Immigrant Workers – The Most Exploited Workers in Society

Immigrants, with or without legal status, have just as much of a right to be in this country as anyone else. But their legal status is held over their heads as a threat. The combination of intimidation, harassment and lack of access to resources forces immigrants into some of the worst, dirtiest, and hardest jobs in the country.
A Desperate and Dangerous Journey

Currently there are about 40 million immigrants living in the U.S. – twelve percent of the population. About 11 million immigrants are undocumented. These workers make up some of the most exploited people in our society, struggling to survive, under constant threat of arrest and deportation.
Half of the undocumented immigrants are from Mexico, while another 23 percent are from other Latin American countries. Ten percent come from Southeast Asia, the Pacific Islands, and Eastern Europe. Over one quarter of undocumented immigrants live and work in California.
As economies worsen in their home countries, and as border security becomes more militarized, entering the U.S. becomes more desperate and more dangerous. In 2012, there were 477 recorded deaths of people trying to cross the border with Mexico. This is the second highest year of deaths ever recorded – about five migrants die every four days.
The Dirtiest, Most Dangerous Jobs
The average immigrant makes half as much as an American-born worker. For example, on big U.S. farms, 85 percent of all workers are foreign born, making an average of between $5,000 and $7,000 per year while nearly one third make as little as $2,500. Immigrant farm workers have between 60 and 70 percent higher rates of certain cancers due to the pesticides they work with. This is one of the worst examples but the story is not so different in most other industries with a majority of undocumented immigrant workers.
Lives Ripped Apart by Deportation
Immigrants live in constant danger of harassment by police and federal authorities. In 2003, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Department (or ICE) was set up to intensify attacks on immigrants through increasing raids and imprisoning and deporting undocumented immigrants at record levels. Since 2003, ICE has imprisoned over 1.8 million people using 350 different prisons and detention centers – this number is expected to reach two million deportations under the Obama administration. That will be as high as all of the deportations between 1892 and 1997 combined. Over 30 percent of prisoners in federal prisons are undocumented immigrants – mostly in jail for their legal status. In 2009, 33,000 people were deported to their country of origin. In 2012 there were over 400,000 deportations, the highest in any year ever recorded.  About a quarter of the total deportations between July 2010 and the end of September 2012 involved parents of children who are U.S. citizens. And between 2008 and 2012 more than 1,300 children were held captive in federal detention centers in the U.S., many held for months at a time, with no contact with their parents.
At the same time, the threat of deportation has always been used as a stick to pressure workers to accept dangerous working conditions and extremely low pay. ICE raids have been used to break up attempts of undocumented workers to organize and join unions. Often the raids are called by the company to target specific individuals who stand up at the workplace. The raids are often timed to keep production going, only targeting workers in their homes after they get off work. Raids on many businesses are done semi-frequently just to keep people in fear.
Immigrants Fight Back
The biggest mobilizations of working people in the last ten years have been immigrants fighting against the attacks of the government. On May 1, 2006, over a million people all over the U.S. demonstrated against a federal bill that would make undocumented workers federal criminals. Over half a million people demonstrated in Los Angeles and Chicago. Businesses which rely on immigrant labor were shut down completely. On May 1, 2010, thousands of immigrants, families, friends and others across the country came out to demonstrate their opposition to the Arizona law, SB 1070 and all other harassment of immigrants. And over the past year thousands of undocumented immigrants have organized protests in front of detention centers and immigration buildings against the increased deportations and raids. Many of those protesting are young people who are part of the estimated 1.8 million immigrants in the U.S. who came to the country as young children (the so-called “Dreamers”). These immigrants have spent most of their lives here, growing up going to U.S. schools – for many this is the only home they know. These protests are a part of a growing refusal of undocumented immigrants to accept the horrific, exploitive conditions that they are subjected to because of their immigration status.
This System of Exploitation Must Go
We live under capitalism – a world economic system that is organized against our interests, that puts the making of profit above our own well-being and the lives of our families and friends. The use of national borders to control and threaten workers is a key component of this system. Under this system, the bosses will always force us to work for them in whatever country and situation is the most profitable to them. The more difficult our lives are, the more the bosses think they can exploit us. Our livelihoods, the lives of our families and friends, requires an end to this system of exploitation and domination.