In recent weeks, the story of Antonio Vanegas has gained national attention. Antonio, a 26-year-old undocumented food service worker, has suffered from wage theft for the last two years while working in the Ronald Reagan Building. His employer, Quick Pita, was paying him significantly less than the minimum wage and in cash -- one way in which unscrupulous employers avoid paying billions of dollars each year in wages and payroll taxes. Now, after publicly speaking out against his employer, Antonio has been fired from his job and faces a deportation hearing next month.
Unfortunately, Antonio's story is all too common, given our broken immigration system -- it's something the organizers at Interfaith Worker Justice affiliates see across the country. Indeed, undocumented immigrants are some of the most vulnerable workers when it comes to wage theft. No doubt this is because employers know these workers face a double-bind. Either they can suffer wage theft and other forms of exploitation in silence or they can speak out and risk deportation. This situation keeps many undocumented workers from reporting workplace abuses, allowing corrupt employers to drive down wages and giving them an unfair advantage over ethical employers who obey the law.
As the push for immigration reform moves to the House of Representatives this week, many folks are hoping to convince skeptical Republican law-makers to approve a path to citizenship on fiscal grounds. Antonio's story, on the other hand, illuminates the moral and religious costs of our current immigration policy.