Saturday, August 06, 2005

Immigration Scam Causing Concern in Texas

Houston, Texas, is home of one of the country's most innovative efforts to ensure that the safety and rights of immigrant workers are not compromised. Local labor unions, OSHA, EEOC, the consulates of Mexico, El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala all work together to reach out to workers using billboards, fliers and videos to advertise a central telephone number for immigrants to call if they are being mistreated or become aware of violations. The tips are then passed along to the EEOC's Houston office, the Labor Department's Wage and Hour Division and OSHA. The Houston Initiative for Worker Safety, a Houston COSH group,has trained about 200 low-income, immigrant and young workers in Houston.

But now there's fear that the scam run by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Bureau who lured 48 undocumented immigrant workers lure them into a sting operation organized by impersonating OSHA officers.
Richard Shaw, former chairman of the Justice and Equality project, said it's too early to gauge the local impact of the sting. But there's a lot of chatter on the Internet, with immigration groups sending out alerts.

"It's making the rounds," said Shaw, who is also secretary-treasurer of the Harris County AFL-CIO, which participates in the program.

News of the sting comes at a critical time for groups like the OSHA-funded Houston Workers Safety Initiative, which has trained about 200 low-income, immigrant and young workers in Houston. The group's most recent training session was at the day labor site in the East End of Houston and focused, in part, on knowing health and safety rights on the job.

Shaw is worried employers will use the news of the sting as a way to warn employees from reporting safety problems to OSHA.
But after being pounded by several articles in Confined Space (as well as a front page NY Times article), the ICE seems to have gotten the idea."
ICE understands the concerns raised by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration about the use of its name during the arrest of illegal aliens at the military base," the agency said in a prepared statement. "ICE has put in place new procedures to ensure that appropriate coordination is completed before future operations."
We'll see.

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