Economic Justice: How NMILC’s attorneys are working to address wage theft in New Mexico’s immigrant community

By: Abdiel Razo, Communications Associate

Imagine laboring away in the heat of a hot New Mexico summer day to make ends meet for your family only to have your employer tell you that your paycheck is coming later than expected. Imagine that that paycheck never comes. Imagine that you go to your state labor department for help but instead you are told that you can’t be helped because the department doesn’t have forms in your language or you don’t have enough proof. This was the reality for many of New Mexico’s immigrant workers.

In 2017, several immigrant rights groups sued the Department of Workforce Solutions (DWS), New Mexico’s labor department, to demand that it change its practices that effectively left immigrant workers who were not paid for the hours they worked—or commonly known as wage theft—without recourse. Lack of enforcement and accountability of wage and labor laws in New Mexico, especially when it relates to the immigrant community, has been a persistent issue. In 2012, a study found that 22% of Mexican immigrants working in New Mexico were victims of wage theft at least once. The lawsuit against DWS eventually resulted in a settlement agreement that required better language access policies and more supportive practices to get workers their unpaid wages.Nevertheless, even with these changes, claims submitted to DWS continue to rise with the state announcing earlier this month that it faces a backlog of more than 1,000 complaints by employees who allege that they are not being paid what they are owed. 

Every third Thursday of the month, our attorneys Jazmin Irazoqui-Ruiz and Eduardo Garcia work in partnership with the University of New Mexico’s School of Law and El CENTRO de Igualdad y Derechos, an immigrant and workers’ rights group in Albuquerque, to host a monthly Wage Theft Workshop to provide accessible legal counsel and tools to filing a wage theft claims. Sometimes having an attorney send a letter informing employers of their legal responsibility is enough to recover some of these unpaid wages.  At the workshop, participants also receive step-by-step guides on how to file a wage theft claim to DWS and DOL and guidance from our attorneys about the litigation process through Bernalillo County Metropolitan Court and the Second Judicial District Court of New Mexico. 

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