A new study reports that employers steal wages from Mexican immigrants in New Mexico.
According to the Mexican Immigrants and Wage Theft in New Mexico study, close to 30 percent of immigrants in the state report being the victims of wage theft. The study showed employers stole wages from both documented and undocumented workers.
Jessica Garrick, a graduate student in sociology who co-write the study, said Somos Un Pueblo Unido, a local Santa Fe organization, approached Andrew Schrank, a UNM professor of sociology and political science, about conducting a study to demonstrate the problem of wage theft in New Mexico.
Immigrants across the state suffer different forms of wage theft at the hands of their employers, Garrick said.
“Sometimes this was just outright non-payment, like they just don’t get a paycheck,” she said. “And then other times their employers are doing things like shaving hours off the paycheck, not paying overtime, not paying minimum wage, all of those things are wage theft.”
Garrick said she collected the data for the study by taking a survey of immigrants at the Mexican consulate in Albuquerque.
“We carried out the survey in the Mexican consulate system, in order to kind of capture what you think as a generalized sample of immigrants in the state,” she said. “I would just go into the consulate, and then I had a survey where I asked them sort of demographic questions.”
Garrick said researchers began conducting the surveys in July 2012, and did not finish analyzing the data until the spring.
The study proves the reality of wage theft in New Mexico, Garrick said. She said theft presents a big problem not only for the victims, but for the state’s economy in general.
“So these victims, they’re not being paid their full wages, these wages then don’t go back into the economy,” she said. “And the other harmful thing that it does is when you have employers who treat their workers this way they’re sort of undercutting the businesses that don’t do this.”
Garrick said the study also shows employers who commit wage theft also tend to mistreat their workers in other aspects.
“One of the findings was that immigrants in the workplace who are experiencing wage theft are also experiencing other harmful things in the workplace,” she said. “So an employer who commits wage theft is also probably committing verbal and physical abuse.”
Garrick also said the immigration status of the workers does not justify the employers’ treatment of immigrant workers.
“Even though these workers are immigrants and some of them are undocumented, labor laws protect everyone in the workplace the same,” she said. “So it doesn’t really matter if they’re immigrants. The law protects you, or should protect you, in the same way.”
Adriana Ortiz, a UNM student and member of the UNM Dream Team, said the results of the study do not surprise her.
“Growing up in an immigrant house, you don’t consider it wage theft because it’s normal. But now after reading the study I think ‘Wow, my parents really have been victims of wage theft.’” she said. “This really isn’t how it should be.”
Ortiz studies at UNM under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals presidential memorandum. She gave the Daily Lobo permission to publish her immigration status.
According to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website, undocumented immigrants who fulfill the requirements of DACA can qualify for deferred action for two years, which means that they are protected from deportation for that period of time.
They are also “eligible for work authorization” for two years. However, these privileges are subject to revocation at any time.
Ortiz said she thinks immigrants can be taken advantage of because they “are willing to do the job for a lower pay.”
She said she hopes immigrant workers will become more aware of the rules of the workplace, including the expectations for workers and their employers.
“I definitely hope immigrants will become educated on their rights,” she said. “There needs to be more education and there needs to be more informative sessions because these immigrants don’t know what their rights necessarily are.”