Undocumented workers in the United States

The book ‘working in the shadows’ written by Gabriel Thomson is more of a documentary of the experiences that, undocumented workers whose greatest percentage comprises of immigrants goes through. Undocumented workers refer to the illegal immigrants seeking employment in the US. The idea to write this book as brought about by an article ‘Crackdown Upends Slaughterhouses Workforce’ written in 2007 by labor correspondent Steven Green house and published in the New York Times. It was a documentation of how difficult it was for Smithfield foods to secure a stable workforce in its slaughter house in North Carolina due to constant raids by immigration agents. This was quite a challenge to the immigrants working in the slaughter house forcing them to quit their jobs to avoid such constant harassment and for their safety. Gabriel Thomson then decided to take up the burden and work behind the shadows in order to get first hand information concerning the experiences of these undocumented workers.

He personally took up his first job in a lettuce field which was rather challenging for him, first because the tasks were tough and secondly, the constant questions from his colleagues who never understood why a white man was working in such an odd job. It was a difficult moment for Thomson since the workload was tough and it was even more difficult to record his findings since it could only be possible during their short breaks and again, it was private. Undocumented immigrant workers have very challenging working life in the United States. They are among the most vulnerable and exploited workers in the nation, constantly going through labor law violations. For instance, they are frequent victims of unpaid wages, discrimination, undesirable working conditions and uncompensated work place injuries. They perform duties which ordinary Americans, due their pride and status won’t ever perform. Their jobs are quite dangerous, grueling, mind-numbing and very undesirable.

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Those who attempt to voice their opinions over the hardships they go through mainly face physical and immigration related threats and retaliations. There is an estimated 9.3 million undocumented workers in the United States, which is about 26% of all immigrants in the United States.

This report is based upon a survey and other date samples collected by 2002. Among them, 57% are Mexicans, 23% originate from other Latin countries, 10% from Asia, 5% from Europe and Canada while the other 5% come from the rest of the world. The growth rate of undocumented workers has been quite high. They comprises of around 5% of the workforce in the US whereby around 96% of men and 62% of women are working, which is far much higher than the natives. This is because contrary to the Americans who may either be disabled, retired or in school, most undocumented immigrants males are young and energetic and women are in child bearing age that are more likely to bear children than the natives.

However, undocumented immigrants earn considerably less than working Americans. According to Thomson, there is no such a thing as immigrant job since during his year of survey, he realized that even Americans were well versed with these jobs but only the poor could do them since they had much in common with the immigrants. However, US born citizens were not allowed in some shady jobs like in the lettuce fields and the immigrants were assigned the most strenuous, dangerous and worst paid positions whereby they faced constant abuse from the management. Furthermore, they received poverty line wages, they are often victims of racism, they live under worst conditions, and are often harassed by the police. It is important for all workers including the undocumented immigrants to know that they are protected under the basic federal and state employment and labor laws. In actual sense, undocumented workers pay more in taxes than they receive in services.

A study carried out by the government in 1975 ‘illegal aliens’, by the department of labor showed that 77% paid social security taxes while 75% paid federal income taxes. However, their employers chose not to report the money which ends up in their pockets. Unfortunately, they rarely get such services as welfare benefits, food stamps, unemployment compensation, and their children in public schools among others. The illegal status of undocumented workers in the United States has made it very difficult to achieve the American dream of climbing the social ladder, security of life and liberty as well as social security entitled to all American residents. They are often forced to take up odd jobs and unfavorable labor conditions thus making life quite challenging for them. There is so much in common between the working poor in America and the undocumented immigrant a worker according to the Ehrenreich’s and Thomson’s study.

They are equally ignored in the stump speeches of politicians, thus they lack a sense of political solidarity, and their wages have denied them the opportunity to achieve the American dream, the work on odd jobs which Americans cannot do regardless of the pay among others. They live in very poor conditions, at times far away from their families and are often harassed by their employers and the police. In conclusion, life is quite challenging for undocumented workers in the United States since their status force them to take up any form of income to earn a living due o fears of facing the arm of the government which may even include deportation or imprisonment. Most Americans treat them this way since they take them as parasites who live off welfare and who cause unemployment by taking up jobs which would otherwise be serving the Americans.


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