Low Pay, High Risk: State Models for Advancing Immigrant Workers’ Rights


Between twenty-eight and thirty million immigrants live in the United States. While immigrants make up less than eleven percent of the total population, they make up fourteen percent of the nation’s labor force and twenty percent of the low-wage labor force. Though war and poverty in many immigrants’ home countries make coming to the United States the only avenue to a better life, restrictive immigration laws mean that only a fraction of immigrants are able to legally enter and remain in the United States. Researchers have estimated that there are 9.3 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States; among them are an estimated 5.3 million undocumented workers.

One need only open the local papers to understand the risks that these workers face in their attempts to come to the United States and make a better life for themselves. On September 28, 2003, four migrants were killed when the vehicle in which they were traveling crashed while being pursued by U.S. Border Patrol. Data provided by Latin American consulates in Arizona and area medical examiners’ offices suggests that at least 181 people may have died in the Tucson sector alone over the past year. Border Patrol, which only tracks deaths discovered by its agents or reported by other law enforcement agencies, reported that 346 people died along the 2000-mile U.S. border with Mexico over the 2002-03 fiscal year and that over 1500 people have died trying to enter the United States since 1998. Immigrants die of heat stroke, drowning, and thirst, and as the victims of human smugglers. In 2002, eight migrants were murdered over eight months in Arizona. Law enforcement officials in the region believe that the victims may have been killed by human traffickers when they could not afford to pay for their entry to the United States.


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