Expecting No Help From Next President, Immigration Advocates Discuss How To Address Labor Exploitation

Neighborhood Centers partners with AFL-CIO to look at abuse of undocumented workers.


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During a panel discussion at the Baker-Ripley Neighborhood Center in Sharpstown, several immigrants shared their stories of exploitation.

One woman said she was treated like a slave by the family that hired her as a maid.

Hany Khalil, executive director of the Texas Gulf Coast AFL-CIO said the goal of this event was to discuss what can be done to improve economic opportunities for immigrants, "to make sure that our city is a welcoming city for immigrants in the face of what looks like a very strong opposition to the presence of immigrants in our country from both the federal level and that we're expecting from the state level."

Khalil is concerned about plans by the Texas government and President-elect Donald Trump to end funding to so-called "sanctuary cities," where law enforcement doesn't ask about the immigration status of those they arrest.

He said where that's not the case, undocumented immigrants are afraid of talking to the police.

"Whenever undocumented immigrants are afraid, that's when immigrants are able to be abused in the workplace and communities become place where fear dominates rather than hope," Khalil said.

Immigration advocates attend a panel discussion with immigrants and the AFL-CIO at the Ripley-Baker Neighborhood Center.

But those advocating for stricter enforcement of immigration laws dismiss those concerns.

Roy Beck with Numbers USA, an organization that wants less immigration, said local law enforcement would only turn convicted felons over to federal authorities.

"None of this has anything to do with witnesses," he said. "Witnesses can be protected and not violate the federal law at all."

Back at the event, Benito Juarez, who heads the city of Houston's Office of New Americans and Immigrant Communities, said he is concerned about the stories of employers taking advantage of immigrants.

So what can be done?

"I think education and in this forum – this type of forum – is very important to educate the community at large about not only what is going on but what they can do," and that's what the city's recently launched "Welcoming Houston" initiative aims to do, Juarez said.

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