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Who are these illegal immigrants and why does Donald Trump need them ?

July 14, 2015

One day in the mid nineties I was working on a painted design in a new high dollar Houston house while about 50 workers were painting, cleaning and arranging, getting ready for the new owner to move in. I heard a man come to the door asking for Glen Miracle (me). The guy near the door said, “Oh, that’s the old white guy”. My colleague Scott and I were the only white guys on the job that day and, then, in my mid forties, I was probably the oldest person there. Hispanic workers dominate the home building businesses in Texas.
I have been working 40 years in construction and agriculture and this is what I have seen in the labor market.
Large employers of temporary workers, such as painters, landscapers, cleaners, and agricultural employees, donate money to the campaigns of politicians, with the understanding that these immigrants remain illegal, and that they remain in the work force in plentiful supply. This arrangement keeps wages low and insures that these employees will not call OSHA, will not sue, and cannot demand decent working conditions.
I knew a young Honduran man who fell off a roof while working for a roofing company. The supervisor called 911 and told the ambulance drivers that he didn’t know who this injured man was. The man spoke no English, was illegal, and was powerless to object. He was not paid, charity paid for his hospital stay, and he was on his own with a bad back. They did not need workers compensation insurance, they had fraud and you paid for it. This is the system we support by keeping workers labeled “illegal”.
Commercial buildings hire management companies to hire the cleaning crews, who often work night shifts. If those employees happen to be illegal, it is two degrees of separation before the claim of “we did not know”. I met a landscaper who hired workers by the day and paid cash, claiming “I assume they are legal and will pay their own taxes”.
The end result of this accepted practice is lower costs to businesses, cheaper houses, a large pool of affordable housekeepers, cheap produce and well mown lawns.
It becomes difficult for American citizens working in these job markets to make a decent salary.
I have actively been a capitalist entrepreneur for over 40 years and I understand that getting the most for your labor dollar is important, and that improving efficiency and delivering a quality product to the customer is part of the reason capitalism works–when it works. However, a constant downward pressure on wages has caused many of us in the middle class to suffer. Not all this work is done by illegal immigrants, but they affect the wages of those who do the rest. In places like Texas, where the political establishment has protected employers of illegal workers, the income from manual labor jobs is below a decent living standard.
Giving guest workers some path to work in this country within a legal structure would benefit that worker and all the American citizens that compete in the same job market. Keeping the worker in a shadow economy benefits nobody but the people who exploit them.
It is not the immigrant that comes and sucks vitality out of the economy, they are a potent source of energy for our country. However, the unscrupulous employer who hires the immigrant at unreasonably low wages or the corporation that pretends it did not know that subcontractors were hiring illegal workers, they are hurting the American worker.
Should the buyer/consumer who knowingly purchases a product produced by that labor bear responsibility? What about the politician that makes sure this system of exploiting labor keeps him in office by demonizing the “illegal immigrant” and accepting donations from businesses that depend on them?
I do not suggest that we hand out citizenship to visiting workers, but I think we need to develop a guest worker system that ensures non-citizen employees are not living in a shadow economy that gives employers the ability to exploit them at the cost of their health and dignity and harms our unemployed and underemployed American citizens.
Most of the hundreds of illegal workers that I have worked along side of were hard working, honest people who sent much of their money back to their home country to support the mothers, children and siblings left behind. They had family values and a work ethic. I would never direct my anger at the people who come here to better their lives.
Of course, some of the illegal immigrants are criminals, and they should be dealt with like we deal with our home grown criminals.
America’s support of the dictators in Central America and our demand for illegal drugs has made living conditions in many countries untenable for the law abiding and very profitable for the criminal. So called “free trade” agreements have destroyed the small farms and family businesses in much of Central America.
If we need the energy and labor of visiting workers, let’s welcome them to work along side us and give them decent living conditions and a living wage, with an understanding that they are here under some sort of a legal, taxable agreement. The system we have right now is illegal under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
I support people who work hard, those who pay them well and those who treat them with dignity. This is not what we are getting in the present American labor market.
I can stand in line at the department store and hear condemnation of these immigrants from people who are buying the products they produce.  One cannot pay and employ someone under decent conditions and sell green beans or chicken for $1.59 a pound. When we buy many cheap products we are supporting some type of exploitation, usually of the worker and the environment, and we should not blame the exploited worker, illegal or legal, but blame ourselves.
I am wondering if Donald Trump and his companies aren’t one of the largest employers of illegal immigrants in America? He would be lost without the housekeepers veiled under two or three degrees of separation.
Who built your house and who harvested your dinner?
I respect those who did, and hope we will rebuild respect for people who do manual labor in America–legally. After all, I am one of them.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Andrea permalink
    September 21, 2015 7:49 pm

    As an immigration attorney married to a “Hispanic” who works in the construction industry, I agree with much of what you say. The only thing I would correct is that the increase in population caused by immigration in fact, according to numerous studies, creates jobs and increases wages in most occupations.

    Certainly, construction is one of the few exceptions. When we were in Houston my husband was trying to establish a construction business, but he and his colleagues could not compete with the Central Americans literally willing to work for starvation wages. Many, if not most, Central Americans are in fact refugees from political unrest, but our government refuses to recognize most of them as such – despite the fact that our government had a big hand in creating that unrest. These are desperate people, and I would like to tell or government, If you cannot help, then GET OUT OF THE WAY.” The people try to help themselves, they elect a government, and then our government helps to overthrow it because it is communist or socialist. Very few Central American refugees are from Nicaragua, because the U.S. was not able to overthrow the Sandinistas – not for lack of trying!

    Restaurant kitchens are another industry with that “downward pressure on wages.”

    As to the hotel industry, many or most of those are people brought in legally through the H-2B program. However, they are still exploited and employers do not comply with all of the rules for employing them here. The same is true for agricultural workers and the H-2A program. As long as these people don’t have a secure permanent status, they will be exploited. Thus is why Bernie Sanders, and most unions, are opposed to a “guest worker” program. I am not opposed, but I think realistic consideration must be given.

    • September 21, 2015 10:03 pm

      You are so right about the political unrest America has fueled in Central America. My only direct experience with immigrants is construction and agriculture, though I have seen some questionable nanny situations in houses we worked in. My little company, paying legal immigrants and native born Americans a living wage always had to compete with the cheap labor of hard working desperate people.

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