August 11, 2006

Domestic workers face risks

By Pablo Jaime Sainz

Raquel works cleaning houses in Chula Vista. He uses her tourist visa, or laser visa, to cross the border from Tijuana. When the immigration officer asks her, “What’s the reason for crossing?” she answers, “I’m going shopping.”

But ever since she heard about the brutal murder of a domestic worker in National City two years ago, Raquel has been afraid.

“It scares me to think that something can happen to me while I’m cleaning a house,” said Raquel, who earns $40 per house.

There are many women who cross the border daily from Tijuana to do domestic work in San Diego. The murder of Catalina Herrera Diaz-Martinez two years ago while cleaning a house in National City, put out to the light the many risks these domestic workers face.

Since the majority of them cross to the U.S. with a tourist visa, they don´t have a work permit and they only make a verbal agreement with the home owners, these women are easy targets of abuses and harassment.

Nevertheless, they have the same rights than any worker in California, said Dean Fryer, spokesperson for the State of California Department of Industrial Relations.

“It doesn’t matter that they don’t have legal documents. Domestic workers have the right to get paid the minimum wage, to receive compensation if they suffer an accident at work, and to have a safe work environment,” Fryer said.

Unfortunately, these women in the majority of cases never report abuses nor harassment because they fear they might lose their tourist visa for working in the U.S. without a permit.

The number of complains that domestic workers file in San Diego County is unknown because the department classifies complains based on the type of complain, not on the type of job, Fryer said.

But there are estimates that not many women who come from Tijuana file complains, because of fear of losing their visas.

“People are afraid of that,” Fryer said.

The spokesperson said that the Department of Industrial Relations doesn’t share information with the Border Patrol nor with other immigration agencies.

“We don’t ask you for your immigration status nor do we ask you if you live in Tijuana. If you work in California, you have the same rights,” he said. “We don’t care how you came to this country or if you have legal documents. What we care about is that your rights as an employee are respected.”

Fryer said that immigration is a federal issue, not a state issue. He said that sexual harassment cases are handled by the State of California Department of Fair Employment and Housing.

Since sometimes immigrants and domestic workers don’t feel comfortable going directly to a government agency to file a complain, Fryer recommends that people contact a community organization that defends the rights of immigrants and workers.

If you live in Tijuana and do domestic work in San Diego and you have been the victim of abuse and harassment, don’t let it go by. Report it to the Department of Industrial Relations of California in San Diego: (619) 220-5451.

If you were sexually harassed, call the Department of Fair Employment and Housing of California in San Diego: (619) 645-2681.

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