Its the economics that drive this issue. And if something is to change, it must start with the businesses that hire illegal immigrants.
THERES nothing like a change of scenery to gain a fresh perspective on an issue. Take illegal immigration.
I spent five days in eastern Kansas (Johnson County) and Kansas City, Mo., last week and guess what? There are no illegal immigrants hanging around the Home Depot stores. The people who bus and wait tables? Local residents, college students. Gardeners and domestic workers? Legal citizens.
It was the same way last year when I visited Portland and Salem, Ore. College kids and teenagers were working at McDonalds and Wendys and at the various ethnic restaurants, busing tables, mopping floors, taking orders.
Such anecdotal evidence throws out one of the basic arguments for illegal immigration that no one will do such menial jobs except those crossing into the United States illegally. Tell that to Oregon, Kansas and Missouri. If they can fill those low-tier jobs with American citizens or recent legal immigrants, why cant California? Of course, it is not that simple.
And let me stop and say right now that I know the meaning of illegal immigration. It is illegal against the law. So, in essence, yes, that part is simple. But just for a few moments, Id like to talk about the non-simple part: economics. See, it is always money that belies our social problems in this country.
People come into the United States illegally from Mexico, El Salvador and other parts of South America or China or wherever because they are poor and see a better opportunity in the USA. Theres no denying that is true. We have a great country with a rich economy that is much stronger than those immigrant countries.
Second, there is what social psychologists call conditioning. Illegal immigration is a conditioned response. Its been going on for decades and both sides of the border have gotten used to it, even relied upon it. People make it over, sometimes after numerous tries, sometimes risking death from heat exhaustion, always with self-sacrifice, often leaving behind family members they may never see again.
They do it because there are industries i.e. jobs, dollars waiting on this side of the border. Restaurants, construction businesses, homeowners and the biggest of all, agribusiness, will hire illegal immigrants for less and for fewer or no benefits. They work hard and some may start their own businesses and soon, the economy adjusts, even prospers. There is also a price America pays in terms of health care and hospital emergency rooms, law enforcement and education costs. But thats for another column.
Congress has authorized more border patrol agents and is building a large fence across our southern border. And some sources say illegal crossings are down. But agriculture firms in the Central Valley, which have become reliant on cheap labor, are complaining about too few workers to harvest the crops. Upper middle class and upper class residents in L.A. say prices of car washes, restaurant meals, day care and domestic help will rise if illegal immigration is curbed. Again, theyve become conditioned to inexpensive labor. I say, these same jobs can be filled eventually but at legal wage by legal residents.
I had a friend my age who grew up in the Central Valley. He was white and poor. He and his brothers would pick almonds in the summer. Now, these jobs are usually given to illegal immigrants.Would white folks pick fruit and almonds today? Farmers say no. Id suspect the white folks would say no as well. Why? Because the social conditions have changed. Now, Mexicans, Salvadorans, Guatemalans, etc., work on our farms in California. They are on the lower rung of the social ladder.
It was the same way in the 1920s and 1930s when my mothers mother, my grandmother Pompelia, and her two sisters, Josephine and Matilda, came over by boat from Italy and were processed as legal immigrants at Ellis Island in New York. They took garment worker jobs today they are called sweatshops. My grandfather, Matteo Mimmo, went to work in the steel mills in Pittsburgh. He was an educated man and soon learned the masonry trade and established his own business in New York.
They were legal immigrants but faced similar economic conditions to those illegal immigrants face today. They were taunted as WOPs and dagos yet climbed the social ladder by learning English and going to school, as do most legal immigrants today (whether Latino, Asian or European.)
Its the economics that drive this issue. And if something is to change, it must start with the businesses that hire illegal immigrants. Or are they and us too conditioned to the status quo to bring about changes?