Immigrant family bears brunt of economic downturn
November 5, 2008
When the Castros explain their situation, it seems to always end in tears.
Their $15,000 of credit card bills have become a nightmare. Their most basic necessities are provided by the food bank. Their oldest daughter is reusing her disposable contact lenses.
Castro’s wife, clutching a pillow and weeping, asks "where is the justice here?" Castro squeezes her with a hug as his eyes flash sadness, and then anger
Castro, who agreed to share his story as long as his family’s first names were not used, has not been paid for nearly six months by his employer, the owner of a local excavation and rockwork company. Castro has found little help in receiving his unpaid wages. Like many working in Park City, he is an undocumented immigrant and feels his boss has taken advantage of him.
As global economies slide and local resources shrink, these members of our community are hit hard.
"You see our fridge? There’s only a half-gallon of milk in there. There’s nothing else. I don’t have food for my daughters. I don’t have clothes right now, and I need to pay my house," says Castro, who has relieved the family’s financial situation only slightly with a new job at a resort in Park City.
Castro is not alone. Shelley Weiss, a Latino advocate working with the Park City Police Department, saw the number of wage claims in her office increase to about 90 in the month of October an 80 percent increase from the average of about 50 claims per month.
Weiss was able to contact Castro’s former employer to secure a $500 payment to Castro, but that check bounced.
"I ask if there’s been some kind of misunderstanding and that typically works, except that it’s not working so much right now during this economic crisis," says Weiss of her efforts to recoup unpaid wages.
Castro has approached nearly a dozen organizations for help, including the Department of Labor, which denied him assitance because of the size of his claim nearly $9,000 and because his employer defines Castro as an independent contractor.
Adding to the dilemma, Castro was convinced to buy a company truck in his own name, with the understanding that his employer would make the payments. Castro has been stuck with these payments for months and the truck will soon be repossessed.
Speaking little English and reading almost none, Castro says he was also ushered into a predatory home loan handled by his former employer’s wife, who is not a licensed mortgage broker but received the commission from the transaction.
Castro says that his only option seems to be court, but he cannot afford to hire an attorney and may still lose his home in the meantime.
"But right now I really don’t care about my credit. I just need to support my family first, and after that the rest of the stuff. But my family first."
On one sad day, Castro’s wife snuck off to meet Tim Dahlin, executive director of the Christian Center, to see if she could trade her earrings for any money.
"We’re not a pawn shop, bless her heart," Dahlin says with a grimace. "The problem with undocumented workers is that they have no leverage. Employers can take advantage, and do take advantage. It is a persistent problem."
Editor’s note: Please see an interactive audio slide show about the Castro family on http://www.parkrecord.com