A legal services organization in the United States encountered a serious access to justice issue involving its immigrant population. The legal aid attorneys discovered that there was a street in a major city where immigrants gathered daily to be "picked up" in trucks by employers to do landscaping, construction work and housekeeping chores.
In spite of the fact that United States laws require employers to pay at least a minimum wage regardless of whether a worker is in the country legally, employers often refused to pay these day laborers the wages they had earned. Due to a combination of factors, including ignorance of their legal rights and fear of threatened deportation if they complained, many of these immigrants simply did nothing and allowed their employers to benefit from their work, without having to pay for it.
In response to this gross inequity, the legal service organization opened a Day Laborer Wage Clinic and called upon the local bar association for assistance in staffing it. With the help of volunteers, pro bono lawyers and paralegals, the Clinic is open one night a week where immigrants, primarily non-English speaking, can come without any appointment for assistance in enforcing their employment rights and in obtaining the wages illegally withheld by their employers.
Employers are quickly learning of the existence of the Day Laborer Wage Clinic and that its legal aid and pro bono attorneys, paralegals, and interpreters will not tolerate the abuse of immigrant employment rights.
Posted by Patricia Blair
IBA Pro bono and Access to Justice Committee