News/US: Sweatshop conditions stir call to give aliens amnesty

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Subject: News/US: Sweatshop conditions stir call to give aliens amnesty
From: Melanie Orhant (morhant@igc.org)
Date: Wed May 17 2000 - 12:14:34 EDT


Sweatshop conditions stir call to give aliens amnesty
By Elizabeth Llorente
The Bergen Daily Record (N.J.), May 2, 2000

He occasionally works 100 hours a week, but receives straight $6-per-hour
pay instead of overtime compensation.

Once, he said, he had an employer who let his workers leave the shop only
three days a week. The rest of the time, he and the other workers lived in
the store -- sleeping and even bathing there.

The reason that he and the others endure such conditions, he said, is
because they are illegal immigrants.

"When we tried to complain, someone would be fired or the bosses would tell
us that they were going to call immigration and we'd be deported," said the
immigrant, a Mexican who lives in Jersey City and asked to be identified as
Miguel.

At a conference Monday in Newark, a group of religious, community, and
labor leaders said the most effective way to stop such abuses against
undocumented workers is to grant them amnesty.

The conference, at which Miguel spoke, was part of a nationwide campaign to
call for amnesty and better legislative protection for undocumented
immigrant workers.

Thomas Giblin, president of the Essex-West Hudson Labor Council of the
AFL-CIO, said that amnesty -- which would enable undocumented immigrants to
receive green cards -- would help employers fill some of the least
desirable jobs while keeping working conditions safe and fair.

"There is a dire need for workers throughout the state," Giblin said.
"There needs to be a legal remedy so that these folks and their family can
live and work in a safe environment."

The call for amnesty in New Jersey echoes a growing national push for
legalizing undocumented immigrants, who number about 200,000 in the state
and 6 million in the United States.

Even some of the nation's largest labor unions, which traditionally have
supported strict laws targeting illegal immigrants, are lobbying for
amnesty. Recently, the AFL-CIO, which saw illegal immigrants as a siphon
that took jobs from its members, reversed its longtime position and came
out in favor of amnesty.

Cate Poe, the New Jersey director of the AFL-CIO, said that her union
realized that enforcement measures targeting illegal immigrant workers and
their employers "just didn't work."

"Employers use the tougher laws to threaten undocumented workers and scare
them from standing up for their rights and joining unions," she said. "So
the workers accept lower wages and an unsafe work environment, and that
hurts all workers."

In 1986, Congress granted amnesty to about 3 million undocumented
immigrants and promised stricter measures to control future illegal
crossings into the country. But millions more came anyway.

Supporters of strict immigration measures say they doubt the growing
momentum for granting legal status to undocumented immigrants will result
in a new amnesty program. Still, they are concerned enough to lobby against
the new effort for amnesty by unions and immigration advocates.

Dan Stein, executive director of the Federation for American Immigration
Reform in Washington, D.C., said that amnesty would tell the world the
United States does not respect its own immigration laws.

"It's not amnesty," said Stein, whose group favors a conservative approach
to immigration. "It's a reward. We're saying, 'We won't penalize you for
coming here illegally, and we'll reward you with a green card. That's like
telling a bank robber that we won't prosecute him for robbing banks, and
that in addition, we'll let him keep the money."

Stein said that even if illegal immigrants are legalized and join unions,
other illegal immigrants will keep coming, and the current problems will
persist.

Denis Johnston of the American Friends Service Committee agrees that
illegal immigration has been hard to stop.

"What we need to do is to help improve the standard of living in countries
that send undocumented immigrants," Johnston said.

Melanie Orhant <<morhant@igc.org>>
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