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Car washes rife with immigrant worker abuse

Readers in New York might recall the story of a car wash owner in the Bronx who last year was sent to jail for 32 days and ordered to pay $150,000 to employees, mostly immigrants, who were denied minimum wage. In fact, investigations since 2008 have clearly shown that employers throughout the country routinely abused immigrant workers, claiming those workers had no rights.

Car wash owners were especially to blame. They and other bosses in the lawn care, construction and farming industries are known to subject undocumented workers to hazardous work conditions, all the while paying wages below the legal minimum.

A 2008 investigation by the Los Angeles Times revealed that some car wash owners paid immigrant workers wages as low as $1.63 per hour. And an investigation in Chicago showed that car washes in that city cheated their employees, again mostly immigrants, out of $2.2 million annually.

Employers often threaten and fire immigrant workers who insist on being paid what they are owed. A Milwaukee pizza factory fired 89 people after they petitioned to form a union. The factory claimed the workers were undocumented, but the company apparently didn't have any problem employing the workers until they decided to assert their rights.

In short, undocumented workers are especially vulnerable to employer abuse. Immigrants from all over the world are attracted to the United States because of job opportunities not available in the immigrants' native countries. The possibility of a better life is an undeniable pull for many people who come to the U.S. without legal permission.

One benefit of meaningful immigration reform would be the prevention of employer abuse. To protect themselves and their families, immigrants who want to achieve permanent residency would do well to consult with an immigration attorney who can clarify the best plan of action.

Source: Huffington Post, "Immigration Reform Prevents Employer Abuse," Leo W. Gerard, Feb. 4, 2013

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