Last fall, I spent two days in central New York with dairy farm workers. I was surprised at the living and working conditions of the largely Central American population living and working on remote dairy farms without documents.
Many of them live in trailers with gaps on the floor so big that I could see the ground underneath the trailer. The trailers have no proper heating system (It gets really cold in Central New York in the winter!), and many trailers are insect infested. Many of them rely on the graciousness of the farm owners to drive them to a grocery store to get groceries because they can neither afford a car nor get a drivers’ license because of their immigration status. Many farm workers we talked to experience injuries on the job and wage theft—when they are not paid for the work they have done—and again, there isn’t much they can do about it because of their immigration status.
They want immigration reform because they want to come out of the shadows. But the current Senate bill—Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013 (S.744)—does not include them. You see, Title II of S.744 requires every person seeking lawful permanent resident (LPR, or “green card”) status to make 125 percent above the poverty wage. That means that for a family of four, their income must be about $30,000 a year. The problem is that in the United States, the national minimum wage is $7.25 an hour. If a person works full time at 40 hours a week, every week of the year, he will take home $15,080.
Many of these workers barely make minimum wage, which means that many of them do not meet the wage requirements listed in S.744. So although they can apply for registered provisional immigrant (RPI) status, they do not qualify for LPR/green card status—which means they cannot become citizens. And this is how the current immigration bill excludes some 25 percent of the currently undocumented population.
Also in Title II, a person seeking lawful permanent resident status cannot be without work for more than 60 days. This means that more workers will remain at a job and endure abuse and unsafe working conditions because of the fear that they will lose their immigrant visa status.
The reason I point these two particular things out about S.744 is that while we continue to pray for and advocate fair and humane immigration reform, we must remember that the current bill that most people are advocate for excludes the most vulnerable of immigrants living in our country. As we continue to advocate passing fair and humane immigration reform, let us also make sure to raise our voices to say that S.744 is not enough. Let us raise our voices to say that we cannot leave behind the most vulnerable members of our society—the low wage undocumented workers in the United States.
Sung Yeon Choi-Morrow is a national organizer at Interfaith Worker Justice (www.iwj.org), a faith-based organization that engages religious communities to be better advocates for low wage workers’ rights. Sung Yeon is a graduate of Wheaton College and McCormick Theological Seminary.
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