published Saturday, December 24th, 2011

U.S. labor secretary criticizes Alabama immigration law

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — The U.S. Secretary of Labor is criticizing Alabama’s new immigration law and reminding workers in the state they have the right to be paid the federal minimum wage, regardless of their immigration status.

Secretary Hilda Solis also is encouraging anyone denied the federal minimum wage or overtime pay to contact the Department of Labor at 205-397-7114 or http://www.dol.gov.

“Our federal government — under both Republican and Democratic presidents — has long held that all people working in this country have the right to the federal minimum wage, regardless of immigration status,” Solis wrote in a post on the department’s blog. She said Alabama’s immigration law invalidates employment contracts for illegal immigrants who are guaranteed the federal minimum wage under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act.

In response, the sponsor of Alabama’s immigration law, Republican Rep. Micky Hammon, of Decatur, said, “The truth is that illegal immigration brings its own set of human rights abuses ranging from human trafficking to poverty level wages to the victimization that comes with living under the radar.”

Solis criticized Alabama’s law for making it a crime for an illegal immigrant to enter into a business transaction, such as signing an apartment lease or getting utility service. “Imprisoning those who seek shelter and basic sustenance runs counter to the universal rights of all free people. It’s beneath the dignity of this great nation,” she wrote.

Solis is the latest member of the Democratic president’s administration to speak out against the law, which Alabama’s Republican-controlled Legislature enacted in June. The Justice Department is challenging the law in federal court, along with about 30 organizations and individuals.

One of those groups says it has received complaints about employers refusing to pay illegal immigrants for work they’ve done.

“Some employers just think these are people who will not complain,” Mary Bauer, attorney for the Southern Poverty Law Center, told The Birmingham News.

Hammon said the Obama administration is putting its emphasis in the wrong place. “If the Obama administration spent its time working to secure our borders rather than fighting Alabama’s immigration statute, there would not be a need for our law in the first place,” he said Friday.

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