Saturday, March 21, 2009

I Have A Naïve Question

I have a really, really stupid question, so please bear with me. It is a legitimate question that I thought perhaps some of you could answer. Let me start off right away by saying it is an "economic" question, not a "cultural" question -- so I would like to take that off the table right now. We in Canada and in the United States are all the children of immigrants. On my mother's side I am a first generation Canadian, and on my father's side I am second generation. Where I work, part of our process is assisting the Canadian government with the immigration surveillance program. People apply for immigration to Canada, either from their home countries, or from within Canada once they have arrived here. It is a meticulous process but it is fair and most people pass it. I'm sure the United States has a similar process. These are people who want to come here for a better life for themselves and their families, and they go through the due process.

Last night on ABC's 20/20 I watched a program about an American man in the United States who had worked hard, had a university education, married a woman he loved, had two children, the home of his dreams and had earned a good salary. The so-called "American Dream", right? But because of the recession, he had gone from earning $750,000 a year to delivering pizzas for $8.00 an hour plus tips. He was grateul for the pizza delivery job because it was honest work and it put bread on the table for his children. That is a story that seems to be repeating itself all over North American -- oh, yes, here in Canada too. I know a doctor here who has recently had to come out of retirement -- at the age of 70 -- because the recession wiped out everything he had.

Here is my question. If people who were born in North American, or who have come here through the legal process, are not able to get jobs, why are folks hiring illegal immigrants to do those very jobs? It may sound like a naïve question, and I know there are people who will jump in here and yell "discrimination". No, no, no, it's not about that, it's about people who live here who have lost their jobs, being squeezed out of the job market. Is there something I don't understand? I know one answer is "Well, illegal immigrants will do jobs no one else will do..." but I don't buy that. There is a whole other angle here. I believe these folks are being exploited. People are getting rich off hiring cheap labor.

Illegal immigrant workers are the invisible labor force in America's economy. Often performing jobs nobody else wants, usually for low pay, they are killed on construction crews: shot for cash as late-night store clerks, and crushed, impaled or electrocuted while working as landscapers. At a time when U.S. workplace deaths are generally declining, immigrant workers - many of them here illegally - are being killed on the job in ever greater numbers, especially the new wave of undocumented workers from Latin America and Asia. ... Business Net

Because these people are invisible, no compensation is made for their impoverished families. Often these folks are heavily indebted to the human traffickers who smuggled them into the country, and spend their lives paying off their debt, rather than having the opportunity to better themselves in their new country. They often live in fear -- in fear of the police, in fear of their employers and in fear of being deported. They don't have access to medical or dental care, or any of the other rights we all take for granted. They work and live in unacceptable slave labor conditions.

In 1999, four rusty old freighters arrived off B.C.’s coast, carrying 590 Chinese illegal immigrants. Among them, 134 children were travelling without parents or a legal guardian. Many of these children had families in China who were expecting them to work in Canada and the United States and send the money home. In 2006, six Korean women were found by RCMP officers, huddled in the bush near Osoyoos and the US border. These women stated that they were expecting to find work in restaurants and other service sectors in the United States and knew they would have to pay $3000 - $5000 to their human traffickers upon arrival. Can you imagine how long it would have taken them to pay that off?

There is big money to be made in human trafficking. I guess my naïve question is, why has this been allowed to happen?

30 comments:

Lover of Life said...

You are absolutely right. There is a huge movement here in the US to go after employers, who are the ones benefiting from cheap labor. The excuse that they cannot find anyone to the jobs is just so much bs. It is a way to circumvent unions, which demand a decent wage and safe working conditions, and hire people who will work and do anything for a small stipend. Having an illegal work force is doubly troubling because these individuals do not have health insurance and use emergency rooms for routine visits, thus running the cost up for people with insurance. (The $10 aspririn.) It is a viscous cycle and there are no easy answers. But then, there are no easy answers for anything these days.

That 20/20 segment was an eye opener, wasn't it? If it can happen to them, then it can happen to anyone.

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

Not a naive question at all. Instead, you have made very astute observations. Exploitation is at the heart of the matter. Someone is getting rich at the expense of others. Slavery continues but just wears a different suit.

Judi said...

One word - money.

greenpanda said...

That is disgusting. And the worst part is: the answer is simple. Ver simple.
To quote Judi: 'one word - money.'
It's human nature.

Alissa said...

In the states we have a minimum wage that legal workers must be paid, but illegal immigrants can be exploited and paid less than the minimum wage. With illegals employers don't have to pay unemployment fees, social security taxes, workers compensation, healthcare etc. Illegal immigrants are not paid overtime. They are often subjected to harsh working conditions, and are not going to complain because they are here illegally. It's sad, but as other posters have said it is all about exploitation and money.

DUTA said...

The answer to your question lies not only in the words greed, money, exploitation, but also in the words ignorance, stupidity, blindness which are revealed in people's tendency to live in the present only. People don't give a damn about the future and about the ability of their children to handle non-materialistic inheritance. These children will become in time the 'cheap workers' of the today illegal immigrants cheap workers ,whether they like or not. That's how it goes, and some will say there's poetic justice about it. When you enslave you ultimately become a slave , as Orwell so brilliantly put it in his famous book '1984'

Jelica said...

I think employers who hire illegal labor should be punished dearly; otherwise, as long as there is demand there will be supply, too. There was a British movie about five years ago about the plight of illegal immigrants in the UK, it was called "Dirty pretty things" and while it wasn't much in terms of art, the situations described were completely real and scary.

lovelyprism said...

Well I think you answered your own first question. People hire them to avoid all the insurance, taxes and compensation they would have to pay normally. Why has it been allowed to happen is another question entirely. When things are good people look the other way, but when things are bad, those jobs are suddenly desirable to people who otherwise never would have thought to do them. A lot of illegals have actually gone home because there is no work for them. My Aunt is a teacher in Arizona, she said 28 of the 30 Mexican children in her grade have just disappeared.

Star said...

Well it's like this: the employer pays the immigrants cash so he doesn't have to declare on his tax form. He can pay the immigrant less that way as well. If nothing is written down, then the immigrant can't sue him for anything because if he does, then he'll just get deported. The immigrant takes less pay than he should because he can't declare it since he isn't in the system at all. It's a corrupt world, but then you knew that, didn't you?
Blessings, Star

Not The Rockefellers said...

Star is right on the ...money.

These workers are also loyal and they work their butts off.

How they came into the country is not the correct process but what they were living like in their countries of origin was downright inhumane and cruel.

I am torn on this issue because porous borders are not safe neither are the slaughterhouses and "sweatshops" that take on Illegal workforces.

But I now can put a face on them, I know them...I have worked with many of them.

Peace - Rene

Jo said...

LoverOfLife, yes, I think it is the employers who benefit from the cheap labor. And they don't have the same benefits as "legal" employees.

LGS, "Slavery continues but just wears a different suit." I believe that is the case, definitely!

Judi, in a word -- yes.

Greenpanda, yes, money does talk, doesn't it?

Alissa, yes, I have read so much about how they are exploited and are working in extreme working conditions. I blame the employers.

DUTA, "When you enslave you ultimately become a slave, as Orwell so brilliantly put it in his famous book '1984' Oh goodness, yes. There will be an ultimate payback.

Jelica, I have heard of that movie, but I haven't seen it yet. I'm going to have to rent it and watch it. Thanks!

LovelyPrism, that's interesting. Poor little kids. They become victims too, don't they?

Star, yes, I just hate to think corruption is so wide-spread. If I break the law, I suffer the consequences. That should apply equally to everyone else, but unfortunately it doesn't.

Rene, oh, yes I think everyone would agree with you. These people are real people. But you know, if someone jumps in front of us in the movie lineup, or the bus lineup, or the restaurant lineup, we get a little ticked off. As with everything else, shouldn't the same laws apply to everyone? In Canadian law, if someone's country of origin is inhumane and cruel, those people can come here as refugees. But if they are immigrating because they want a better life here, I believe they should go through the due process, just like everyone else, and not jump to the front of the lineup illegally. And once here, if they are illegal, employers should not be permitted to hire them. It sounds inhumane, but it's only fair to everyone else. Fairness should apply to everyone.

John said...

Jo, I think by the end of your post you answered your own question. Like Star and others said, it is all about the employer paying as little wages as possible, and the illegals will work for cash...so this saves the employer a fortune in taxes.

Unfortunately in the U.S., the system is broken. Here, when an employee is hired, they must complete an immigration form, and the employer must sign it as well stating that the employer saw the required 2 types of identificaton, which is to be documented on the form. Several types of i.d. are acceptable and some are not.

Most employees just show a valid drivers license and their social security card. Many employers will also photo copy the i.d.s.

And here's the kicker...the employer does NOT have to submit this government form to any government agency! It just sits in our files "in case" we ever get audited.

Some in the government have been trying to change this to an "e-verify" (electronic) system. E-verify was part of the original stimulus package that had to be modified before it passed. E-verify was one of the things taken out of the stimulus package.

As employers, all we can do right now is call a number to verify if a social security number is correct for the employee. E-verify would stop a lot of the illegals from working, but there will always be an "under the table" cash paid employee all over the place, whether the employee is in the country legally or not.

Goes back to money and Greed! The employees that work for cash are not very smart, because they are not paying into social security, and will have no benefits when they are old. The employer doesn't care about those cash paid employees.

In the U.S., the employer must match the social security contribution, plus pay more (like 1 1/2 times into S.S. for each employee). It is complicated and expensive for the employer. That is just one of many types of taxes imposed on employers...doesn't give employers much incentive to hire people!

Donnetta Lee said...

I don't know the answer, Josie. But I know people want something for nothing--including the kind of services these people provide. But, in the long run, we all pay one way or other, don't we? D

Country Girl said...

It's a valid question and not naive at all, Jo.
My husband and another worker who had been there 16 years lost their jobs last year because of what the owners said was due to the struggling Thoroughbred industry in Maryland.
However, they were replaced by illegal aliens who worked for much less, with several families rather than one living in each house and no health insurance.
Look at all the MONEY the owners saved doing this. If I sound bitter, it's because I am.

Lamar said...

This is a call to everyone to please step outside the right vs. left paradigm. While there are important issues worth debating within this paradigm, all of them will be moot if we do not focus on a much greater issue outside this paradigm. Thomas Jefferson warned of wealth concentrating to such an extent that it threatened the state. Nowadays the media has taught us all very well to ridicule anyone who talks of central banks usurping the power of government. Well now I suppose the media will have to laugh at themselves, as many outlets from Newsweek to the Financial Times of London are openly discussing the creation of a "bank of the world" that will control economic policies of every nation. I invite you to watch this video, which details how this is currently taking place. While it focuses on our current officials' cooperation with these plans, it steps out of the typical political paradigm by highlighting the cooperation of both parties. Please do not look to politicians to protect us. Only we can protect us. And our first step must be to reach out to police and military. Without their cooperation, the global elite won't have the muscle to exercise their will of oppression. Please share this oath keepers blog with them.

Paula Slade said...

That's really a good question Jo. The answer is a shameful one - greed, pure and simple. Man's inhumanity has manifested in so many areas of today's society - everything from immigration to banking. A large portion of the problem can be attributed to governments turning a blind eye and allowing this to happen.

jeannette stgermain said...

why this is allowed to happen? Many of us knew about it, kind of vaguely, but it never came close to them, like someone they knew personally.
Others knew about it, but ignored it and choose to be blind because of greed.
But I think the mass majority really did not know about the invisibles, because they did not live in our neighborhood, their kids were not friends with our kids, etc.
And the general (post) optimism that eventually things would turn out all right contributed to it that things like this went on for decades, because this could not happen in enterprise-America, right?
This is not to ignore that I know personally of people who have contributed what they had themselves, to give other people food or clothes, helping them to get a job, etc.

Kathy's Klothesline said...

We all know the answer to your question. The solution is the problem. It would seem simple, but greed and corruption stand in the way. I have said it before... I think our government is broken. The system of checks and balances put forth by the pioneers of our constitution have become corrupt. How did we get here? Greed.

Deedee said...

Good question. The answer is greed. A person who hires an illegal doesn't have to pay for their health care, social security or workers compensation. They don't have to pay taxes on them and they can pay them less than minimum wage. It is wrong ethically and morally, it hurts the immigrants and it hurts the people who grew up here. The only person who benefits is the corrupt business owner.

Jo said...

John, yes, we have very similar laws here in Canada as well, and people look the other way. "Cash under the table" it's called. I think now that so many people are out of work and looking for jobs -- any jobs -- the system needs to be shored up, a lot!

Donnetta, yes, and it occurred to me that people like the fellow on 20/20 last night are the ones who are suffering the most!

CountryGirl, I don't blame you one bit for being bitter! I remember when your husband got that job, and then when he was laid off. The employers should be fined for that. Big time!

Lamar, that's very interesting. I'm going to watch the video clip you have provided.

Paula, yes, and now folks in government are saying it's against the illegal immigrants' "human rights" to be removed from jobs they have taken illegally. I don't understand that.

Jeannette, but now the "haves" are becoming the "have-nots". In the 20/20 segment last night, they were showing middle class families and children moving into homeless shelters because they had lost everything and could not get jobs.

Kathy, what is that saying by Edmond Burke --"All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing." So true!

Deedee, "It is wrong ethically and morally, it hurts the immigrants and it hurts the people who grew up here. It is also illegal, so why can't the laws be enforced? I don't understand it!

Charles Gramlich said...

I think it's all about greed. They pay less for the illegal immigrant, and the illegal one won't make waves and won't report it for fear of being deported.

Jo said...

Charles, yes ... and all the while, it's all illegal, and legal people suffer. I don't understand it.

Edward Yablonsky said...

Here is my question. If people who were born in North American, or who have come here through the legal process, are not able to get jobs, why are folks hiring illegal immigrants to do those very jobs? It may sound like a naïve question, and I know there are people who will jump in here and yell "discrimination". No, no, no, it's not about that, it's about people who live here who have lost their jobs, being squeezed out of the job market. Is there something I don't understand? I know one answer is "Well, illegal immigrants will do jobs no one else will do..." but I don't buy that. There is a whole other angle here. I believe these folks are being exploited. People are getting rich off hiring cheap labor.
I believe you have answered the question as to why in the US cheap immigrant labor is used. It is cheap and for the very same reason we use outsourcing. There will always be the unscrupulous hirers and they will always find loopholes for hiring cheap labor and take advantage of immigrant (illegals) desperation. E verify has tried to curb these abuses but has not to date, in my opinion.

Edward Yablonsky said...

There is big money to be made in human trafficking. I guess my naïve question is, why has this been allowed to happen?

The traffickers make it worthwhile to happen. If the tenacles of their spreading arms were fully known (the traffickers),then the corruptive atnmospphere would be for all to see as all encompassing.
As I grow older, I am convinced that human nature is most severly flawed and the evidence is overwhelming.

Jo said...

Edward, yes, the same has happened in Canada as well. Illegal immigration is not the same as legal immigration. Employers should not be allowed to hire people who are here illegally. Most people who apply to come to Canada are accepted, so why do people need to jump the queue? And of course, there will always be the politically correct police who say, "Oh ... it's okay ..." It's not okay! It's illegal.

A human kind of human said...

A very valid question, especially if you live in South Africa and particularly in the Limpopo Province which is the northernmost province in SA.

This is a huge problem and causes unbelieveable difficulties for many people.

Maybe I should write about this problem here, but I am afraid it will have to be a number of posts and not very pleasant to read.

I agree with you about people taking advantage of these illegal imigrants, it happens all the time, but unfortunately a much bigger problem is created by the influx of illegal immigrants from all over Africa but especially from Zimbabwe.

The Promiscuous Reader said...

Greed is part of it, as several people have pointed out. As other people suggested, it's also about power. An illegal immigrant is more vulnerable to abuse, since he or she can't easily complain about it. An employer can threaten to turn in a "troublemaker." And I suppose some do. It not only eliminates the complaint, it has a deterrent effect on others.

A couple of points, though. I've noticed that many Americans think of all immigrants as illegal. Certainly much of what I see in the commercial media and online is vague on the point, and often outright confuses the issue. That relates to a traditional anti-immigrant sentiment in the US, especially among people who are only a few generations from the boat themselves.

Another thing that makes me uneasy is the talk about "traffickers." Here in the US, of course, many people simply come across the southern border. It's only people who need to cross an ocean who need transportation of the kind you're talking about. To call them "traffickers", though they are probably no more ethical than most people, calls up images of people being press-ganged, kidnapped, thrown into boats and taken across the sea against their will. That does happen sometimes, but most immigrants want to come here. They can't get on a plane and buy a ticket because they can't have a US visa, even if they had the money. So they take what means are available to them. (Of course the US was in large part built on "human trafficking" and other forms of forced labor, which makes us in an especially poor position to criticize others -- which is probably why we do it. There's none so righteous as the flaming hypocrite.)

The talk about illegals doing work that natives won't do is, as several people pointed out, bull. The natives just won't do it for so little money. If we wouldn't do it, there'd be no need to dump us and move to new locations.
Again, it's about power of the simplest, pettiest kind. Do you all remember the (mostly Hispanic) workers who occupied a factory in Chicago that had laid them off? And the owners claimed that they didn't have the money for severance pay, because the Bank of America had cut off their credit? It turned out that the owners were simply going to ship their equipment to another state and start over with a non-union shop. So don't believe the business/corporate propaganda.

One other point: it's true that conditions in many other countries are very bad, for various reasons, which is why so many people move across borders looking for better-paying work. But among those reasons is that "Third World" countries have been taken over by First World corporations, with the connivance of their governments and ours. There's a correlation between the level of torture and other human rights violations, US aid, and the investment climate in most countries. I think we need to see unchecked capitalism as a destructive totalitarian force, which is what it often has been.

Edward Yablonsky said...

One other point: it's true that conditions in many other countries are very bad, for various reasons, which is why so many people move across borders looking for better-paying work. But among those reasons is that "Third World" countries have been taken over by First World corporations, with the connivance of their governments and ours. There's a correlation between the level of torture and other human rights violations, US aid, and the investment climate in most countries. I think we need to see unchecked capitalism as a destructive totalitarian force, which is what it often has been.

Your above answer rings so true in that unchecked capitalism is a contradiction in terms as capitalism implies a level market and this desceription entails a form of totalitarianism. Money talks and human rights violations of those ensconced in penury is just that. They do not have the leverage to have "bought for justice, and they are the wandering chaff of this world with its blatant unfair "bull".Your comment was very astute, and I appreciate it.

Katy said...

I have worked as a paralegal on several employment cases that have involved corporations who employed illegal workers. There are all sorts of reasons for doing this, and one is THEY TOOK THE JOB NO ONE ELSE WANTED.

One client was a major resturant chain. They hired illegals to wash dishes and bus tables. Because they are the people who would apply for those jobs. They didn't have criminal backgrounds and they were hard workers who show up on time and gladly worked overtime when needed. They were paid a fair wage and the employer paid their payroll taxes for all of them. They weren't exploting these people. They weren't cheating the government. They were simply paying people who didn't have work visas.

This happens A LOT. Not just people busing tables or working in factories. There are also well educated people who came here legally and for one reason or another are now illegal. They hold jobs in department stores and offices. They make good money, pay their taxes, but they are for one reason or another illegal.

Now we also worked with another employer who employed illegals. They took full advantage of the fact that these people didn't know the language and didn't know their rights as workers. They paid a fair wage and also paid payroll taxes, but they didn't pay extra for overtime. They didn't cover medical expenses for people hurt on the job and if their workers wanted to take a vacation they got fired.

In sort there are a lot of reasons why people employ illegals. Some of those reasons are explotation and cheating the government, but those are not the only reasons.

And while you can look at the work situation of the last 6 months and argue that illegals are not the only people who would take a job busing tables, a year ago that simply was not true. When there was 4% unemployment rate there was no reason for most poeple with a basic education and a good grasp of English to want these jobs.

Star said...

What annoys me about the illegal immigrants is the fact that some of us, i.e. me, are doing it legally and it is costing a lot of money and a lot of time and a lot of to-ing and fro-ing to places like Nashville and Memphis, in order to do everything right. We have to fill in lots of forms and shell out lots of money and we are still treated like "aliens", that AWFUL term! The illegal immigrants bypass all this, get jobs, get paid cash and off they go. I don't begrudge them a living, far from it, but it doesn't seem fair to me that they get away with it in the way they do. I had to wait months to get the relevant cards so I could look for a job and during that time, I had to depend on someone else to take care of me.
Blessings, Star