Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Abuse and Exploitation of Immigrants

Still They Come

Las Vegas has grown by the tens of thousands of new residents over the past decade. In 19 out of the past 20 years the Valley of the Dollars has been the fastest growing community in the US. From a sleepy little desert town whose claim to fame was that it served as a pit stop between Salt Lake City and Los Angeles the area has grown to a population of two million. Nearly all the newcomers are from other localities and many are from outside US borders. That's the way its always been. As immigration becomes an issue throughout the country it continues to be an issue locally and statewide.

One group of immigrants has recently become more vocal about immigrant abuse and exploitation. They come here to offer whatever skills they might possess in an effort to make the Valley a better place. They work hard and ask little in return but many find themselves being taken advantage of because of their hard work ethic and their immigration status. Employers often force the immigrants to work many hours beyond what is considered a normal workweek, cheat them out of pay and threaten them with deportation if they dare complain. The immigrants, for the most part suffer in silence and work the long hours in hopes of someday overcoming their immigration status. One day perhaps they could earn a coveted green card or become citizens of the United States and practice their trade without such harsh oversight and conditions.

By now you as a reader should have formed a visual of the hapless immigrants who toil under conditions cited above. What type of work are they doing that is so demanding? There is not a landscaper among them, nor a maid nor a bricklayer nor a construction worker, nor any similar tradesman. The group which I describe does not hail from Latin America for the most part but from India. They are highly educated in the best universities as physicians, surgeons, and other medical personnel. And they have come to America to practice under a federally sponsored immigration program called J-1 Medical Doctor Approval Waiver.

J-1 doctors are subject to a requirement under section 212(e) of the Immigration and Nationality Act to return to their last country of residence for two years before becoming eligible for the H1B permanent residence (green card). Waivers from the two year residency requirement can be obtained by doctors who agree to work for an employer under a government sponsored program. Doctors must agree to serve in medically undeserved rural and urban areas. A recent investigation by a local newspaper revealed that some doctors were overworked, underpaid and assigned to clinics in areas that were not undeserved - all of which is in violation of state guidelines and federal law.

One doctor who complained said his employer took advantage of his immigration status to financially cheat him then threatened to have the doctor and his family deported if he did not agree to extend his employment contract and guarantee a loan to finance the clinic in which he worked. Information gathered in the investigation resulted in further investigations by state officials.

Of the 55 or so doctors currently in the midst of working toward the J-1 waiver it is difficult to find many who will overtly complain for fear of damaging their immigration status. Such is the power wielded over them by employers. Even doctors who have obtained their green cards and received the J-1 waiver are reluctant to speak, especially in a public forum for fear of professional reprisals.

This country was built by immigrants. Those who accept the lowliest jobs perhaps can find some solace in the fact that some of the same issues they have faced are encountered by the most educated, able, and professional immigrants. Lou Dobbs, where are you when we need you?

Dr. Forgot

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