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No Southern Hospitality for Latinos: SPLC reports on Discrimination, Abuse in the South

April 21, 2009 - Posted by Katherine Vargas


Photo By ToniVC


Today, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), a civil rights organization based in Montgomery, Alabama – the birthplace of the Civil Rights Movement—released the report “Under Siege: Life for Low-Income Latinos in the South documenting the real life impact of failed immigration policies and anti-immigrant climate for Latinos in the South.


 “Dixie” is now home to the fastest growing population of Latinos in the country, many of them lured by the manufacturing and construction jobs created during the economic boom of the 1990s and 2000s. Unfortunately, these immigrants are confronted with increased hostility as they fill low-wage jobs in the South. Accordingly to the Under Siege survey, Latinos face a very dire situation: despite of living and working in the community they are essentially beyond the protection of the law, extremely vulnerable to exploitation by unscrupulous employers and the victims of racial profiling by police and other civil rights abuses.


Among the key findings of the report:


·        Out of those surveyed, 42% had not been paid for work they performed and in New Orleans, 80% reported wage theft.


·        Overall, 32 percent of Latinos surveyed reported on-the-job injuries. Among those injured on the job, only 37 percent reported that they received appropriate treatment.


·         Latinos — regardless of immigration status —were consistently subject to discrimination and racial profiling. Like African Americans during the height of Jim Crow, many Latinos in the South live in constant fear of being unfairly targeted by the police as they go about their daily lives.


·         Latino immigrants in locales with 287(g) programs said their willingness to speak to police has been affected by the 287(g) agreement with ICE. [287(g) agreements let local police enforce federal civil immigration law and the jurisdictions with these agreements are concentrated in the South]

Under Siege: Life for Low-Income Latinos in the South, April 21, 2009


The survey’s findings generated strong support by the labor community. The Vice President of the Service Employees International Union, Eliseo Media, responded to today’s report, stating that this was “a wakeup call for America” to pass immigration reform.


"Thanks to widespread misconceptions, reinforced by right-wing propaganda, Hispanic workers-regardless of their immigration status-face workplace discrimination, hounding by law enforcement and are too often attacked by extremist hate groups. They too often know little if anything about how to exercise their legal rights to protection or how to stop being cheated out of wages or the denial of basic health and safety protections.


"We are judged by how we respond to discrimination of one neighbor by another so today's report should serve as a wakeup call that these despicable acts will continue until we pass comprehensive immigration reform."

        SEIU Press Release, April 21, 2009


Unless the federal government offers a clear direction on immigration and immigration enforcement, rogue agents will continue to exploit the chaos of our dysfunctional immigration system. We need to reform our immigration system so we can put all workers on an equal footing with equal access to labor rights and protections. In that way, unscrupulous employers cannot take advantage of the vulnerability of some workers and we will be able to put an end to this cycle of abuse and discrimination.



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