Miriam Martinez Solais says she worked six to seven days a week, 12 hours at a time, at Vesuvio’s Pizza & Grill in Roxboro, North Carolina for six years. Yet she says she was only paid $400 a week. So after years of hard work, the 28-year-old woman quit and filed a complaint against her former employer with the North Carolina Department of Labor, claiming she was paid far below minimum wage and denied overtime compensation. The NCDOL and the federal Labor Department started investigating Vesuvio’s.
But what she thought would be a chance to be compensated for her hard work turned into a nightmare, when Vesuvio’s owner, Giovanni D’Abbusco, told her to drop the complaint because he “did not want anything to happen to her or her daughter,” according to Solais’ motion to dismiss.
Solais is an undocumented immigrant originally from Mexico. With the help of a private detective, D’Abbusco discovered that Solais was using the social security number of a California resident and filed a report with the Roxboro Police Department. Solais was arrested in January and thrown in jail for six days. She’s now facing a slew of felony charges: two counts of identity theft, as well as 22 counts of “obtaining property by false pretenses” — the “property” being her paycheck.
D’Abbusco denies these charges, claiming that Solais only worked part-time and therefore was not eligible for overtime pay. He also says he did not initiate contact with police, but only answered their questions.
Solais’ attorneys filed three motions to dismiss the charges against her. As Solais’ defense argues, only the federal government can prosecute people for violating civil immigration laws. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2012 that undocumented immigrants cannot be criminally prosecuted for offenses like using fake documents to work, except by federal authorities.
But that doesn’t mean local and state law enforcement have stopped wielding the criminal justice system against undocumented immigrants. Felony charges like identity theft are commonly used to target undocumented immigrants outside of the immigration system. Two immigrants living in New Hampshire were arrested and charged with “criminal trespass” solely because they were living in the state without documentation.
Congress also helped by making certain identity and documentation offenses felonies in 1998. The legislation aimed to criminalize undocumented workers, allowing people like Solais who use faked documentation to secure work to be charged for criminal behavior.
North Carolina is one of many states that hopes to crack down on immigrants using local police forces. Within the next month, the governor of North Carolina is expected to sign a bill banning sanctuary cities, where local governments have decided to forbid their law enforcement from investigating or criminalizing people for their immigration status. If and when the law is signed, state police will have more leeway to target and prosecute immigrants.