MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
It would be wrong to assert that all people of means who hire undocumented workers exploit them. A few we suspect are even generous, but in an age of greed in the United States there is plenty of evidence that many undocumented workers are -- from farmworkers to restaurant grunge workers to day laborers -- knowingly exploited.
After all, the US employer has a big advantage over the undocumented worker: blackmail. Even if the employer is committing a crime by not reporting payments to an undocumented worker -- which is often the case unless the worker has false papers -- the fear factor is sufficient to keep many of those in the US illegally willing to work for the most meager of wages, long hours and in poor working conditions.
In the past couple of years, one group of such vulnerable individuals forced to seek work in the US has become more vocal, even going public and exposing themselves to possible exportation: domestic workers and nannies.
As Michael Seifert, an organizer in Brownsville working for Mexican-American empowerment, wrote recently about the nascent movement of housekeepers and nannies from south of the border -- and advice that they provide to new arrivals:
“You can’t get a bank account and they will pay you in cash, but don’t let the woman who hires you keep your money for you. That would be her way of keeping you there as long as she wants.”
“Do not ever think that the family that you work for are your friends.”
“As soon as they start accusing you of stealing things, leave. That’s the way the ones who don’t have the guts to fire you get rid of you.”
These are warnings exchanged among the women, many who must leave their families behind in Mexico or Central America for salaries that may be as little as two dollars an hour without benefits.
Seifert, a former priest now a facilitator for the Marguerite Casey Foundation, recounts the plaintive plea of one forlorn housekeeper: “The best advice that I would give them is not to come. Dying of hunger in Mexico is better than the years of humiliation here. We are nobody here, nobody. So that is what I would tell them, that’s my advice.”
Describing a recent news conference that he attended, one of the slowly growing number held by undocumented workers "coming out" to describe their abuse, Seifert wrote:
As I studied a photograph of the press conference. I noticed, sitting in the crowd, a young woman that I knew. Her mother is a domestic worker who for years had suffered the humiliation of cleaning play rooms and bathing dogs and being on call, 24/7, for the families that she worked for....
I noticed how this young woman was leaning forward in her seat. I know that she must have been enthralled with the women who spoke that morning. It is always an extraordinary honor and privilege to witness, first hand, those who courageously and publicaly name the evil and the injustice practiced by those who live nearby, particularly when one is as vulnerable as poor woman in a land not her own.
Those who can afford to take advantage of the cheap labor and legal leverage they can use in hiring undocumented workers are among many of the same privileged Americans (along with the white working class who have seen their factories closed and wages drop -- as US-based global corporations have abandoned them) who oppose a path to citizenship for those whom they indifferently take advantage of.
The US may have legally ended the scourge of slavery when the North won the Civil War (although the racism of that Confederate legacy continues to scar America), but in the place of chains and ownership of humans we now have in our nation virtual slavery.
As a nation we are going to build billions of dollars more in militarizing the Mexican border allegedly to keep us from the underpaid and overworked undocumented workers who are so coveted by those in financial power.
It's an inhumane hypocrisy that drains the soul and health of far too many lives.