In almost every country in the world, Workers’ Day is celebrated on May 1st. On this day, we commemorate the strike that was organized in Chicago, Illinois, in the United States, on May 1, 1886. During this strike, in which workers demanded an 8-hour working day that allowed eight hours of rest and eight hours of recreation, as well as healthy conditions in the workplace.

From the outbreak of the strike to the present day, small steps have been taken in both national and international legislation in terms of worker protection and dignity. However, labor demands never end, they constantly have to be renewed and provide answers to new problems.

In this context it is important to highlight on this day the workforce performed by “illegal” migrants, “others” who, upon reaching the desired “promised land,” work as agricultural laborers, nursing aides, construction workers, cleaning personnel, etc. These workers are essential to the development and economic sustainability of a nation, which most of the time closes its borders and creates xenophobic policies on the grounds that as foreigners they are criminals and contribute little to the national economy. 

The Covid-19 pandemic demonstarted that 74% of undocumented migrants in the United States were essential workers (Center for Migration Studies, 2020), workers who, for the most part, lack the minimum labor rights that any citizen or  documented worker enjoys. These include the right to health care, the granting of work permits, and basic health and safely measures that prevent the spread of the coronavirus, among others

Similarly, in Mexico, undocumented migrants lack opportunities because as the do not have the necessary documents such as the CURP (Unique Population Registry Code) and other official identification, they cannot be employed. This leads an underground workforce of low-wage workers without basic benefits and security. Because of this, many are forced to live by begging. 

Against this background, it is not surprising that undocumented migrants are far from celebrating the achievements of labor right. In most countries, only a segment of the population enjoy these rights. His Holiness Pope Francis states that, “they are not considered worthy enough to participate in social life like anyone else, and it is forgotten that they have the same intrinsic dignity of any person.” (Fratelli Tutti n. 39). They remain invisible and without rights in a strange country. 

Therefore, the pandemic should invite us to reflect on the current situation of all undocumented migrant workers, on the rights and duties of employers and workers together. We have two paths that we can take as believers: 1) legitimize and preserve the mentality imposed by the hyper-capitalist system in which we live, or 2) create a common conscience, demonstrate solidarity with our migrant brothers and sisters, and speak out in favor of creating better opportunities and labor rights for those who are an essential economic force.

Betty Calixto Toxqui
Franciscan Home Team
Cholula Puebla

Hogar Franciscano is a team of committed laity and Franciscan friars who support migrants passing through Cholula, giving food and distributing pantries to the shelters that make up the Network of Shelters of the State of Puebla.