Challenges Facing Asian American and Pacific Islander Low-Wage Immigrant Workers

In observance of Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month, I had the pleasure of hosting a roundtable discussion on some of the challenges facing Asian American and Pacific Islander low-wage immigrant workers.

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This issue has been and continues to be extremely important to me. As a legislator, I worked to help the Thai community when a group of garment workers were held in virtual slavery in El Monte, California. These garment workers were not paid even close to a minimum wage; were forced to live in inhumane conditions; and many of the women were sexually assaulted. I have never forgotten that horrific case and it helps to inform my efforts here at the Department.

The roundtable discussion provided an opportunity for members of my senior staff and White House leadership including Chris Lu, assistant to the President and Cabinet Secretary, Tina Tchen, director of White House Office of Public Engagement, and Kiran Ahuja, executive director, White House Initiative on Asian American and Pacific Islander to hear testimony from a variety of organizations within the Asian American and Pacific Islander community. We were able to discuss problems facing workers, as well as exchange ideas on how to partner to find solutions.

I was pleased to have Julie Su, Litigation Director of Asian Pacific American Legal Center, whom I worked closely with on the El Monte Thai garment workers cases. She shared with the panel her experiences as one of the leaders in fighting for the freedom of the Thai garment workers who were enslaved for years in an apartment complex in El Monte, California.

We also had Lillian Galedo, Executive Director of Filipino Advocates for Justice, who talked about providing support to low-wage immigrant workers at the Oakland Airport who were displaced after 9/11 because of their immigration status.

And several other guests representing different low-wage workers sectors including taxi drivers, iron workers, and domestic workers shared stories about their struggles and the hardships and exploitation that many in their community still face.

My team and I are focused on protecting workers rights. Under my leadership we have added more than 250 new investigators – a large proportion of which are bilingual. And, the work continues.

In April, we launched the We Can Help Campaign – a multi-lingual effort that reaches out to workers in an array of industries. This campaign helps ensure that workers are aware of their rights in the workplace and encourages them to report violations of wage and hour laws that occur on the job.

Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month provided a unique backdrop for our recent discussion, and indeed there are many unique challenges facing these communities across the nation. However, my message is universal. Every worker in this country deserves a workplace that is safe and secure, a job that pays them fairly, and a Labor Department willing to fight for them regardless of their immigration status.

Hilda L. Solis is Secretary of Labor

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