The dignity of work and immigrants
During this Christmas season I thought it would be great to reflect on the “legal” Mexican workers who were at the Affordable Inn. I write this piece not from a high and mighty perspective, but as a sinner in need of forgiveness.I would like to put this episode within the Judeo-Christian understanding of work and the immigrant. Work is understood as a creative process. We image God because God is creative. Work also allows us to image God in that through work we can provide for our families and others. God’s work is that of caring for us. So whether we are an artist or working day labor, we are all creating and supporting like God.Many people ask me why Catholic Charities is so interested in the immigrants. They say isn’t it because you’re bleeding-heart do-gooders or because the immigrants are all Catholic. No and no. Here is the real reason: Because throughout Judeo-Christian history God placed them in a “favored” position. Throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, God refers to a special group that is favored. He refers to this group more than 30 times. This group consisted of the widows, orphans and the foreigners. They referred to this group as the “anawim”, which means “those in extreme want.” If the Israelites were to image God then they too had to favor the vulnerable. God specifically tells them to love the immigrant, remembering that the Israelites were once foreigners in the Promised Land (Leviticus 19:36). When Jesus Christ came he proclaimed this same understanding (Matthew 25: 31-46). This doesn’t mean that God loves the rest of us less if we are not vulnerable. God loves us still, he just wants us to image him and care for the vulnerable. These 100 men came with legal working papers procured through a business based in Texas. Whether they were brought here through poor planning or fraud, the bottom line is that they didn’t get paid as promised. Some would say because they didn’t work they’re not entitled to pay. Wrong: Under Colorado law they were contracted to work and are due their wages. Each worker paid $400 to get here. Most received $200 from the employer while some received nothing. The owner promised more money if they returned to Mexico; that hasn’t happened. Most believe they’ll never see it. They came here legally, spent their own money and ended up losing money.Some of you may be thinking that this was an anomaly, as I did. However, the Mexican bus driver told me this happens all the time. He has personally picked up groups of Mexicans on at least four occasions from four different states who also returned without getting paid.Many workers borrowed money from loan sharks at 10 to 20 percent interest per month in order to get here. Some came after floods destroyed their homes. They placed trust in our system and received neither justice nor dignity.For those who returned to Mexico, what do they think of our justice? I wonder what they told their sons and daughters when they tucked them into bed on Christmas Eve.For those who stayed, the exploitation continues. Yesterday several of the remaining men were offered some work for $27 a day. I suspect that the foreman wants to work them, pay them illegal wages, and then keep the money the company owner intended to pay. This foreman thinks nothing of the vulnerable. The language barrier keeps the owner in the dark. The men will take this offer as they continue to find steady work for a decent wage. On a positive note, one man is now making $16 hourly with another company.On the lighter side, after the buses left, the remaining men went to a Chinese restaurant. After dinner we were reading our fortune cookies. One of the men pretended to read his fortune and stated, “Immigration will give you permanent residency.” We all died of laughter.All I know is that immigrants are made in the image of God and deserve to be treated with dignity. Are we really who we claim to be, as a community and as a country?Tom Ziemann is the director of Catholic Charities in Glenwood Springs.
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