Yesterday, Neil Cavuto hosted Dan Stein, president of the anti-immigrant Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), to talk about a new Department of Labor initiative, “We Can Help!,” aimed at expanding its effort to enforce wage and hour rules by encouraging low-wage and immigrant workers to turn in employers who are shortchanging their pay. According to Cavuto and his guest, protecting unauthorized workers from wage theft is “bizarre” and “just weird”:
CAVUTO: They’re raiding a work site in this case — and when they say they’re the good guys, they’re telling the illegals on that given site, we’re the good guys and we’re not going to deport you, we’re actually going after the guy who hired you. And if you have been paid a fraction of what you should’ve gotten paid, then we’re going to correct that. Now that gets bizarre. [...]
STEIN: What we have is an administration that’s positioning itself for a big amnesty program. And they don’t want to deport anybody unless they’re like a serial murder or a rapist or a terrorist . Everybody else they’re saying should be allowed to stay. And that’s why they’re setting up these programs that are sending conflicting signals and are making us — the American taxpayer — feel like our government is incoherent.
CAVUTO: It’s just weird, it’s just weird.
Protecting undocumented workers from exploitation isn’t absurd, it’s enforcing the law. The National Employment Law Project (NELP) points out that, “Federal courts and state and federal agencies have consistently held that core labor standards, including the right to organize, to a minimum wage, and to protection from discrimination, cover all workers, regardless of immigration status.”
Cavuto and Stein take the simplistic view that making sure undocumented immigrants are paid a decent wage rewards illegal behavior. However, they fail to note that shortchanging unauthorized workers hurts everyone who is employed in the given industry where the exploitation is taking place. Unscrupulous employers who hire and abuse undocumented labor drive down wages and working conditions for all the Americans who work alongside them. They also put honest businesses who want to abide by immigration and labor laws in a position in which they are forced to compete on an uneven playing field. In De Canas v. Bica, the Supreme Court itself recognized that “acceptance by illegal aliens of jobs on substandard terms as to wages and working conditions can seriously depress wage scales and working conditions of citizens and legally admitted aliens; and employment of illegal aliens under such conditions can diminish the effectiveness of labor unions.”
Contrary to what Stein implies, Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis’ job is to guard the welfare of the American worker. She can’t fix or enforce the nation’s immigration laws, but her new program does seek to at least remedy some of the negative effects of the broken immigration system. In the end, “We Can Help!” doesn’t specifically target immigrant workers, rather, it’s aimed at improving the low-wage sectors in which many of them work.
Finally, deportations under President Obama have actually increased by 5 percent. Though administration officials have promised that their focus would be on deporting the “worst of the worst,” two-thirds of the 387,790 deported immigrants in fiscal year 2009 were non-criminals — much to the dismay of immigration advocates.