Labor abuse? One worker speaks

One illegal immigrant from Guatemala, who works at one of the restaurants cited last month by the Labor Department for underpaying workers, talked to Brooklyn Paper reporter Stephen Brown in Spanish this week about his situation. Here is his story, as translated by the multi-lingual Brown.

I’m 28 years old. I make $260 a week washing dishes, and doing delivery house to house. Normally I work from 11:30 am to 11:30 pm six days a week. Nothing has changed since the Labor Department came through. But we don’t know if tomorrow, or the next day, everything will change. I’ve worked only six months here. The bosses have been nice. Before the crackdown, things were different. They told us we couldn’t eat, that we couldn’t take anything, that it was a problem. Now that many things have happened in the last couple of weeks, things have changed. They’ve told us we can eat from 4-10, when we want a soda, we can take it. Things have changed. But the hours haven’t changed. It’s a lot of work.

All of us want to work long hours because we got ourselves into this situation wanting to make money and send it back to our families. The problem is that they don’t pay us well. This is really small — to work 12 hours for little money. As immigrants, it doesn’t work. By being an immigrant without any type of insurance, it doesn’t work.

We don’t have time to look for other work. The one day we don’t work is the only day to rest — I don’t have the energy to look for other work.

I’m from Guatemala. I came here through Mexico, then into Arizona. Then they took us to Los Angeles. From Los Angeles to Miami. Then I came in bus here.

I crossed the border hidden in a car. For us, it’s a story, it’s an adventure, and it’s unforgettable — to come from Guatemala to here. The whole trip from Guatemala cost about $4,000 — which would be worth it if they’d pay us a little bit more. One has to be in the United States for a year or a year and a half to pay back the debt from that trip.

You don’t come here to have fun, dress well or eat what you want. You try to save money, avoid things, not dress well, not eat whatever one wants. I send about $300 home a week. I get tips, roughly $90 or $100. I don’t spend much and I save as much as possible. If I spent a lot, I wouldn’t be able to send this much money. I don’t spend much.

I live in Coney Island and come here on bicycle. I don’t use the subway.

As far as the problem with the immigration system, I don’t have much to say. The Labor Department officials are doing what the law demands they do. Us, by being immigrants, have to confront all this. If we go home and come back, we have to deal with it all over again until we achieve the goal of sending enough money home for our family. Because the situation in Guatemala is really tough. There is a lot of poverty there, so we send money so my daughter can go to school, to build a decent house.

We’re responsible for helping our families. The law makes officials do their jobs, being poor makes us confront everything that comes with it.

I’ll stay here until I can’t find any work or I get tired of the situation. When I’m sick of all the problems I’ll go back.

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