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  America
Prof. Maceri's column
Job Safety for All?
Special Contribution
By Domenico Maceri
An artist's conception of US-Mexico border

It's a deadly ritual. Every year several hundred undocumented workers die on the US-Mexico border as they attempt to enter our country, looking for minimum wage jobs.

For those who make it across the border, the dangers are not over. A study by the Associated Press found that Mexican workers in the US are four times more likely to die on the job than US-born ones.

Although the U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Safety and Health Organization (OSHA) tries to improve jobs safety for all workers, conflicts with the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) make it difficult. That increases dangers for undocumented workers at the job site, which may also affect the safety of American workers.

Recently, dozens of undocumented workers from Mexico, Honduras, El Salvador, and the Ukraine were entrapped by the ICE. These workers were lured to an OSHA mandatory meeting on job safety with promises of coffee and doughnuts.

It turned out that the OSHA representatives were in fact ICE agents and the workers were arrested.

OSHA officials were not happy with the ICE action. They are trying to establish trust with workers and increase safety not just for undocumented workers but for all workers. Undocumented workers are often alongside of Americans and everyone's safety is at stake.

Thus if undocumented workers don't get proper training and safety guidelines, it's not just their security which is in danger.

In the case in question, the undocumented workers were operating in the construction field at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in Goldsboro, North Carolina. They were working for contractors doing roofing, electrical, masonry and other related work.

Undocumented workers are typically fearful of government agencies because the threat of being deported is ever present. In addition, most undocumented workers come from countries in which government officials are mistrusted and corrupt.

Thus it's very difficult to get undocumented workers to cooperate with OSHA and increase job safety.

The recent "trap" by the ICE reinforces the mistrust about government officials and adds to the undocumented workers' already high sense of insecurity.

The fear of being deported is particularly strong in light of the Border Patrol crackdown at the "easy" entry points into the US. While in the past making it across the border was a simple task, it now requires the services of a smuggler which costs about $2,000. Thus being deported would mean a significant expense.

This heightened sense of fear keeps pushing people more and more underground, affecting all Americans.

Fear of officials may prevent undocumented workers to report a crime although most local police will not ask about immigration status.

Given the undocumented workers' "hunger" for jobs, they will often accept employment which can cause them harm.

Death is not rare. Undocumented workers die at their job site as they pick fruits and vegetables in California's Central Valley where summer temperatures often reach 100 degrees. They also die in other jobs such as construction, manufacturing, warehousing, and transportation.

If undocumented workers get hurt at a job site and no insurance is available, they'll end up in emergency rooms. Given the high cost of healthcare and the poverty of undocumented workers, it's not unusual for taxpayers to have to pick up the cost.

Some Americans feel little sympathy for undocumented workers dying as they cross the border or at a job site. They are "criminals" and having broken the law means they deserve what they get. They should all be deported.

Since deporting the estimated 11 million undocumented workers would cost more than 200 billion dollars, according to the Center for American Progress, it's unlikely to happen.

Of course, more efforts need to be made to reduce or stop people from entering the US illegally. However, using lies to entrap undocumented workers will only be beneficial in the short run.

Ultimately, it leads for an unsafe working environment not just for undocumented workers but for all Americans as well.



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Other Articles by Domenico Maceri
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Domenico Maceri, Ph.D., UC Santa Barbara, teaches foreign languages at Allan Hancock College in Santa Maria, CA. His articles have appeared in many newspapers including Los Angeles Times, Washington Times, Japan Times, and The Seoul Times. Some of his stories won awards from the National Association of Hispanic Publications.

 

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