Even a relative can file the petition for you."
Spouses, children, parents and siblings of US citizens, as well as spouses and unmarried children of legal permanent residents can also apply under the 245(i) provision.
Prior to the signing of the LIFE Act, illegal immigrants had to return to their home country to apply for a change in status.
And if found having lived in the US illegally, they could be potentially barred from returning to this country from three to 10 years.
INS expects approximately 640,000 people to be eligible to benefit from the new provision.
In order to reach the eligible illegal immigrants in New York, prominent politicians from the state - Senator Hillary Clinton, and Representatives Jose E Serrano and Nydia M Velazquez have prepared public service announcements for radio and television. The 30-second announcements will be broadcast from March 26.
"Not many are focused on it (the new provision) and not many people understand what it is," Devarakonda said. "People who can benefit the most (out of status H-1B visa workers, for instance) are not thinking about it. They are busy looking for jobs."
On March 27, ISN is holding its Second Annual Bay Area meeting at the Santa Clara City Library, Devarakonda said. An issue on the agenda is the provision under section 245(i).
Reports indicate that a bill drafted by Republican Congressmen from Long Island - Peter King and with bipartisan support of other legislators from New York, will seek to extend the deadline by six months, beyond April 30.
Acting Commissioner Wyrsch emphasized that US immigration law, including the provision under LIFE Act, was complicated.
"Those who have concerns about eligibility for the LIFE Act benefits should be cautious to avoid unscrupulous immigration practitioners," she added. "They should contact a licensed attorney or a legal service provider recognized by the Board of Immigration Appeals."
This is the real story of Mexico. The Indians are starving and are being forced by the Narco trafficers to grow or take their drugs across the borders. Some of the Indians try to stop this but they are quickly killed or arrested. I hear stories daily of Federales assisting the drug dealers and the illegals in crossing the border.
The European elites are corrupt and have no desire to share power with the real Mexicans. IMHO if we want to help Mexico we should send a division or two over there and squash that Socialist hell hole.
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