For three years, Antonio Vanegas worked at a pita shop in a federal office building in Washington, D.C. Despite being an undocumented immigrant from Guatemala, he never had any problems.
But that changed when he demanded fair pay and worker protections, he told The Huffington Post earlier this week.
Back in May, Vanegas spoke out against his employer, Quick Pita, saying he was paid less than minimum wage and not properly compensated for overtime hours. He participated in a one-day strike with other workers in the capital.
Vanegas told HuffPost that a few days later, a security guard in the federal building where he worked -- which, incidentally, also houses U.S. Customs and Border Protection -- pulled him aside and said there was a problem with his work badge. He had used the same badge for years.
Immigration authorities took Venegas into custody and released him four days later. Now he has a court date set for August and faces the possibility of deportation.
"What they told me was I shouldn't keep working there because I'm undocumented," Vanegas told HuffPo. "When I worked at the food court, I talked to a lot of police officers and some of the customs and border agents. I had no problems with them until I decided to raise my voice."
Since the story came out, a petition by Presente.org has picked up more than 21,000 signatures. The Huffington Post reached out to both the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and Quick Pita, but neither would comment on the case.
Stories like this are part of the reason unions are backing the immigration reform effort this year. Since undocumented immigrants are working without authorization, they're vulnerable to exploitation in the workplace.
The way unions see it, if those workers were legalized, it would level the playing field and bring up the wages of all workers.
But until laws are updated, the estimated 8.3 million undocumented immigrants in the labor force will continue to work without full protection.