Thursday, September 04, 2003

Immigrant Workers: Rest in Peace (NOT!)

Immigrant workers in this country must occupy thier own special circle of hell. Often risking their lives to come here to work in dangerous, low paying jobs so that they can send a little money back home, they hope to be lucky enough to come home alive every day. Too often they aren't so lucky. They are killed on the job.

But, as described in the NY Post, the abuse continues even after death:
According to a report by the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health, of the 111 people who died on the job [in New York City] in 2000, 74 - or 67% - were immigrants, many of them here illegally.

Experts say if the victims were U.S. citizens, their families stand to collect millions in damages. But the survivors of undocumented immigrants, many of whom don't have papers themselves or live abroad, face daunting hurdles and long waits, often settling for a pittance - if they even sue.

"Many are settling for little money because it's better than having no money at all," said Omar Henriquez, an immigrant program coordinator for the health and human services union Local 1199/SEIU.
The stories are tragic and the victims and their families continue to fall through the legal cracks:
Take the case of Rogelio Daza Villanueva, 43, of Sunset Park, Brooklyn. He was crushed to death on April 30, 2001, when a wooden beam came crashing down from an upper floor of a Williamsburg building he was gutting.

According to the medical examiner's report, Daza, who worked for Brooklyn-based Mordechai Rubbish, a subcontractor of Freeport Construction, died from fractures and blunt trauma to his head.

"His boss didn't give me a penny - not even money to pay for the funeral," said Daza's widow, Maria Yolanda Lopez Reyes, 34, who also is undocumented.

Lopez, who supports the couple's four children at home in Tlaxcalanzingo, Mexico, said she earns 3 cents to 9 cents a piece working in a clothing factory in Sunset Park. On a good day, she said, she brings home $20.

Work has been sporadic in recent months, and many times she can't even come up with money to send home or her part of the rent on the three-bedroom apartment she shares with seven men.

"It's been two years and eight months," said an exasperated Lopez, who flew home to bury her husband and borrowed about $2,000 to pay a smuggler to sneak her back into the U.S.

Upon her return, a surrogate court judge refused her the right to administer her husband's estate because she has no legal status here.