Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Immigration ground zero: rights at work

Immigrant rights and labor activists took their struggle to a real "ground zero" of migration policy today in San Francisco. At lunchtime, they picketed Si Senor, a downtown taqueria. One of its workers, Sonia Cano, had filed a claim that she had not been paid the legal minimum wage; soon other workers followed suit. She was then fired after becoming pregnant, and was the victim of an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raid that she claims was instigated by her former employers. According to the sponsors of the demonstration, the workers' advocacy center Young Workers United:

Without any investigation into the validity of the tip, ICE raided [Cano]’s apartment when Sonia was nine months pregnant and detained [her partner] Carlos Barrancos for deportation. Sonia was left without income or support for six weeks while her partner was held in a detention center in Eloy, Arizona.

Cano gave birth to a son in San Francisco, surrounded by her lawyers and community supporters.

This month Cano not only won her minimum wage complaint but also settled a claim with Si Senor for charges of discrimination, defamation, and retaliation with firing, and sending ICE. Lawyers contacted by the labor activists were able to win voluntary departure without criminal penalty for Carlos and enabled him to see the baby before leaving the U.S.

Today's demonstration aimed to let other downtown immigrant workers know that they can win what they are legally entitled to with the help of workers' organizations.

Andrea Mercado of Mujeres Unidas y Activas explained to the press just how commonplace such underpayment and intimidation of immigrants is.

Salvador Guillen refused to say whether he was one of the owners and declined to be interviewed about the case in English, but did defend the taqueria in Spanish, claiming that the "living wage" ordinance was misapplied as Si Senor is really a small business.

Some of the workers have charged that they face insults from the Mexican American owners because the workers are of Mayan ancestry.

Cano has her own conclusions from her experience:

"Don’t remain silent. Stand up for your rights and look for support from the community because we all deserve our rights at work."

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