For a recent JVC retreat, each community put together an "Our Town" presentation, to share with the other communities a bit about the places we live. Each of us in my community wrote a brief story from the perspective of someone with whom we would interact through our work. This is what I wrote (this is not a real person's story, but it includes the typical problems we hear):
My name is José Valenzuela, and I came from Mexico to Houston three years ago. I had to leave because I couldn't earn enough money to support my family. The job that I had in Mexico didn't even pay enough for us to buy tortillas. I tried to find work that paid more, but it was impossible. Coming to this country was my only option. I came to the U.S. without papers, and I am always afraid that I will be caught and deported. My wife and three children still live in Mexico, and I send money back as often as I can – they depend on me. I miss them very much. Because I don't have a social security number, it's difficult to find a steady job, so I work as a day laborer. I go to the Woodridge Home Depot every morning at 5:30 a.m. Some days I get paid well, and other days I don't get picked up and don't get any money at all. Three weeks ago, a man hired a group of us to work on an apartment building that was damaged in the hurricane. It had flooded, and the carpet was soaking wet and smelled like mold. When he hired us, he said he would pay us $15 an hour. There were five of us, and we worked very hard. We worked ten hours a day, six days a week, for three whole weeks. He told us he would pay us when the job was finished and he saw that we had done well. After a few days, I started coughing a lot, and I got a rash on my arms. I asked for gloves and a mask, but he said no, and that if I wanted to leave I could because he would just find someone else to do the job. We all kept working, and we did everything he asked us to do. One week into the job, I was ripping up floorboards and got a really bad cut on my hand. The boss took me to the hospital, and he said their insurance would pay for it. At the end of the three weeks, we had finished the job, and he handed us checks for $500 each. I said that he owed us a lot more money, but he told me I had worked too slowly, and that's all I deserved. I told him he was breaking the law, but he said that since I was undocumented he didn't have to pay minimum wage, and if I did anything he would call the migra, and they would deport me. He also refused to pay my medical bills from my hand injury. I didn't know what to do, and I was afraid. What am I going to tell my family?
Note that if someone does a job, all labor laws (including minimum wage) apply, regardless of immigration status.