The following editorial appeared in the Charlotte Observer:
Miriam Martinez Solais broke the law. Twice. She came into the United States illegally in 2007, crossing the Rio Grande so that she could earn money to clothe and feed her 3-year-old daughter in Mexico. She also obtained a false Social Security number, as many undocumented workers do when they want to find a better job than one that’s off the books.
Those choices come with a price, however. Solais and other undocumented workers are often left vulnerable to employers and others who might take advantage of an immigrant’s unwillingness to complain and attract attention.
That’s what apparently happened to Solais after she settled in Roxboro, and when she complained, she learned just how vulnerable she was.
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As The News & Observer’s Mandy Locke reports, Solais was arrested and jailed by Roxboro police last December for obtaining property – the Social Security number – by false pretenses. This came after she reported a Roxboro Italian restaurant owner to state labor officials for cheating her out of thousands of dollars of wages.
Federal labor officials now say the restaurant’s owner, Giovanni Scotti D’Abbusco, reported Solais to police in retaliation for her complaints. That would be a violation of federal law. Labor officials also say that D’Abbusco paid less than minimum wages to Solais and 10 to 15 other Latino employees. Some may have been paid in cash to avoid payroll taxes.
It’s the type of scenario that immigration advocates have warned about for years. But it’s more than just small businesses paying poor wages under the table. Larger employers like poultry plants are notorious for an abusive culture that exploits a primarily Latino workforce. Criminals prey on Latinos they know are reluctant to report crimes.
All of which endangers not just undocumented immigrants, but their families. The state’s answer to this? Laws that further push these families to the margins, including the newly minted “Protect North Carolina Workers Act,” which bans sanctuary cities and jeopardizes children’s access to critical services by restricting their parents’ use of a common ID that foreign consulates issue.
That provision, signed into law last month by Gov. Pat McCrory, could block tens of thousands of U.S.-born children – who are U.S. citizens – from getting birth certificates or being enrolled in schools, the advocacy group NC Child said.
The solution, as always, lies in Washington, but conservative Republicans continue to block reasonable immigration reform that would offer undocumented immigrants a chance to obtain legal status while continuing to lead productive lives here. Instead, conservatives insist on the fantasy of deporting more than 10 million immigrants.
While that stalemate endures, immigrants remain in limbo and in danger. Yes, Solais broke the law, along with millions of others who crossed the U.S. border. But she shouldn’t be left vulnerable to other lawbreakers – and to the broken immigration system that enables them.
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