A shocking revelation a few days ago in the media made it public that the US government is the largest employer of undocumented workers in the country. More specifically, this is happening in detention centers where undocumented workers are forced to work for as little as $0.13 an hour.
The news regarding the use of undocumented workers as cheap labor went viral after the information was published by The New York Times under the title “Using Jailed Migrants as a Pool of Cheap Labor”.
According to The New York Times, last year “…at least 60,000 immigrants worked in the federal government’s nationwide patchwork of detention centers — more than worked for any other single employer in the country, according to data from United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement”.
Jailed migrants are forced to mop floors, fold linens, and work in detention center kitchens. Many migrant workers, both women and men, incarcerated in centers such as the Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, GA, and the Etowah County Detention Center in Gadsden, Ala., are forced to work until late at night, and even when they are sick.
And this is not an isolated incident. According to NPR.org, back in 2006 “A fence-building company in Southern California [agreed] to pay nearly $5,000 in fines for hiring illegal immigrants” (a fenced ordered and paid for by the US Government, and aimed precisely to keep away undocumented workers from the US?).
Something here does not make sense.
The scandalous nature of these revelations affects the image of the United States, and makes immigration reform even more urgent. Forcing jailed immigrants to work for a fraction of the legal minimum salary, and even without pay, violates the 13th Amendment of the Constitution of the United States, which clearly states that “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction”.
So, what happened here? Where does it say that migrant workers who come illegally to this country go to jail to work for free for the government and the private organizations that partially own the detention centers?
According to The New York Times and Mexico’s newspaper El Sol de México, some of these incarcerated immigrants are not even criminals, but simple asylum seekers, who have come to the United States to find refuge from the violence and crime in their own countries only to find instead a corrupt system that makes them work for a few cents an hour or even for free. According to website Allgov.com “The rate is based on federal law adopted in 1950″ (yes, 1950!) that Congress has refused to update”.
With this going on in our detention centers, how can we even try to be an example to other industries in the United States?
If the justification is a reported $200 million in savings in wages, how is it that other industries are so severely penalized for hiring undocumented workers, not to save money, but simply to survive?
In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, farmers claim they need to hire undocumented workers, because few Americans apply for those jobs. But still, according to a law firm, the government charges these companies between $250 and $2,000 per illegal employee (for a first offense), and up to $5,000 per illegal employee (for a second offense).
NEWSMAX also published information from 2013 that states that “…the government has audited at least 10,000 employers suspected of hiring illegal labor and imposed more than $100 million in administrative and criminal fines”. But who is auditing detention centers so they stop abusing detainees and pay their respective fines?
“These laborers have been legally stripped of their political, economic and social rights and ultimately relegated to second-class citizens..”. states online publication Alternet.org.
“It’s no secret that America imprisons more of its citizens that any other nation in history”, continues Alternet.org. — and the fact is that the cost of this indiscriminate habit of incarcerating for even minor offenses creates quite a negative impact on the taxes we pay.
Online publication “The Business of Detention, Cracking Down on Immigration and Locking Up Profits” states that, there are almost one million undocumented people in US detention centers since 2009.
Political Science Prof. Jacqueline Stevens of Northwestern University issued the following statement in her May 17th, 2014 paper “One Dollar Per Day: The Slaving Wages of Immigration Jail Work Programs – A History and Legal Analysis, 1943 – Present: By law, firms contracting with the federal government are supposed to match or increase local wages, not commit wage theft.”
Prof. J. Stevens’ paper begins with the case of Robinson Martinez, who was imprisoned first in Texas and then in Michigan, and was forced to work for $1.00 a day as “dorm porter”, sweeping and mopping floors, cleaning and scrubbing toilets, showers, sinks, cleaning tables, windows, and collecting trash, among other duties. “The $1 per day wages are so low that the phrase ‘subminimum wages’ is a misnomer” says the report.
Prof. J. Stevens clearly provides a definition that reminds us of times passed: “To convey a key characteristic of slavery, in particular the nonnegotiable labor and wage conditions when one party has physical control over the party receiving work orders and compensation, this Paper uses for its legal analysis of the resident workers program the phrase ‘slaving wages”.
All this confirms once again that there is a definite need for urgent change in our immigration laws.