A black eye for our state

The Gazette Opinion Staff
Published: January 1 2014 | 12:01 am - Updated: 29 March 2014 | 1:30 am in
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By The Gazette Editorial Board

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Iowa generally is known as a friendly place and has a history as a national civil rights leader.

Yet we are not without some big blemishes on our record. The exploitation of employees at a Postville packing plant and the long-undetected abuse of cognitively disabled workers who lived in a poorly maintained Atalissa bunkhouse come to mind from recent years. These incidents are not points of pride for our state, even though the companies involved were not based in Iowa.

Now comes a new report of more abuse and exploitation. IowaWatch.org’s report in Monday’s Gazette found evidence that hundreds of migrant workers in Iowa have been cheated out of wages and promises for decent housing. Some companies that hired them, or contractors for those firms, weren’t even providing a paystub that verifies hours worked. Monsanto was the target of one lawsuit that was settled out of court.

Lawyers representing these cases said many others likely go unreported because workers fear losing their jobs and because some workers are undocumented and fear deportation.

While there are an estimated 2,500 farms, orchards and nurseries in Iowa that employ migrant and seasonal workers every year, the number of migrants working here, legally or otherwise, is not clear.

However, the investigation revealed enough problems that Iowans should be troubled.

There are federal and state laws designed to protect migrant workers but oversight is slim. Responding to complaints is the usual pattern.

Companies who knowingly hire undocumented workers and exploit them and other migrants inflict a black eye on our state. And every such incident also reminds us of a related issue: the long-stalled effort to bring about fair, effective reform of our nation’s immigration policy.

Migrant workers deserve honest, humane treatment. And our congressional delegation should trumpet the cause for immigration policy reform. Iowans shouldn’t settle for less.

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