U.S. fails to protect illegal workers: petition
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Millions of illegal-immigrant U.S. workers are vulnerable to exploitation because the federal government fails to protect them, advocacy groups said in a petition to an international human-rights body.
The document was filed on Wednesday with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, on behalf of petitioners including six illegal immigrant workers.
"By not protecting undocumented workers, the government is sending the message to employers that they can abuse and harass immigrant women, and that our lives are not as valued as other workers," one of the workers, identified as Melissa L., said in a statement.
The human rights commission, an arm of the Organization of American States, has scant powers and can do little more than publicize its findings. But the
American Civil Liberties Union said the aim of the petition was to put the U.S. government's human-rights record under the spotlight and demand accountability.
"The most poorly paid and least desirable jobs in the United States are filled by undocumented immigrants," said Claudia Flores, an ACLU Women's Rights Project attorney.
"Yet the government increasingly limits the safeguards available to this population, leaving them vulnerable to exploitation and workplace discrimination."
White House spokesman Tony Fratto said the claims were "off-base and ill-informed."
Department of Labor vigorously enforces the labor laws it administers regardless of a worker's immigration status," Fratto said.
Groups that took part in the petition included the ACLU, the National Employment Law Project and the University if Pennsylvania School of Law Transnational Legal Clinic
In addition to the illegal workers, the petition was filed on behalf of the United Mine Workers of America, the AFL-CIO labor federation -- America's largest, and the Interfaith Justice Network.
There are an estimated 12 million illegal immigrants in the United States, and proposed revisions in U.S. immigration law have become a major political issue in this congressional election year.
The petition said nearly 6 million illegal immigrants work, making up nearly 5 percent of the U.S. work force.
"International human rights law requires the United States to apply its workplace protections equally and without discrimination based on immigration status," said Chandra Bhatnagar, an ACLU Human Rights Program staff attorney.
Jesus L., another of the illegal workers named in the petition, is a Michigan poultry worker who suffered severe injuries after falling from the top of a chicken house onto a concrete floor.
He required spinal reconstruction surgery, but the insurance company for Jesus' employer refused to provide workers' compensation to cover time off work because he was undocumented, the ACLU said.
Melissa L. left her job because of sexual harassment. When she filed a claim against her employer she had to settle her case for less than she was entitled because of her immigration status, the ACLU said.