After working for less than minimum wage for three years, an undocumented immigrant from Guatemala participated in a labor strike — exposing his non-legal status. Antonio Vanegas has now been granted temporary permission to stay and work in the United States.
The Huffington Post reported that Vanegas, 27, worked at the Quick Pita restaurant in the food court of Washington D.C.’s Reagan Building— home to U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Vanegas slipped through the cracks for three years, all the while making pitas and serving them to federal workers. However, he was only paid $6.50 an hour the first year and $7 an hour the second year, below D.C.’s minimum wage of $8.25. He also claims to have regularly worked more than 40 hours a week without receiving overtime.
Vanegas then joined a union-funded group called Good Jobs Nation after labor organizers told him about minimum wage and labor laws. He then participated in a strike with 150 other D.C. workers to protest unfair wages.
He spoke out at the strike and was featured in an article by In These Times.
“I work at Quick Pita in the food court of the Ronald Reagan Building,” Vanegas told demonstrators. “I work nearly 12 hours every day serving lunch to the thousands of people who work in the building. But I am not here to tell you how hard I work. I am here to tell you that my employer does not follow the law.”
When Vanegas went to work a few days later, he was stopped by an officer with the Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Protective Service who said that there was a problem with his work badge. He was then detained by immigration officials for four days, during which time he lost his job at Quick Pita.
All the signs indicated that Vanegas would be deported. However, the DHS granted him a work authorization that is valid until November of next year. He also filed a petition for a U visa, certified by the Labor Department, which grants certain victims of serious crimes four years of work eligibility in the U.S.
Vanegas said that his outlook on the U.S. has brightened since the recent proceedings.
“It’s changed significantly,” Vanegas told the Huffington Post through an interpreter. “Now I see it's a country of laws. Even though folks like me are subject to labor abuses, that shouldn’t discourage us from speaking up.”