Immigrant Workers Face Firings Even Without Arizonas Laws

New America Media, News Report, David Bacon Posted: Apr 30, 2010

SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. -- While the potential criminalization of undocumented people in Arizona continues to draw headlines, the actual punishment of workers because of their immigration status has become an increasingly bitter fact of life across the country.

janitorsIn the latest move by the Department of Homeland Security, 475 immigrant janitors will soon be fired from their jobs in San Francisco. Weeks ago, DHS went through the employment records of their employer, ABM, one of the largest building service companies in the country. DHSs Immigration and Customs Enforcement sifted through Social Security records and the I-9 immigration forms all workers have to fill out when they apply for jobs. They then told ABM that the company had to fire 475 workers who were accused of lacking legal immigration status.

ABM has been a union company for decades and many of the workers have been there for years. "They've been working in this industry for 15, 20, some as many as 27 years in the buildings downtown," says Olga Miranda, president of Service Employees Local 87. "They've built homes. They've provided for their families. They've sent their kids to college. They're not new workers. They didn't just get here a year ago."

Those workers are now faced with an agonizing dilemma. Should they turn themselves in to Homeland Security, who might charge them with providing a bad Social Security number to their employer, and even hold them for deportation? On the other hand, for workers with families, homes and deep roots in a community, it's not possible to just walk away and disappear. " I have a lot of members who are single mothers whose children were born here," Miranda says. "I have a member whose child has leukemia. What are they supposed to do? Leave their children here and go back to Mexico and wait? And wait for what?"

Miranda's question reflects not just the dilemma facing individual workers, but one facing the 12 million undocumented people living in the United States. Since 2005, successive congresspeople, senators and administrations have dangled the prospect of gaining legal status in front of those who lack it. In exchange, their various schemes for immigration reform have proposed huge new guest worker programs, and a big increase in exactly the kind of enforcement now directed at the 475 San Francisco janitors.

Pres. Barack Obama, condemning Arizona's law that would make being undocumented a state crime, said it would "undermine basic notions of fairness that we cherish as Americans." But then he called for legislation with guest worker programs and increased enforcement.

While the country is no closer to legalization of the undocumented than it was 10 years ago, the enforcement provisions of the comprehensive immigration reform proposals have already been implemented on the ground. The Bush administration conducted a high-profile series of raids in which it sent heavily armed agents into meatpacking plants and factories, holding workers for deportation, and sending hundreds to federal prison for using bad Social Security numbers.

After Obama was elected president, immigration authorities said they'd follow a softer policy, using an electronic system to find undocumented people in workplaces. People working with bad Social Security numbers would be fired. As a result, last September, 2,000 seamstresses in the Los Angeles garment factory of American Apparel were fired, followed a month later by 1,200 janitors working for ABM in Minneapolis. In November, over 100 janitors working for Seattle Building Maintenance lost their jobs.

"Homeland Security is going after employers that are union," Miranda says. "They're going after employers that give benefits and are paying above the average." While American Apparel had no union, Minneapolis janitors belonged to SEIU Local 26, Seattle janitors to Local 6 and San Francisco janitors to Local 87.

Obama says sanctions enforcement targets employers "who are using illegal workers in order to drive down wages -- and oftentimes mistreat those workers." An ICE Worksite Enforcement Advisory claims "unscrupulous employers are likely to pay illegal workers substandard wages or force them to endure intolerable working conditions."

Curing intolerable conditions by firing or deporting workers who endure them doesn't help the workers or change the conditions, however. And despite Obama's notion that sanctions enforcement will punish those employers who exploit immigrants, at American Apparel and ABM the employers were rewarded for cooperation by being immunized from prosecution. Javier Murillo, president of Local 26, says, "The promise made during the audit is that if the company cooperates and complies, they won't be fined. So this kind of enforcement really only hurts workers."

ICE director John Morton says the agency is auditing the records of 1,654 companies nationwide. "What kind of economic recovery goes with firing thousands of workers?" Miranda asks. "Why don't they target employers who are not paying taxes, who are not obeying safety or labor laws?"

Union leaders like Miranda see a conflict between the rhetoric used by the president and other Washington, D.C. politicians and lobbyists in condemning the Arizona law, and the immigration proposals they're making in Congress. "There's a huge contradiction here," she says. "You can't tell one state that what they're doing is criminalizing people and at the same time go after employers paying more than a living wage and the workers who have fought for that wage."

Renee Saucedo, attorney for La Raza Centro Legal and former director of the San Francisco Day Labor Program, is even more critical. "Those bills in Congress, which are presented as ones that will help some people get legal status, will actually make things much worse," she says. "We'll see many more firings like the janitors here and more punishments for people who are just working and trying to support their families."

Increasingly, however, the Washington proposals have even less promise of legalization and more emphasis on punishment. The newest Democratic Party scheme virtually abandons the legalization program promised by the "bipartisan" Schumer/Graham proposal, saying that heavy enforcement must come before any consideration of giving 12 million people legal status.

"We have to look at the whole picture," Saucedo says. "So long as we have trade agreements like NAFTA that create poverty in countries like Mexico, people will continue to come here, no matter how many walls we build. Instead of turning people into guest workers, as these bills in Washington would do, while firing and even jailing those who don't have papers, we need to help people get legal status and repeal the laws that are making work a crime."

Labor reporter David Bacon is the author of "Illegal People -- How Globalization Creates Migration and Criminalizes Immigrants."




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TG on May 04, 2010 at 23:48:14 said:

Most illegal immigrants DO pay taxes, actually. Get your facts right. Either they don\\\\\\\'t have a SSN and they use an ITIN provided by the IRS to anyone without a SSN, or they pay taxes via normal wage deductions from their paychecks.

www.nytimes.com/2005/04/05/business/05immigration.html


Concerned Taxpayer on May 04, 2010 at 17:07:37 said:

What a biased article. If you are an illegal immigrant then you do not deserve a job in this country. It is hard to believe these people have had these jobs illegally for so long.


FL Resident on May 04, 2010 at 12:32:50 said:

I believe that all people using a bad social security number should be prosecuted. These people are also receiving food stamps and welfare with these bad social security numbers. These people do not even pay taxes. This is unfair to all hard working employees who are using their own social security numbers. Our tax dollars are going to help these people who are not paying taxes and are screwing up the lives of the people whose social security numbers they are using. The Government and Homeland Security really needs to buckle down on these illegals using fake social security numbers and either put them in a federal prison (which of course our tax dollars pay for) or deport them all. I prefer that they all get deported so our tax dollars are no longer being wasted. There is enough waste of our tax dollars without the illegals adding to it.


CleaningColumbus on May 04, 2010 at 12:27:49 said:

They are illegal. They are not paying taxes, they are using services as if they had paid for them. ABM should be shut down - several cities with illegals, and they are not being prosecuted? Wonder whose campaign was contributed to...If they want there jobs, and have been here over ten years, get an attorney, file the paper work and get legal. If you are unwilling to start the process on your own, and must be forced into trying to gain citizenship only after being caught, you deserve to be treated as a criminal, nice person or not. Get your paper work started, pay taxes like the rest of us, and enjoy all the freedom of being a citizen. I have 2 in-laws in my family who have done this - it's not hard, just takes dedication and effort.


A Observer on May 01, 2010 at 21:02:02 said:

"Janitors" is spoken as if these are vulnerable, victimized persons. Some janitors make close to a six figure salary. These jobs should be going to Americans. That lady is out of her mind, or just extremely dishonest, implying that these are not labor law violations. Of course they are labor law violations!

This website is in cohorts with the corporations, corrupted labor unions, and the health insurance companies.

Notice how little they reported on single payer. They're part of the big sell-out on the American people.

And NO, it's not about race or ethnicity. This country is multicultural. It's about going back, getting in line, and waiting your turn to apply LEGALLY.

Take your corruption, your slave trade, your human smuggling, your reconquista BS and go home and apply legally in FREEDOM. Call your attorney with your cell phone and use the USPS and the internet. You've got a lot more cash than a lot of Americans.

35 million OUT OF WORK.


A Observer on May 01, 2010 at 20:51:39 said:

"Janitors" is spoken as if these are vulnerable, victimized persons. Some janitors make close to a six figure salary. These jobs should be going to Americans. That lady is out of her mind, or just extremely dishonest, implying that these are not labor law violations. Of course they are labor law violations!

This website is in cohorts with the corporations, corrupted labor unions, and the health insurance companies.

Notice how little they reported on single payer. They're part of the big sell-out on the American people.

And NO, it's not about race or ethnicity. This country is multicultural. It's about going back, getting in line, and waiting your turn to apply LEGALLY.

Take your corruption, your slave trade, your human smuggling, your reconquista BS and go home and apply legally in FREEDOM. Call your attorney with your cell phone and use the USPS and the internet. You've got a lot more cash than a lot of Americans.

35 million OUT OF WORK.


l00ker on May 01, 2010 at 05:01:17 said:

These people have no rights and protections here, so no amount of protests and threats are going to change that. They are the source of their own problems, so who gives a crap.


l00ker on May 01, 2010 at 05:00:05 said:

These people have no rights and protections here, so no amount of protests and threats are going to change that. They are the source of their own problems, so who gives a crap.


tony b on Apr 30, 2010 at 21:51:04 said:

"What kind of economic recovery goes with firing thousands of workers?" Miranda asks.

Well, it opens up jobs for US Citizens.

I have nothing against immigrants, in fact, their presence generates more work for me (I'm an interpreter). I also married one.
But, the fact is, if they don't have legal authorization to work, well, there are plenty of Americans currently out of work who need a job, right now.


SF resident on Apr 30, 2010 at 15:32:35 said:

Using a "bad Social Security Number" (SSN) is NOT a victimless crime.

The SSN's rightful owner faces a nightmare with the IRS and state tax authorities demanding that they pay taxes on the income earned by the illegal alien.

If the SSN's rightful owner is on unemployment, disability, food stamps, or Medicaid, they are denied benefits and prosecuted for failing to report the income.

Unpaid medical and other bills make it difficult for the rightful owner to get credit.


SF resident on Apr 30, 2010 at 15:29:40 said:

Using a "bad Social Security Number" (SSN) is NOT a victimless crime.

The SSN's rightful owner faces a nightmare with the IRS and state tax authorities demanding that they pay taxes on the income earned by the illegal alien.

If the SSN's rightful owner is on unemployment, disability, food stamps, or Medicaid, they are denied benefits and prosecuted for failing to report the income.

Unpaid medical and other bills make it difficult for the rightful owner to get credit.

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