Undocumented Workers, the Most Vulnerable, the Most Exploited

Undocumented workers are the most vulnerable among migrants. While they are denied legal status and are exploited in so many ways, they are also treated as criminals.


Undocumented workers are the most vulnerable among migrants. While they are denied legal status and are exploited in so many ways, they are also treated as criminals.

The International Assembly of Migrants and Refugees (IAMR), a counter-conference to the Global Forum on Migration and Development (GFMD), tackled the plight of undocumented workers.


An estimated 1.5 million migrants are getting into the US every year. Of these, half a million are undocumented.

The 2000 US census estimated that there were 12 million undocumented migrants in the country. Currently, the number of undocumented migrants is estimated to reach 16 million.

Carlos Canales, an El Salvadoran from the US-based May 1st Coalition said that since 2005, there have been three legislative measures aimed at controlling migration into the US. Canales mentioned the HR 4437 (Sensenbrenner bill), and HR 1645 or the Guttierez-Flake bill, also called the Strive Act and the Great Bargain bill.

The May 1st Coalition is a coalition of various migrant groups in the US. It was formed to lead the rally of more than one million immigrants and supporters to advocate for the rights of immigrants, held last May 1, 2006 in New York City.

Even as the Sensenbrenner bill didn’t pass through the US Senate, Canales said, the author of the bill put forward the concept of criminalizing undocumented migration. Before, undocumented workers were only liable to civil suits.

Canales mentioned some of the bill’s salient points to include, holding any organization or institution that helps undocumented immigrants criminally liable too, training local police as immigration agents, and the building of the wall between Mexico and the US.

The Strive Act, Canales said, would have increased the militarization of the US-Mexico border, placed immigrants – whether legal or undocumented- under suspicion of being terrorists, criminalized undocumented migrants, prevented the reunification of families for years, prevented a path to citizenship for up to 20 years, built more jails and increased detention of migrants, legalized racial profiling, mandated mass deportations, denied due process and equal rights for immigrants and charged huge fees for visas and re-entry to US.

The Great Bargain bill proposes residency for migrants based on a point system – 47 points for employment, 28 for education, 15 for English and civics and ten points for the status of extended family. Canales said the standards being set by the bill are too high that only a few would be able to get residency.

Eni Lestari, chairperson of the International Migrants Alliance (IMA) said, “In the US, the Patriot Act, Home Security Act and the succeeding law on border controls have unleashed its pangs on migrants and immigrant workers. These have spawned racial profiling and wanton acts of discrimination and disregard for the rights of even legal migrants and immigrants. Thousands of undocumented workers were swept by raids and crackdowns.”

In an interview, Canales cited the Bush administration’s largest crackdown on illegal workers at a single site. Last May, 389 immigrants in Postville, Iowa were arrested and held at a cattle exhibit hall.

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