Fired American Apparel Workers to Get Benefits of Sale

Los Angeles Times, December 19, 2009

It was a holiday sale for a singular group of beneficiaries–illegal immigrants who had been thrown out of work.

“It makes me feel less guilty for buying all this stuff,” said Dolores Arellano, 19, one of more than 1,000 shoppers who thronged Saturday to the parking lot of American Apparel in downtown Los Angeles.

The trendy, L.A.-based clothier sponsored the “Justice for Immigrants” event to benefit some 1,600 employees let go in recent months after federal inspections uncovered discrepancies in their immigration documentation.

All the proceeds from the sale will go to the families of the dismissed workers and to organizations representing immigrants, said Peter Schey, an attorney for American Apparel in the immigration case.

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The pre-Christmas sale featured discounts of up to 85% on shirts, sweaters, dresses and sundry other items. The crowd was larger than expected, and workers were constantly carting in boxes of new clothing to be placed on racks and bins spread across the parking lot, flea-market style. Some shoppers waited more than an hour to get in; later, they faced a half-hour wait to pay. The policy was cash only, no returns.

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Although the Obama administration has mostly ended the high-profile work-site immigration raids endorsed by the Bush White House, it has stepped up federal document audits of companies and workers. Firms found to have workers whose documentation does not match official records may be subject to sanctions if they don’t act.

Supporters call the audits a humane way to enforce immigration law, without the disruption of raids. But critics call the audits inhumane “desktop raids” that still force low-income immigrants out of work.

[Editor’s Note: Additional stories on the firing of American Apparel employees are listed here.]

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