On early Monday morning, various federal agencies teamed up to raid 14 7-Eleven stores in New York and Virginia. Nine managers and owners were charged with "harboring and hiring illegal immigrants," among other offenses.
Described as a "modern day plantation system" by Brooklyn U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch, the decade-long despicable scheme involved over 50 undocumented immigrants, 20 stolen identities including those of a child and three deceased persons, routine threats of job loss or deportation, and work upwards of 100 hours per week. Not only so, the employers stole "significant portions" of the workers' pay and forced workers to "live in houses they owned and pay them rent in cash." In all, authorities say "the defendants allegedly generated over $182 million in proceeds from the 7-Eleven franchise stores."
Those indicted are expected to appear in court later today to face "wire fraud conspiracy, identity theft and alien harboring charges." The penalties may lead up to 30 years in jail and millions of dollars in fines.
These abusive cycles that enslave human beings to the boundless greed of others demonstrate our desperate need for immigration reform.
All else aside, the Senate immigration bill under debate will definitely decrease workplace violations and exploitations of current and future undocumented workers and likely prevent many situations similar to the 7-Eleven cases from reoccurring.
If the bill passes, current undocumented immigrants in the country would be able to apply for Registered Provision Immigrant (RPI) status and no longer trade their wages, safety, and dignity for freedom from deportation. They would be given a voice to speak out against injustice instead of being chained by fear and silence.
The bill also seeks to protect newly undocumented immigrants in the workplace in two ways. First, an employer may not deny workers back pay or "any remedy related to workplace rights on account of their unauthorized status." Second, the bill expands the U visa program, visas designed to provide temporary legal status to immigrant victims of violent crimes, to cover "victims of serious workplace abuse, exploitation, retaliation, or violation of whistleblower protections." Thus, even undocumented immigrants have a modest safety net for speaking out against their employers to prevent future cases of cyclical exploitation.
As Senator Menendez (D-N.J.) once said on the issue, "When some workers are easy to exploit, conditions for all workers suffer." Let's hope that in a country that boasts of liberty and justice for all, we don’t stop short of protecting our most vulnerable.