Low-income Latinos in the South have been routinely cheated out of wages, denied basic health protections and are victims of racial profiling, according to a report released by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
The report, "Under Siege: Life for Low-Income Latinos in the South," documents the experiences of 500 immigrants, the center said.
"This report documents the human toll of failed policies that relegate millions of people to an underground economy, where they are beyond the protection of the law," said Mary Bauer, author of the report. "Workplace abuses and racial profiling are rampant in the South."
The report details stories of a Tennessee woman who says she was jailed for asking for her pay after working at a cheese factory, a bean-picker in Alabama who says his life savings were taken by police at a traffic stop and a rapist in Georgia who was not arrested because the suspect's victim was an undocumented immigrant.
Forty-one percent of the people surveyed said they had experienced theft of their wages by employers. Forty-seven percent said they know someone who was treated unfairly by police. Seventy-seven percent of women surveyed said they have been sexually harassed by bosses, many saying that bosses used their immigration status as leverage.
The center urged the federal government to strengthen labor laws and crack down on racial profiling to alleviate some of these issues.
"We're talking about a matter of basic human rights here," said Southern Poverty Law Center President Richard Cohen. "By allowing this cycle of abuse and discrimination to continue, we're creating an underclass of people who are invisible to justice and undermining our country's fundamental ideals."
Southern Poverty Law Center is a human rights law firm based in Montgomery, Alabama.