A Question of Priorities

The Bush Labor Department focuses on immigration enforcement while ignoring protections for Latino workers.

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The American workplace is a treacherous area for Latinos: They are far more likely than white workers to be killed on the job and are too frequently abused by lawbreaking employers who pay wages far below the federally required minimum. Laws exist to shield all workers from these workplace hazards. However, President George W. Bush’s Department of Labor has failed to effectively police low-road employers and increasingly workers do not receive the protection they need and deserve. Latinos often bear the brunt of these failures.

The recent Agriprocessors, Inc. meatpacking scandal highlights the contradiction between the administration’s aggressive pursuit of undocumented immigrant workers and its indifference when it comes to enforcing workplace protections. Federal agents targeted Agriprocessors’ undocumented workers, but they ignored the unsafe and abusive conditions at its Postville, Iowa plant. While the federal raids ended in 300 undocumented workers being sentenced to five months in jail, it was left up to Iowa’s attorney general to pursue the company’s significant child labor, workplace safety, and wage theft violations.

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Karla Walter

Senior Fellow, Inclusive Economy