Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Lawsuit Focuses on Undocumented Workers Rights

On March 23, 2007, Francisco Garcia Moreno, an undocumented immigrant from Mexico who was working in the US,  was suspended 15 feet in the air when a machine malfunctioned and blasted him with steam and hot liquid while working at the BioProducts plant of Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) in Decatur, an industrial town in central Illinois. He fell to the ground and coworkers dragged him to the safety shower, he received third degree burns over 90 percent his body.   He died at a nearby hospital 32 hours later.

This summer, Garcia’s mother, Gloria Garcia Barragan, flew to Decatur to testify in the wrongful death lawsuit against ADM on behalf of her son who died at the age of 26. ADM initially offered the family $500,000, and later $1 million to settle, but attorney Donald Shapiro thought the family deserved more. Shapiro knew going to trial could be a gamble, given the prominent anti-immigrant feelings present in the town, but the Garcias decided to try.

The Garcia family was awarded $6.7 million on September 11 of this year, a figure that represents one of the largest judgments in the state’s history for a man without children.  Shapiro said the amount shows that the jurors, 11 white and one black, “really tried to treat this family just like any other family that had lost a son.” He continued, “I think they cut across all the lines of prejudice, both prejudice against people who are Mexican and who are poor.”

President of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Thomas Saenz, said anti-immigrant feelings in juries are always a concern but he said its “human nature” to sympathize with an individual even if they have negative feelings towards a group overall.

A National Council of La Raza report released in September found that Latinos have the highest rate of workplace death of any ethnicity for the past 15 years. In 2007, 937 Latinos, “the majority of them immigrants,” died of occupational injuries, a rate of 4.6 per 100,000. The rate was 3.9 per 100,000 for white workers and 3.8 for black workers. The higher numbers, some say, are because Latinos tend to work in more dangerous professions such as construction, meatpacking, and forestry.

Saenz said multi-million dollar settlements for immigrant workers killed at the workplace are few and far between. Many immigrant families do not take legal action in similar situations because of the language barrier and unfamiliarity with the system. “There’s a great amount of myth about the limitations on rights of people who are not citizens; legal and undocumented immigrants often make an assumption they are not entitled to the same rights, when in this case they are,” said Saenz.

Decatur Federation of Labor President Bill Francisco said this judgment sends a message that workers’ rights should be respected regardless of race, nationality or citizenship status. “They come to chase the American dream, and for Francisco Garcia it was demolished all in a day’s work,” he said. “The exploitation of the immigrant worker is something that needs to cease. It seems the country is taking advantage of them.”

The Washington Post


  1. The people of the U.S. and Mexico aren’t enemies, and this shows they can learn to accept each others’ existence, it’s only their govts. that mess things up. Right now there are so many Mexicans living in the U.S. and so many more who want to, that even treating Mexico as a separate country is nonproductive. It’s all about the language difference, with the U.S. demanding English for citizenship, when everybody knows both English and Spanish are here to stay, so why even care? Instead of continuing the old paradigm, why not try the new one of asking the people of Mexico to dissolve their corrupt fatcat-controlled federal govt. and join the U.S. as 10+ new states for a new beginning as a model bilingual nation? Click the url to read about the nonpartisan Megamerge Dissolution Solution.