As this report demonstrates, Latinos in the South find themselves caught in a crossfire of hostility, discrimination and exploitation even as new Latino immigrants provide the low-wage labor craved by businesses and homeowners in the region.
Many are subjected to routine hardships and cruelties stemming from their lack of legal status. Others who have legal status are victimized by racial profiling, wage theft and other forms of abuse simply because of their ethnicity or vulnerability. And a vast number of immigrant families face great uncertainty and fear because of their mixed status, with both undocumented and documented persons living together.
The large number of undocumented persons living in the South and throughout the country reflects not just that our borders are porous but that our immigration policies have failed. Policies over the past 10 years, in particular, have made it virtually impossible for many immigrants — even those married to U.S. citizens — to regularize their status. And the employer sanctions program created by the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act has utterly failed. As a result, there are millions of people living in the U.S. with strong community ties, working hard and paying taxes, who have no hope of legalizing their status absent a change in the law.
In recent years, the federal government has embarked on a campaign of workplace raids to round up undocumented workers, while many cities and states have enacted harsh measures intended to make life as difficult as possible for them. Together, these activities are leading to racial profiling and other human rights abuses and are exacting a heavy toll on Latinos, regardless of their immigration status. At the same time, unscrupulous employers continue to exploit vulnerable Latino workers, eroding safeguards that protect all workers from abuse and protect honest businesses from unfair competition.
Unless we create a fair mechanism to allow undocumented immigrants to regularize their status, the exploitation and abuse of Latino immigrants will continue indefinitely — and our economy will not realize the full benefits of their participation.
Comprehensive immigration reform, which brings undocumented immigrants out of the shadows by providing a workable path to citizenship, is the only realistic, fair and humane solution.
This reform must be coupled with strong enforcement of labor and civil rights protections. This would make crime victims and communities safer, curb racial profiling and other abuses, and better protect the wages and working conditions of all workers.
The following are our specific recommendations:
I. The federal government must strengthen enforcement of wage and hour and other employment laws
* The U.S. Department of Labor should devote substantially more resources to enforcing worker protections — by increasing the staff of the Wage and Hour division and by increasing the number of cases being filed by the Solicitor of Labor's office. In addition, the Department must be much more aggressive in seeking substantial penalties against employers who willfully break the law.
* The Department of Labor should prioritize enforcement of labor laws in states with no functioning wage and hour enforcement operations.
* Congress should enact legislation to overturn Hoffman Plastic Compounds, Inc. v. NLRB 535 U.S. 137 (2002). That decision has created a perverse incentive for employers to prefer undocumented workers, because they believe those exploited workers will not complain and will not have any legal remedy.
* Congress should remove restrictions on assistance funded by the Legal Services Corporation that prohibit Legal Services offices from representing undocumented immigrants and handling class action lawsuits.
* The EEOC should re-issue the guidance, rescinded in 2002, clarifying that, in most instances, undocumented immigrants are entitled to the same relief as other employees under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.1
* The EEOC should reinvigorate and dedicate adequate resources to its Systemic Task Force and engage in class action and other high-impact litigation aimed at combating systemic discrimination.2
* The Employment Litigation Section of the Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division should pursue more litigation to address systemic discrimination cases.
II. Congress and the president must act to end racial profiling
* Congress should enact a federal statute to effectively prohibit racial profiling, such as the End Racial Profiling Act (ERPA), which was introduced in the House of Representatives in 2007.3
* The Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department should strengthen its "pattern and practice" law enforcement misconduct docket by focusing on local law enforcement agencies that lack strong prohibitions against racial profiling and by bringing more lawsuits.
* The Obama administration should issue an executive order prohibiting racial profiling by federal officers and banning law enforcement practices, including those by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), that disproportionately target people based on race and ethnicity.
* The administration should create a civilian oversight body to review the actions of ICE. This review should examine the recent militarized enforcement, which has included raids that rely on racial profiling and systematic violations of the Fourth Amendment.
* The 287(g) program should be terminated, because it undermines trust in law enforcement and does not make communities safer. The administration has the authority to terminate this program and return all federal law enforcement powers to the Department of Homeland Security.
III. Congress must act to ensure language access
* Congress should provide the necessary funding and resources to allow federal agencies to fully enforce Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
* The administration should increase the resources available to the Coordination and Review Section of the Department of Justice, which is responsible for enforcing Title VI obligations of federally funded state entities, including state courts.
* Congress should take action to correct the Supreme Court's decision in Alexander v. Sandoval.
1. Directive Transmittal 915.022, first issued in 1999.
2. The EEOC's Systemic Task Force was created in 2005 to recommend new strategies to combat systemic discrimination.
3. ERPA would prohibit any local, state or federal law enforcement agency or officer from engaging in racial profiling. It would make efforts to eliminate the practice a condition of law enforcement.