Saturday, July 16, 2005

The Morning Retch: Have a safe deportation

US employers may rail about "illegal" immigrants, but they keep hiring them. Undocumented workers are a boss' dream; if they try to enforce their labor rights, it is easy to have them sent out of the country.

The same kind of employer (sleazy) who takes advantage of the undocumented is also often the kind that cuts corners on worker safety and health precautions. The federal agency charged with protecting working conditions, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has been underfunded for years, barely able to inspect the worst workplaces. It needs the trust of all workers to find safety violations.

So what did our eager Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement do last week? Steven Greenhouse writes in the New York Times:

The 48 immigrants thought they were attending mandatory safety training by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. But it was not until they showed up to the meeting in Goldsboro, N.C., last week that they discovered they had been summoned for an altogether different reason.

Federal immigration officials had posted fliers telling immigrant workers for several subcontractors at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in Goldsboro that they had to attend a safety meeting. There was no meeting, however; instead there was a sting operation in which immigration officials arrested 48 people on charges that they were illegal immigrants from Mexico, Honduras, El Salvador and Ukraine.

Want to guarantee undocumented workers get injured and poisoned? Just pull a stunt like this:

Felipe Bravo, a 47-year-old immigrant from Mexico City, was arrested at the meeting at the Air Force base, but was released when he proved that he was an American citizen. But he said his brother, Domingo, was arrested and faces deportation. They installed air conditioners and heating equipment, while many of the others worked in construction, lawn mowing or cleaning.

Mr. Bravo said that the government officials first served coffee and doughnuts and that one official stood up and said, "I got good news and bad news. The good news is we are not from OSHA, and the bad news is we're from the immigration office."

He said a swarm of immigration agents then entered the theater.

"It's not fair because they got my brother on false information, on having false papers, but they also used false information," Mr. Bravo said. "I agree with the government about trying to protect us against terrorism. That's good. But these people aren't terrorists. They came here to work."

Guess those workers aren't going to trust OSHA again. Don't imagine that they learned that playing by the rules is good for them either.

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