A group of immigrants, who qualify for residency in the United States but do not yet have their legal papers, stand in line at the Immigration and Naturalization Service offices in Los Angeles
Spouses will no longer be a burden to the benefit system under proposals to the new scheme Reuters

A new study has found that immigrant women, who toil in the American food industry, suffer sexual harassment, wage theft and other forms of abuse at work.

Shocking details of the work conditions of the undocumented women have come to light through a report released on Wednesday by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC). Titled Injustice on Our Plates: Immigrant Women in the U.S. Food Industry, the report throws light on the everyday turmoil of the immigrant women, who fled to US to escape poverty. Besides documenting their workplace experiences, SPLC has gone ahead to describe laws that are in place to protect these women are grossly inadequate.

These women are the backbone of the food industry but are exploited and abused in ways that most of us can't imagine and that none of us should tolerate, said SPLC Legal Director Mary Bauer, co-author of the report, which has also been made available online.

Fear keeps these women silent, so their suffering is invisible to all of us who benefit from their labor every time we sit down at the dinner table, Bauer added, to stress on the fact that all these women across the states in factories or fields have helped put food on the plates of the Americans.

The report was put together based on the real-life accounts of 150 women from countries such as Mexico, Guatemala, and other Latin American countries. These women are susceptible to abuse due to the fact that they are perceived to be powerless as they do not have papers. Adding to this helplessness of these women are the grossly inadequate laws, the report observes.

It's because of fear [that] we have to tolerate more, a 26-year-old Florida farmworker is quoted as saying in the report.

Sometimes they take advantage because we don't have papers. They mistreat us, and what can we do? Where would we go?

Many of these women, who kept track of their income, found that they received a far smaller amount; while some reported they were not paid at all.

A shocking detail that came out during the interview was the extent of sexual abuse these women endured. Sexual harassment and brutal sexual assaults were not new to these women, some of who even came to terms with it with the attitude - all in a day's work.

For these women, workplace exploitation is the rule - not the exception. Virtually every American relies on their labor. It is our responsibility to stop their abuse, said Monica Ramirez, co-author of the report and director for Esperanza: The Immigrant Women's Legal Initiative of the SPLC.

Fear of being deported keeps these women from reporting these crimes.

These women also work in dangerous conditions, such as frequent exposure to chemicals and pesticides while on the field, without any sort of safety gear.

Calling for steps to protect these women, SPLC has recommended wholesale reforms at the federal level, such as change in the process of citizenship acquisition for the immigrant workers. Reforms to assure safety and protection of all workers are a must, the report concludes.