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Is worker exploitation the cost of a blind US immigration policy?

Many would argue that the state of U.S. immigration law is now the worst it has ever been. In the current debate on an immigration overhaul, some thinkers on both sides of the issue have legitimate points about security, legal status for unauthorized immigrants, access to realistic options for legal immigration, the Dream Act and the path to citizenship proposed in the Senate version of the bill being debated right now.

Perhaps the most shameful part of current U.S. immigration law and policy is that unauthorized immigrants currently have virtually no protection from exploitation by employers and others who know their secret. That appears to have been the case in this week's stunning revelation that Immigration and Customs Enforcement raided 14 f 7-Eleven stores Monday morning, 10 of which were on Long Island. 

At a press conference in Brooklyn, ICE announced that it plans to raid as many as 30 more 7-Elevens across the country in the immediate future.

The allegations against the 7-Eleven franchise owners and managers who were charged are horrifying. According to ICE, eight men and a woman allegedly employed as many as 50 unauthorized immigrants since 2000, hiding their status by filing payroll paperwork with the parent company using the Social Security numbers of several deceased people, a child and a Coast Guard cadet.

When the 7-Eleven payroll department sent the checks, the franchise owners and managers conspired to steal “significant portions” of the workers’ pay. They also forced the employees to live in buildings owned by the bosses and to pay their rent in cash -- presumably so the owners could avoid detection and tax liability.

Even though undocumented immigrants explicitly have rights under our nation’s labor and employment laws -- including whistleblower protections -- many unauthorized immigrants do not know that. However, in this case even those rights were not respected. According to press reports, in several cases it was the employees themselves who revealed the exploitation, but when ICE showed up they were arrested anyway.

“There’s real teeth to these laws, and we’re using them now more than ever before,” said the head of ICE’s New York office.

Source: Time, "Feds: N.Y., Va. 7-Eleven Stores Exploited Immigrants," Larry Neumeister, Associated Press, June 17, 2013

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