ELECT THE PEOPLE'S LAWYER: David Van Os, Democrat for Texas Attorney General

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Breathe Free

An August 22, 2005 story in the Austin American-Statesman describes the plight of immigrant workers who perform some of the most laborious jobs in our economy yet have difficulty obtaining the pay they have earned for their work. (see footnote*)

Under state law the Texas Attorney General has the power to come down hard against unscrupulous employers who exploit low-wage immigrant workers by refusing to pay such workers for work they have performed. Suits by the Attorney General to obtain injunctions and to assess the stiff monetary penalties provided by Texas payday laws would quickly get the attention of employers who unlawfully refuse to pay their workers and would deter other employers from similar conduct.

The immortal words on our Statue of Liberty proclaim, "Give me your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free."

We are mostly a nation of immigrants who came and whose ancestors came to this land fleeing injustice and seeking the breath of liberty. The exceptions, such as those who are descended from victims of the African slave trade and those whose ancestors were incorporated into the nation under the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, nevertheless often take lead positions in our nation's pursuit of freedom and justice for all.

No human being can "breathe free" if unable to purchase the necessities of life as a result of laboring without just compensation. The 13th Amendment of the United States Constitution is uncompromising in its permanent prohibition of involuntary servitude as a fundamental value of the American social covenant.

The Texas Legislature meant what it said when it enacted laws against non-payment of wages with stern penalties assessable through suit by the Attorney General. While the current Republican Attorney General politically grandstands over a Ten Commandments monument on the State Capitol Grounds, he ignores the biblical injunction that "You shall not withhold the wages of poor and needy laborers."

The Republican Attorney General should move quickly on this issue, but he will not do so because it would interfere with the immigrant-bashing philosophy of his radical political base. It is a terrible shame that enforcement of the laws of Texas on behalf of the working poor will have to wait until I am sworn in as Attorney General in January 2007; but when that time comes, enforcement will arrive swiftly and aggressively on behalf of not only immigrants but all Texas workers, regardless of background or status, who are victimized by such unjust and unscrupulous labor practices.

*The Power of Shame Pays Off; Public Vigil Helps Migrants Claim Money Owed to Them, Austin American-Statesman, Asher Price, 08.22.05

posted by snarko! at 12:38 PM

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