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  August 8, 2017

Why Trump's Immigration Policies Are Really a War on Workers

Trump's proposal to cut legal immigration by half as well as the targeting of undocumented immigrants who have filed wage disputes will drive down wages for all workers says Garment Worker Center's Mariela Martinez
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Jaisal Noor: As the wealthiest administration in history cuts vital services and protections for working Americans to fund tax breaks for the rich, Trump has launched his latest assault on his seemingly-favorite scapegoat on Wednesday, unveiling the RAISE Act, which would cut legal immigration by half and move toward a merit-based system.

Donald Trump: The RAISE Act will reduce poverty, increase wages, and save taxpayers billions and billions of dollars.

Jaisal Noor: Trump was flanked by far-right Senators Tom Cotton and David Perdue, who's also a millionaire businessman.

David Perdue: Our current system does not work. It keeps America from being competitive and it does not meet the needs of our economy today. Today, as Tom said, we bring in 1.1 million legal immigrants a year. Over 50% of our households of legal immigrants today participate in our social welfare system. Right now only 1 out of 15 immigrants that come into our country come in with skills that are employable. We've got to change that.

Jaisal Noor: As some have noted, Trump's grandfather and even Trump himself would have been deported under the proposal. The vast majority of economic data shows immigrants are not an economic burden, nor do they drive down wages. Studies demonstrate that limiting immigration would have disastrous impacts on the economy, and even some Republicans to oppose the move. The release of the RAISE Act paired with increased ICE arrests are aimed at terrorizing immigrant communities to discourage organizing and ripen the conditions for more intense economic exploitation. Maintaining cheap labor is the primary concern of elites. On Tuesday, the LA Times reported ICE agents had been showing up at labor disputes seeking up to round undocumented immigrants.

Mariela Martinez: I think that, you know, allowing or galvanizing employers to use the immigration system to retaliate against workers who ask for the bare minimum, which is the minimum wage and their labor rights, further drives the industry underground. It's not as if this is going to, you know, create jobs for US citizens but it is going to stop workers who are undocumented from reporting labor abuses, which makes it easier for employers to pay them less, to continue to exploit them. It drives down wages for everybody in the industry because if you have one employer that is like a good employer that's paying people the minimum wage, hiring folks with documentation, doing everything right, but that person's competing with an underground industry where workers aren't reporting wages, then that's bad for that good employer.

You know, we are the Garment Workers' Center. We are the only organization that's dedicated to helping garment workers with labor disputes in Los Angeles. Los Angeles has a very big garment industry. It's around 40-45,000 workers and it's the second-largest manufacturing industry in Los Angeles. Our small organization's the only one that's really dedicated to helping those garment workers. We're also talking about an industry that has an 85% wage-violation rate, right, so 85% of garment workers are receiving subminimum wages.

So what we do is we have a wage clinic here every Wednesday where folks can walk in and receive a training on their rights, learn about their options for how they can recover wages, or report, you know, the wage theft, and then get help throughout the process and even with representation.

Jaisal Noor: I wanted to kind of get you to respond to another thing we haven't talked about. It's how Trump is using this rhetoric and the RAISE Act and it's really turning the working class against each other along with nurturing the spirit of white, working-class racism, which we know obviously exists and it helped fuel Trump's rise, but he's blaming one economic woes on new immigrants, even saying that, look, the current immigrants are being, they're being impacted by new immigrants, they're driving down wages.

Can you respond to his rhetoric and also the economic theory he's basing that on? Does that make sense from what you observe and what you know?

Mariela Martinez: My response is that wages and conditions for all workers improve when all workers are protected against retaliation, right? When an employer can say, "Oh, well, you know, you're standing up for your rights so I'm gonna hire somebody that doesn't have rights." That's what is actually driving down wages. It's not the workers themselves when they go to work, you know, they should be paid the minimum wage regardless of their status, right? And if we're able to enforce that, then we'll be able to kind of like stop employers from driving down wages in general.

It's really not the workers that are driving down wages but the employers who are choosing to exploit workers that are driving down wages. I would also say that it's not just undocumented workers that are, you know, even the workers in the garment industry who have citizenship are being underpaid. So even those workers, are affected by the fact that, you know, you have this industry where they're pressured to accept these jobs 'cause an employer will say, "Well, if you won't do it, I'll find somebody else that will."

Trump put in a lot of his videos, you know, when he was campaigning, like images of garment workers like in China or wherever stealing jobs but the majority of the, you know, the garment production that's happening here in LA, even though it's undocumented workers producing it a lot of the times, even though it's subminimum wages, they'll still put that Made in America tag on it and sell it Made in America and you'll have all these people galvanizing Made in America but, if they really cared about the dignity of that label, they would help us enforce the minimum wage and make sure that these workers are getting, that they're not being exploited.

Jaisal Noor: Stay tuned to for more on this story. This is Jaisal Noor.


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