The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) has issued a report titled “Injustice on Our Plates: Immigrant Women in the U.S. Food Industry.” Based on interviews in early 2010 with 150 undocumented immigrant women working in the U.S. food industry in Arkansas, California, Florida, Iowa, New York, and North Carolina, the report highlights the dangerous conditions under which they often work and the sexual harassment and violence to which they are subject.

According to SPLC, “Undocumented women are among the most vulnerable workers in our society today. They fill the lowest paying jobs in our economy and provided the backbreaking labor that helps bring food to our tables. Yet they are routinely cheated out of wages and subjected to an array of other abuses in the workplace. They are generally powerless to enforce their rights or protect themselves.” SPLC contends that laws protecting these workers are “grossly inadequate,” and workers’ ability to enforce the few protections that are in place “is generally nonexistent.”

SPLC also claims that shifting U.S. immigration policies, which have placed the country “at war with the immigrant hands that feed us,” will drive undocumented workers “further underground and make them even more exploitable by the businesses that employ them and the criminals who prey on them.” The organization suggests that deporting the 11 million undocumented immigrants estimated to be in this country “would leave a $2.6 trillion hole in the U.S. economy over the next decade. That does not include the billions of dollars that would be required to enforce such a policy. And it does not take into account the massive human rights violations that would inevitably occur.” SPLC calls for Congress to address the crisis in “a way that recognizes the contributions of these immigrants to our country and our fundamental values of fairness and dignity.”

Among other matters, SPLC recommends immigration reforms that “provide a path to earned legalization for undocumented immigrants,” an end to “special exemptions from labor rules for agricultural employees” and increased vigilance by federal agencies, such as the Department of Homeland Security, Occupational Safety and Health Administration, U.S. Department of Labor, and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Located in Alabama, SPLC was founded as a nonprofit civil rights law center in 1971 and is known for tracking and exposing the activities of hate groups.