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Survey: Undocumented workers don't report labor abuse due to fear of deportation

A new survey sheds light on the hardships some domestic workers endure in the Rio Grande Valley.

A new survey sheds light on the hardships some domestic workers endure in the Rio Grande Valley.

Many labor abuse cases go unreported because of fear of deportation or losing a source of income.

Fuerza del Valle, a Rio Grande Valley workers’ rights organization, released new survey data compiled in 2016 showing differences between mostly female domestic workers that are documented and undocumented in El Paso and the Rio Grande Valley.

The study found 24 percent of workers experienced wage theft, with more than half unable to pay rent at 57 percent.

“If I would have known about Fuerza del Valle back then, it would have been possible that my former employer would have paid me my stolen wages,” said domestic worker Adriana Badillo. “I ask God that those people with a bad heart pay for having taken my money that I earned with so much suffering.”

Badillo not only suffered wage theft, but physical and sexual abuse from a former employer when she worked in a private home.

"One of the biggest issues is [workers] not understanding and knowing […] what they can do on the criminal side,” said Ricardo Rodríguez, Hidalgo County District Attorney.

Rodriguez says workers are afraid of losing their income or being deported. He says justice serves everyone equally and victims should speak up.

“Many times we don’t speak up,” said María Reyes, a domestic worker. “We can’t raise our voices and defend ourselves, and that happens usually when the boss abuses their workers. The worker doesn’t know that they can defend themselves or don’t know how to.”

"We have a great victims unit in our office,” Rodríguez said. “If there's any information that you need, if you're afraid to go to the authorities and you think that a crime has been committed, come over to our office."

“It’s really saddening to hear what fellow domestic workers have gone through,” Reyes said. “It’s not fair. All of us have rights, people who are in the country legally, illegally – we all have the same rights as human beings.”

If someone feels that their labor rights were abused, they can reach the Hidalgo County District Attorney's office at 956-292-7600.

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