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Special Report: Raiteros

Undocumented workers pay special fees

Jeff Tyler Apr 30, 2013
Special Report: Raiteros

Undocumented workers pay special fees

Jeff Tyler Apr 30, 2013

Tens of thousands of undocumented immigrants work in the shadows every day. Because of their legal status, they are vulnerable to exploitation by unscrupulous employers and other shady operators. Undocumented immigrants in Chicago get nickeled and dimed in a way that doesn’t happen to U.S. citizens. Here are some of things they get charged for.

Elizabeth Bellido doesn’t have a social security number. To get a job at a temp agency, she has to use an underground labor broker.

“Either him or his son would fill-out the application for you. They will charge you a $5 fee,” says Bellido.

That’s illegal. But what could she do? Bellido needed the job.

The labor broker also charges $8 a day for a roundtrip ride to the suburbs, where warehouse workers make just over $8 an hour. Bellido says workers who arranged other transportation risked retaliation.

“If you wanted to take your own car, it was kind of like you were taking your own risk of getting laid off,” says Bellido.

At the end of the week, the company didn’t pay Bellido directly.

“You wouldn’t get your check at the factory,” says Bellido. “You actually have to go pick it up at a currency exchange. And so you wouldn’t have the option to do direct deposit, or you bringing your own checks to your bank.”

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Even immigrants with their own bank accounts are obligated to use a check-cashing service, which charges them one to two percent of their paycheck.

And if the check comes to, say, $200.70, a middle-aged worker named Estela says one check casher often pockets that change.

“He doesn’t give the change because he says he doesn’t have any pennies,” says Estela.

It’s illegal to force workers in Illinois to cash a check at a specific check-casher. And of course it’s illegal to steal a workers’ pennies. But many workers get cheated out of much more money.

“I haven’t been paid for 40 hours,” says a middle-aged woman named Delfina. So she’s out about $350.

And on top of the extra fees paid by the undocumented, people like Isidro Bahena also get hit with the normal deductions.

“From my check, they take $25 for Medicare. And $15 for Social Security,” says Bahena.

He doesn’t ever expect to collect on those benefits. So they become just another fee for working while undocumented.

Read the investigative report from ProPublica’s Michael Grabell, and explore more features and background from his reporting on ProPublica.org. Plus, read more from this investigation.

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