The XX Factor

When People Say Dov Charney Is Exploitative, Immigration Is Not What They’re Talking About

There was always something transparently cynical about Obama’s lofty promise to “go after employers” instead of undocumented workers themselves, as if making it impossible for immigrants to find decent jobs were something other than persecution. But why, in the search for someone of whom to make an example, would the Obama administration decide on American Apparel? If you’re trying to convince us that you’re “protecting immigrants from exploitation,” wouldn’t it be more intelligent to go after a place that doesn’t specifically market itself as a socially conscious “anti-sweatshop” ? A place that doesn’t provide healthcare benefits and pay well over minimum wage? Or offer free English classes? Why not, I don’t know, find a factory that doesn’t provide its workers with free bikes and on-site bike mechanics? There are plenty of sketchy, example-ready slaughterhouses here in the Midwest, and you can bet they don’t provide their undocumented workers with in-factory massages . Julia Preston’s New York Times report is heartbreaking :

“I learned how to think here,” said Jesús, who would not reveal his last name because of his illegal status.

The company provides health and life insurance, he said, and he earns about $900 a week, with taxes deducted from his paycheck.

Like many others, Jesús said his next move was to hunt for work in Los Angeles. He will not return to Mexico, he said, because he is gay and fears discrimination.

“Being realistic,” he said, “I guess I’m going to have to go to one of those sweatshop companies where I’m going to get paid under the table.”

About 1,800 people are about to lose their jobs not because the economy is bad, their performance is weak, or their employer is struggling. They’re losing their jobs because they happen to be without documentation in a country where it is near-impossible for poor Mexicans and Central Americans without family already here to obtain permission to stay. Obama has spent the past few weeks talking up the millions of people without access to health care in this country. His adminstration just added a few hundred to that number.

Photograph of Dov Charney by Stephen Shugerman/Getty Images.