Dangerous Jobs - Why Undocumented Immigrant Workers in Indiana Need Equal Protection

The Issue

Up for Debate in Indiana Courts, specifically, is whether an Undocumented Immigrant is entitled to Future Lost Wages when an injury causes him/her to be unable to work, but the bigger issue is whether Indiana will afford undocumented immigrants the protections they deserve as workers in low paying, dangerous jobs. This article discusses why these undocumented/illegal immigrants must be afforded the same protections as a legal United States Citizen.

The United States Statistics

In 2014, there were approximately 11.3 million undocumented people living in the United States. Most of whom came to America for one reason, to find work and provide for their families. In total, undocumented persons accounted for only 3.5% of the total United States population and roughly 1/4 (26%) of all immigrants. Roughly 76% of those illegal immigrants are hispanic.

Statistics from as recently as 2012 tell us that, undocumented workers make up 5.1% of the nation's labor force. This means 8,100,000 people who have come to our country illegally are doing what they came here to do, work and provide for their families. Many of these undocumented immigrant workers have jobs in the construction, agriculture, manufacturing and food preparation industries, which are low-skilled, low-paying jobs. This results in things such as the 2007 median household income of the undocumented immigrant population being $36,000.00 a year, well below the median income of $50,000.00 a year for U.S. born residents. Undocumented people are generally uneducated, low-skilled and, as shown, make substantially less money.

The Indiana Statistics

According to the Migration Policy Institute, there are approximately 93,000 undocumented people living in Indiana and seventy-eight percent (78%) are from Mexico or Central America. Additionally, thirty-nine percent (39%) of the undocumented population in Indiana lives at or below the poverty level. Of note, forty-six percent (46%) of the undocumented population in Indiana can apply for deferred action under the new DAPA and DACA expansions proposed in 2014 by President Obama.

The Jobs of Undocumented Immigrants

According to the Pew Research Center, a staggering 33% of the employees in the service industry were undocumented persons while only 17% of those people were U.S. born. Compare those figures to the construction industry where undocumented persons held 15% of the jobs while U.S. born employees only made up 5% of the work force.

The same rings true in the production, repair, installation, farming, fishing, forestry and transportation industries where a higher percentage of the work force was comprised of undocumented persons compared to U.S. born persons. As a matter of fact, the only industries where the U.S. born workers made up more of the workforce was in the sales, administrative, office, management, business, finance, and professional industries.

This means undocumented immigrants work some of the most dangerous jobs in the country for very little pay.[1] According to the Department of Labor, Meat Packing is one of the most dangerous industries in the United States. ("Meatpacking is hard, dangerous work; the Department of Labor says it results in more injuries than any other trade."). Research indicates that the exact amount is unknown but between 20%-50% of the employees in the meatpacking industry are undocumented immigrants.[2] Meatpacking plants, like the Perdue Farms Plant in Washington, Indiana or the new plant that Boar's Head Meats is building in New Castle, Indiana which will employ 200 people by 2018.

Work Injuries

In 2002, 62% of the foreign-born workers fatally injured at work were Latino while between 1992 and 2002 there was a 58% increase in workplace fatalities of all Hispanic workers (60% of those deaths involve a worker born in another country). In 2000, Hispanic workers were twice as likely to be killed by occupational injuries than their non-Hispanic counterparts.

The statistics indicate that undocumented people work low paying and dangerous jobs. Employers are aware of the economic destitution faced by many undocumented immigrants and will continue to exploit this unless they are deterred from doing so. This group of people needs the full and equal benefit of all of the laws of Indiana and the United States.

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