Punishing the exploited

I think we'll all sleep better tonight, knowing that our government is vigilantly protecting us from sneaky foreigners who enter this country illegally and clean our Wal-Marts.

Federal investigators raided two Delaware Wal-Mart stores early Thursday, arresting six undocumented cleaning workers in Seaford and four in New Castle as part of a national sweep of 61 Wal-Mart stores that netted 300 workers, a federal official said.

The early-morning raids at Wal-Mart stores in 21 states were part of a federal crackdown on illegal immigrant labor. Investigators arrested workers from Eastern Europe, Central America and Asia, hired by contractors to fill cleaning crews.

I am delighted to read that federal agents conducted "early morning raids at Wal-Mart stores in 21 states."

But it's a bit disturbing to read about a "federal crackdown on illegal immigrant labor." Wouldn't it be better to crack down on the exploiters of illegal immigrant labor.

Here we have people chasing the American Dream. They're not freeloaders, they're working hard. And it's not like they're taking away high-paying quality jobs that we Americans would be envious of. These folks are at the very bottom of the pecking order: They are janitorial workers. Undocumented janitorial workers. Undocumented janitorial workers at Wal-Mart.

Our government gets wind that this powerless group of hard-working people is being exploited unjustly so what do we do? We arrest them all and arrange to have them deported back to whatever country they left because they decided they would be better off cleaning the floors at Wal-Mart on the graveyard shift than to stay there.

There are reasons, I'm sure, why such measures are necessary and prudent, but it still stinks.

The good news is that Wal-Mart executives — the exploiters of those undocumented workers — may be punished as well:

Agents also searched the Arkansas office of a Wal-Mart corporate executive, hauling several boxes of documents from the executive's office at the Wal-Mart headquarters. A sealed criminal complaint alleges that immigration violations took place with "direct knowledge" by Wal-Mart executives, according to Department of Homeland Security officials. Evidence includes taped conversations between Wal-Mart executives, they said.

Wal-Mart's initial response comes from Page 1 of the corporate spin handbook:

"No, we did not know," Wal-Mart spokeswoman Mona Williams said. "Our understanding was that these third-party agencies had only legal workers."

Claim ignorance and blame the subcontractor. This is how Disney and Nike excuse their sweatshops. It's how Union Carbide exempted itself from responsibility for mass death at Bhopal. But it's not going to work for Wal-Mart this time:

Employers who hire independent contractors directly also need to be sure those employees are legal. Companies convicted of knowingly hiring illegal immigrants face fines of up to $10,000 per worker.

"Ultimately, you are responsible," said Larry Lorber, a Washington, D.C., labor lawyer. "Employers do have an obligation to make sure people who work for them are legal to work in the U.S."

  • Steve

    Here is a related article regarding companies needing to be responsible for the subcontractor help they utilize:
    http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/c/a/2003/10/22/MNGCO2FN8G1.DTL

  • http://republicoft.typepad.com/republic_of_t/2003/10/slacktivist.html The Republic of T.

    slacktivist

    Slacktivist has an interesting take on the Wal-Mart scandal: punish the exploiters

  • gttim

    Why do you think they hire subcontractors to do such work? That way they get cheap labor, don’t have to check immigration status, and don’t have to pay any benefits, SS taxes or Medicare taxes.
    “I see nothing!”

  • Patience

    Well, this makes “Always low prices. ALWAYS!!!” a little more understandable.

  • Angelike

    What also pissed me off from the report I heard on NPR (I’m not kidding here) is that they arrested these poor people at the END of the shift. Jesus — I mean, you wouldn’t want to squeeze every last bit of work out of them (for which they won’t be paid) before shipping them off or anything, right?

  • Qoheleth

    This seems appropriate…
    DEPORTEE
    by Woody Guthrie
    (recorded many times over by many different people & groups)
    The crops are all in and the peaches are rotting,
    The oranges are packed in their creosote dumps.
    They’re flying ‘em back to the Mexico border
    To take all their money to wade back again.
    Goodbye to my Juan, goodbye Rosalita,
    Adios mis amigos, Jesus y Maria.
    You won’t have a name when you ride the big airplane,
    All they will call you will be “deportees.”
    My father’s own father, he waded that river.
    They took all the money he made in his life.
    My brothers and sisters came workin’ the fruit trees,
    They rode the big trucks ’till they laid down and died.
    Goodbye to my Juan, goodbye Rosalita,
    Adios mis amigos, Jesus y Maria.
    You won’t have a name when you ride the big airplane,
    All they will call you will be “deportees.”
    The skyplane caught fire over Los Gatos Canyon,
    A fireball of lightnin’ an’ it shook all the hills.
    Who are these comrades, they’re dying like the dry leaves?
    The radio tells me, “They’re just deportees.”
    We died in your hills and we died in your deserts,
    We died in your valleys, we died in your plains.
    We died ‘neath your trees and we died ‘neath your bushes,
    Both sides of the river we died just the same.
    Goodbye to my Juan, goodbye Rosalita,
    Adios mis amigos, Jesus y Maria.
    You won’t have a name when you ride the big airplane,
    All they will call you will be “deportees”
    Is this the best way we can grow our big orchards?
    Is this the best way we can grow our good fruit?
    To die like the dry leaves and rot on my topsoil
    And be known by no name except “deportee.”
    Goodbye to my Juan, goodbye Rosalita,
    Adios mis amigos, Jesus y Maria.
    You won’t have a name when you ride the big airplane,
    All they will call you will be “deportees.”
    All they will call you will be “deportees.”

  • Darryl Pearce

    I’m sure that Woody would appreciate it if we updated the song with new lyrics. Actually, I’m thinking “All they will call you will be ‘detainees’” in Guantanamo.
    –Ventura County, ca

  • claude

    the real joke, as anyone who has hired people out in the field can tell you, is that the employer is NOT required to verify the authenticity of documentation presented by a new employee. All I would do to protect the company’s interests was to make a copy of the documents, have them fill out a W-4 and put them to work. I am not even required to actually ask anybody if they are a citizen. A phony Social Security Number (SSN) would get bounced back eventually, by the payroll service, although I’m not sure what that process entailed. FWIW, not ALL undocumenteds are treated poorly. There are employers who treat these workers with respect and dignity, for the simple reason that (other than basic human decency) often these workers are the only ones willing and available to do the work.

  • Natalie

    All I can say is that I live down the street from the Wal-Mart in New Castle, and I feel much safer now that those 4 illegal workers have been detained.
    Except, you know, not.
    [Insert general grumbling about that particular Wal-Mart here. I hate that place but it is the cheapest place to get some essential for life items, so that's where I go. Why must Target be so far away? *sigh*]

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