Wage Theft by Employers Surging in Wake of Arizona’s Anti-Immigrant Law, Even as Judge Blocks Implementation of Key Provisions

The Arizona Interfaith Alliance for Worker Justice, a worker center in Phoenix, has seen a “huge spike” in wage theft -- violations of minimum wage laws -- since the passage of SB 1070, Arizona’s anti-immigrant law.  "Employers are even more brazen in their mistreatment of workers," said Executive Director Trina Zelle in an interview with In These Times.  "Increasingly, 'Go ahead, try and make me pay you' is the response workers hear when they confront their employers over unpaid wages."

Workers' rights organizers report that the law's passage in April has already begun to drive immigrant workers even further underground, effectively silencing them in the face of rampant workplace rights violations.  The irony is that this makes undocumented immigrants an even more attractive workforce for unscrupulous employers, who know they can illegally underpay them without fear of those employees reporting them or taking them to court.  “If we ever hope to bring immigrant workers out of the shadows in which they’ve been laboring,” says Kim Bobo, Executive Director of Interfaith Worker Justice, “we need to forcefully oppose anti-immigrant legislation and stand up for both comprehensive immigration reform and vigorous enforcement of the nation’s labor laws.”

Progressive States Network's model legislation for wage law enforcement outlines how wage enforcement campaigns can counter anti-immigrant rhetoric by raising wage standards for all workers and uniting native and immigrant communities to oppose unscrupulous employers.

Judge Strikes Down Worst Provisions of SB 1070:  Yesterday, a federal judge struck down key provisions of SB 1070 as likely violating federal law or being unconstitutional, reinvigorating hope among immigrant communities that state anti-immigrant laws will fail to gain traction.  Key provisions that were blocked include:

  • Requiring police officers to investigate the immigration status of individuals they stop who they suspect are undocumented;
  • Mandatory detention of individuals who are arrested if they cannot verify they are authorized to be in the U.S.;
  • Imposing state criminal penalties on non-citizens who fail to register with the Department of Homeland Security or failing to carry registration documents; 
  • Warrantless arrests of individuals who are deemed by state or local police officers to be "removable" from the U.S.;  and,
  • State statutes that make it a crime for alleged undocumented immigrants to work.

The initial court injunction will be followed by a full hearing to determine whether these provisions, as well as the law's other troubling components, will be permanently struck down.  The ruling echoes numerous other legal decisions that struck down broad state anti-immigrant laws - and should serve as a warning to other states that enacting copycat legislation similar to Arizona's will lead to costly legal proceedings and, as discussed above, only serve to empower unscrupulous employers to violate wage laws.

Working In These Times - ‘Go Ahead, Try and Make Me Pay You’:  Wage Theft and SB 1070
Progressive States Network - Promoting Wage Law Enforcement Policies in 2010
Interfaith Worker Justice - Thou Shalt Not Steal - A Toolkit on Wage Theft
American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) -  Court Blocks Implementation of Key Sections of Arizona's Racial Profiling Law
National Employment Law Project (NELP) - Enforcement of Workplace Standards