Study: Immigrant Women Suffer Abuse On the Job

A new report urges Americans to consider the hands that feed them this holiday.

By Jamilah King Nov 19, 2010

As the country gets ready to celebrate Thanksgiving, a new study shows that a considerable number of its food service workers are at risk. The report "Injustice On Our Plates" was released by the liberal Southern Poverty Law Center, and shows that undocumented women in the food service industry endure considerable labor abuses.

The report is based on interviews with 150 undocumented immigrant women form Latin American countries that include Mexico and Guatemala.The report claims that most of these abuses go unreported because so many of these women fear deportation. Their stories likely make up just a small portion of the experiences faced by the more than 4 million undocumented women who currently live and work in the United States.

"The laws that protect these workers are grossly inadequate, " researchers suggest. "More importantly, the workers’ ability to enforce what protections they do have is generally nonexistent."

The study urges Congress to look at the bigger picture of immigration reform, namely the forces that have propelled these women across their borders in the first place. And it doesn’t hold back from framing its discourse around what it considers to be that bigger picture, by referring to undocumented workers as "economic refugees" who are "pushed from their home countries by abject poverty, hunger, and desperation."

What makes undocumented women especially at risk, according to researchers, is that they don’t just face labor abuses, but also deal with sexual harassment and assault, cases that usually go unreported. A majority of women in the study reported facing sexual harassment on the job.

Michelle Chen writes for In These Times that the issue is doesn’t just impact immigrant women.

"Until all migrant workers, this country’s unwelcome guests, can come above ground and earn a living with some measure of freedom and dignity, no worker, and no woman, remains untouched by these inequalities," Chen writes.