Study: 1 in 4 immigrants in NM seeing wage theft

August 23, 2013

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) -- One of every four Mexican immigrant workers in New Mexico saw wages improperly withheld or not fully paid last year, according to new study released Thursday.

The survey said more than 20 percent of immigrants who were legally allowed to work in the state reported being victims of wage theft. Close to 30 percent of immigrants living in the country and state illegally say they experienced some type of wage abuse, according to the study sponsored by the Santa Fe-based immigrant advocacy group Somos Un Pueblo Unido and University of New Mexico political science professor Andrew Schrank.

Yet few immigrants in New Mexico reported the abuse to authorities. Asked why, they cited fear of retaliation, lack of knowledge, and concerns about the bureaucracy or proper channels, the study said.

Shrank and officials with Somos Un Pueblo Unido discussed details of the report during a news conference at the New Mexico attorney general's office.

"Workplace violations tend to cluster," Schrank said. "Workers who suffer wage theft are also more likely to suffer verbal and physical abuse, forced overtime, denial of rest periods, and the like."

He added that the study showed abuse isn't randomly distributed across the labor market but is perpetrated by the same employers.

Gabriela Guzman, an attorney for Somos Un Pueblo Unido's Worker Center, said New Mexico laws need to be strengthened to prevent wage theft.

"Wage theft not only further impoverishes low-income families, it hurts our local economies and puts businesses that are following the rules at a disadvantage," Guzman said.

In 2009, New Mexico became one of the first states to pass anti-wage theft legislation giving all workers the right to file claims against employers who withhold wages for work completed.

The law provides triple damages and protects workers from retaliation.