The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.”
— Karl Marx

Young Immigrant Worker Paralyzed—Another Victim of a System of Exploitation

Mar 11, 2024

Ronaldo Ponce today is paralyzed with no use of his legs and limited use of his arms. He was a 17-year-old immigrant from Honduras working in housing construction in Traverse City, Michigan. He was trying to guide a roof truss into place. The foreman ordered Ponce’s safety harness to be unhooked so that he could reach the truss. When the roof beam tipped, Ponce fell 30 feet to the ground.

After Ponce fell, his bosses did not call 911 or an ambulance. They just put him into a car and dropped him off at a hospital. The construction bosses never reported this injury to any authorities or workplace safety regulators. The incident only came to light because a lawsuit was filed. Today the building owner, the general contractor, and the subcontractor are all denying any responsibility for Ponce’s hospital care.

Ronaldo Ponce is yet another victim of both child labor exploitation and immigration laws that are set up to exploit immigrant workers. He had worked in fields and cattle ranches in Honduras. He came on his own to the U.S., looking for work to send money back to his mother in Honduras. He requested asylum, but he was kept waiting many months for a work permit to be approved. Because Ponce was kept in an uncertain legal status, it was easier for his bosses to exploit this young man who just wanted to work. The subcontracting company classified Ponce as an “independent contractor” to avoid paying him any benefits. They put him to work on a dangerous job. They violated state and federal child labor laws by working with a 17 year old in construction.

But these companies have little to fear, even if they are caught. The fine for violating child labor laws is a maximum of $500. That’s what a Michigan meat-processing company was fined last year for working with a 17-year-old immigrant whose hand was caught in a meat grinder.

And companies have pretty much free rein to hire immigrant workers who don’t have the proper work permits. The government has a deliberate policy to keep immigrants who are looking for work in an “illegal” status. It is much easier for companies to exploit these workers who are under the threat of being deported. It’s one more way for the capitalist system to exploit workers.