by Mandy Locke
When desperation drove Miriam Martinez Solais to sneak across the Rio Grande in 2007, she imagined life in the United States would be worth the risk.
Here, Solais thought she would find decent pay for honest work. She imagined earning enough money to feed and clothe Ruth, the 3-year-old daughter she left behind with family in Mexico.
Instead, Solais, 28, could spend the next five years or more in prison. Roxboro police say she is a thief who used a stranger’s Social Security number when seeking work as a cook at a local Italian restaurant.
Federal labor officials describe a different kind of misconduct. They say Solais is the victim.
In a complaint filed in federal court, labor investigators are accusing Solais’ former boss, Giovanni Scotti D’Abbusco, of retaliating against her for complaining that Vesuvio’s restaurant cheated her out of thousands of dollars of wages she earned.
Solais’ predicament brings to the forefront political and policy questions that draw emotional responses. Like millions of other natives of Mexico, Solais came to America uninvited and is here illegally. She soon found a place for herself in a service industry that leans on immigrants willing to work hard for low pay.
The courts have said minimum wage and overtime shall be paid to all employees, both citizens and immigrants. But immigrants who don’t have visas to work in the United States often toil for less in the shadows, fearful that a complaint will jeopardize their residence in the U.S.
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