Ty Gilligan

Eleven million people. That’s an estimate of how many undocumented workers are currently residing in the United States, according to the Pew Hispanic Center. To put it into perspective, that’s more than the population of metropolitan Chicago. Therefore, the issue of how to handle such a large population of “illegal aliens,” which I will refer to herein as undocumented workers, is a controversial issue.

The two main opinions regarding the status of undocumented workers are that one side believes undocumented workers serve as necessary additional labor in America and their right to self-determination should be respected by allowing them a process for obtaining citizenship, while the other side believes undocumented workers are criminals and should be arrested and deported for breaking the law by entering America illegally.

What troubles me about the debate is that it often comes down to economics. News such as “Each year, state governments spend an estimated $11 billion to $22 billion to provide welfare to immigrants” and “Undocumented Workers pay $7 billion into Social Security” is often touted to the public.

Both sides of the debate are arguing about all of the wrong things. I oppose undocumented immigration not on an economic basis, but on a humanitarian basis. Any practice that surrenders people into a life of dependency, exploitation, fear and abuse should be opposed. This is currently happening in the U.S, and people are turning a blind eye to this underground economy. Undocumented workers are being denied their basic human rights for economic and personal gain. The two largest violations occurring are exploitative employment practices and the inability to utilize public safety services.

Exploitative employment practices are widespread among companies that knowingly employ undocumented workers. Undocumented workers are denied minimum wages, are made to work unsafe hours (some workers have reported working 17-hour days without overtime) and work in unsafe and unhealthy conditions. This is all because employers know the worker will not report the working conditions to authorities because those authorities would then arrest the worker for not having valid work documents.

The employers know they have this power over undocumented workers and they knowingly abuse and exploit it. The Center for Urban Economic Development reports of all workers fired for having invalid Social Security numbers (which most undocumented workers), twenty-five percent said they were fired for complaining about unsafe working conditions and 21 percent say they were fired for union activity. It seems when workers start complaining about conditions, employers begin running more thorough background checks as an excuse to fire or report the workers to immigration authorities.

Another basic right undocumented workers are not given is the ability to utilize public safety services like calling the police, reporting a crime or reporting domestic abuse. This places these immigrants in a constant state of fear. If a crime is committed against an undocumented immigrant, he or she is not likely to report the crime because of the risk of discovery. Immigrants who witnessed or have suffered a serious crime are sometimes eligible for a U-Visa, a visa that allows the immigrant to remain in the USA to testify in court. However, there is a high chance the U-Visa may not be rewarded in some cases. Undocumented workers are very vulnerable to being victims of crimes for the simple reason their attackers or exploiters know they will likely not report the crime to police. Feeling you cannot safely talk to the police is morally deplorable.

While I recognize that these individuals broke the law when entering our country, we cannot surrender them to the abuse and exploitation they are currently experiencing. Regardless of your opinion on undocumented “illegal alien” workers, I hope everyone recognizes the suffering this “underground class” of Americans is experiencing.