Today, the Hispanic population is the largest racial minority in the US, accounting for 17 percent of the total population. Around three quarters of Hispanic immigrants in the US today have permanent immigrant visas. The remaining quarter of Hispanic immigrants, about 11 million people, face the threat of deportation every day. This palpable fear causes those without documentation to enter the workforce without protection, often working for far less than minimum wage, without time off, or in unsafe working conditions. This threat makes it possible for employers to ignore labor laws without fear of consequence. Like the Irish of the 1800s, immigrants today fill some of the most dangerous jobs in our country, like meatpacking plants, which are ranked first in a list of jobs that violate human and worker rights.
The hardships Latinos endure extend into every factor of life. In our own city of Nashville, one particular undocumented pregnant woman was arrested for driving without a license--a crime normally handled with a citation. Soon after being detained, she went into labor and was handcuffed to the bed at the hospital, by order of the police officer. She begged the officer, “Please let me be free -- at least one hand.” He refused to allow her this human right. Soon after birth, she was returned to jail without her baby or a breast pump, and subsequently developed a painful infection. This kind of dehumanizing treatment breaks both body and spirit.
With the rising concern over undocumented immigrants, there have been greater incidences of law enforcement agents racially profiling, harassing, and brutalizing Hispanic individuals. These cases have not only involved undocumented immigrants, but also Hispanic Americans and permanent legal residents. A Mexican woman from New Haven, Connecticut watched police officers write down the license plates of individuals from her neighborhood as they went in and out of the grocery store. After several violent incidents between police officers and Latinos in her city including kicking, punching, pushing to the ground and smashing heads against the wall, she lamented: “We come here to work and have a family. We pay taxes, we pay mortgages. This is our city. I’m a citizen here; my kids are citizens here.”