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Mexico decries U.S. Supreme Court ruling on migrant work benefits

Conrad Fox, TheNewsMexico.com - 4/2/2002

The Mexican Embassy in Washington delivered a strongly worded rebuff to the United States government on Monday following a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that could curtail the rights of undocumented migrant workers.

"The embassy laments the decision," said a press communiqué from the Mexican Foreign Relations Secretariat. "(We) are worried about its consequences...for immigrants who, through their daily labors, contribute to the growth and competitiveness of the U.S. economy."

The communiqué said the decision could "foment a situation of abuse, exploitation and marginalization of a great number of undocumented Mexicans."

Last Wednesday, the Supreme Court ruled that undocumented migrant Jose Castro, a Mexican who was fired in 1989 from Hoffman Plastic Compounds in California, was not entitled to back pay because he obtained his job illegally, using a friend's birth certificate.

The National Labor Relations Board was suing Hoffman Plastic Compounds on behalf of Castro, who claimed he was owed 67,000 dollars in back pay. He was fired for helping organize a union at the plant, which is not legal grounds for dismissal in the U.S.

The decision sparked immediate protest from labor and migrant organizations, who feared the precedent it sets would sanction extra-legal efforts by companies to ban unions from the workplace. Without the ability to organize, they said, undocumented workers were at the mercy of exploitative employers.

"This is a decision that rewards bad employers, and that is bad news for all workers," said Eliseo Medina, vice president of the Service Employees International Union in Los Angeles, and member of the American Federation of Labor's Immigration Committee.

"It's clearly an ideological decision, not a practical decision because it totally ignores the contribution that undocumented workers make to the U.S. economy," he said.

Medina pointed out an estimated four million undocumented workers in the U.S. contribute 300 billion dollars to the economy annually.

"And that is not including the money they pay into social security, which they never get back," he added.

The Foreign Relations Secretariat, meanwhile, said immigration was a reality that "cannot be ignored," and argued the 400,000 Mexicans who cross the border each year looking for work are simply "responding to market conditions."

The secretariat urged the U.S. to continue with bilateral discussions on immigration issues "so that migrant flows take place in a legal, ordered and dignified manner."

After his election in 2000, U.S. President George W. Bush pledged to make immigration a priority for his administration. Talks with Mexican President Vicente Fox - who has been pushing hard for an open border between the two countries - began in April 2001 but were sidelined after the attacks of Sept. 11.

Mexican immigrants working in the U.S. are the third largest source of income for Mexico - after oil and tourism - sending home an estimated 9.3 billion dollars last year.