Magazine article Insight on the News

Q: Should Illegal Aliens Be Able to Sue U.S. Employers for Labor Racketeering? No: Such Lawsuits Subvert Our Legal System and the Nation's Border-Control Policy

Magazine article Insight on the News

Q: Should Illegal Aliens Be Able to Sue U.S. Employers for Labor Racketeering? No: Such Lawsuits Subvert Our Legal System and the Nation's Border-Control Policy

Article excerpt

Byline: Matt Hayes, SPECIAL TO INSIGHT

Upton Sinclair's The Jungle, published in 1906, shocked turn-of-the-century Americans with its descriptions of the horrific plight of workers mostly recent immigrants from Europe in Chicago's stockyards and slaughterhouses. In his true-to-life, social-protest novel, Sinclair showed how the beef industry had sacrificed everything to the bottom line, placing profits above people and creating universally appalling working conditions for its labor force.

Americans were outraged not only because we believed we had avoided England's Industrial Age mistakes, illustrated so well by Sinclair's forerunner, Charles Dickens, but also because we believed that in all things America should be different and better.

Publication of The Jungle marked the beginning of a new era of raised social consciousness and widespread activism on behalf of exploited workers, bringing about firm and needed restraints on capitalisme sauvage. The creation of child-labor laws and other worker protections kept naked market forces in check and prevented the most blatant exploitation.

One of the most notable worker protections of that time came from a national recognition that a tight labor market is a worker's best friend, and Congress implemented a much-needed time-out from the immigration America had been absorbing for decades. The resulting 40-year lull in immigration removed the primary mechanism an excess of cheap labor by which U.S. industry had been able to drive wages to unacceptably low levels.

Sinclair made his mark, but it was only temporary. The raids staged recently at 61 Wal-Mart stores around the country resulted in the arrests of some 250 illegal aliens in 21 states who mopped floors for the world's largest retail chain seven days a week for barely subsistence wages.

Now as ever some U.S. business interests are only too willing to turn human beings into a labor commodity, once again taking advantage of a public policy designed to flood the U.S. labor market with an overabundance of cheap and in a growing number of cases illegal labor.

Although Americans romanticize the great wave of immigration that took place at the turn of the last century and frequently cite it as proof that America can endure and indeed prosper by a massive influx of immigrants, the sheer number of immigrants legal as well as illegal that has arrived on U.S. shores since 1990 makes the great wave look not great at all.

The difference between then and now lies in more than the numbers. Today we see a powerful alliance between immigration lawyers, ethnic-identity interest groups, vote-hungry politicians and business lobbyists all seemingly tripping over one another in an effort to portray the felony of employing illegal aliens as an act of heroism or compassion.

The civil lawsuit filed against Wal-Mart in federal District Court in New Jersey after last month's raids is an example of this. The lawsuit was not filed on behalf of Americans or legal immigrants, who probably can show real damages as a result of Wal-Mart's alleged pattern of criminal activity. Nor was the lawsuit filed on behalf of any disadvantaged competitor of the floor-cleaning sub-contractors Wal-Mart used in an apparent effort to circumvent laws against hiring illegal aliens. The New Jersey lawsuit was filed by the illegal aliens who worked for Wal-Mart's cleaning contractors.

The conditions under which Wal-Mart worked these illegal aliens were truly awful and, if the allegations against the giant multinational corporation are true, then Wal-Mart and its subcontractors should be punished. Unfortunately, the New Jersey lawsuit, as it currently is configured, probably won't make that happen because it depends on a cynicism that we should hope does not exist among American jurors.

The New Jersey lawsuit asserts claims under the Civil Rights Act and Fair Labor Standards Act and seeks back and overtime pay for work performed. …

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