Friday, August 13, 2010

Illegal Workers And $600 Million More On "Border Security"

The highway is alive tonight
But nobody's kiddin' nobody about where it goes
I'm sittin' down here in the campfire light
Searchin' for the ghost of Tom Joad
           - Bruce Springsteen

Tom Joad: They're workin' away our spirits, tryin' to make us cringe and crawl, takin' away our decency.  
                  - John Steinbeck

The problem of illegal workers in this country has one primary fount: the employers who hire them.

No jobs, no work. No work, no illegal workers. No illegal workers, better employment prospects among lower level American workers and legal immigrants.

Employers who hire illegal workers are by definition predatory, anti-American-worker, and cheat the system in many ways while exploiting people who are in dire need of work. Let it be remembered that, before and now especially during the Great Recession, many American workers have been shut out of low and middle-level jobs because of nefarious hiring practices.

Which workers suffer the most? African-Americans, legal immigrants, and poorly-trained whites.

Once unions had been castrated, the path was clear for this kind of anti-social economic predation. (And the following in no way is meant to denigrate the lives and efforts of the workers who come to the United States seeking jobs, leaving countries that offer little in the way of opportunities. While we are busy solving this problem, they must be treated humanely and with dignity. Developing Mexico and the rest of Latin America is a larger discussion.)

Let's choose a couple of industries to draw examples from - construction and light regional manufacturing.

The employer scam works this way:

1. Determine that the wages paid American workers can be halved or even cut by two-thirds by hiring illegal workers. Send word via the immigrant grapevine that such jobs are available. A laborer would earn $10 per hour versus his/her American counterpart's $15 to $30, while an unskilled assembly line worker without documentation would earn $8 versus $12 to $25 per hour.

2. Gloat that because the U.S. has relatively humane laws concerning free health care, the employer does not have to cover the item while the American taxpayer does. 62% of illegal immigrants have no health coverage at all. Another 30% have inadequate coverage.

3. Further off-loading of costs are accomplished through not paying disability insurances, unemployment insurance, and by not heeding workplace safety rules. Because, who can protest it? Certainly not the illegal worker.

4. Have a firm understanding that illegal workers not only have no right to organize, but, in fact, have almost no rights at all.

5. Work closely with smugglers who have a call on some portion of the illegal workers' pay, so the worker further is in thrall to the employer's rules of non-law. Numbers 4 and 5 are modern versions of some aspects of the padrone system that victimized Italian immigrants, and the Irish gang labor practices prevalent until banned in the early-middle part of the 20th century.

6. Learn how to cry out in great consternation over the clamping down on illegal workers because it would "hurt the economy."

7. Exploit Nativist sentiment that states, in a nut shell, that the illegal workers are really leeches and should be repressed even more. This spreads fear and cowardice not just in the illegal group but those legal workers seeking better pay and conditions. The fear factor.

8. Off load more expenses onto tax payers such as lost local, state and Federal revenues that go toward facilities that not only the illegal workers but their families use as well: roads, sewers, water, schools, recreational facilities, etc. If illegal workers had a state of their own, it would rank right behind Ohio. An entire state that doesn't pay taxes only to the benefit of rapacious employers.

9. Create and perpetuate the myth that American workers "don't want these jobs." Look at ANY hiring site, job fair, or any other place that offers positions and you will see hundreds of applicants for low and middle skill jobs.

10. Count profits that are partly the result of the savings on wages and benefits, partly on taxes and fees the employer would be liable for if they paid American workers.

11. Utilize local and state law enforcement agencies not to "send them back," but rather as instruments of fear. The illegal worker now has to become more of a phantom in our society due to state initiatives such as the one found in Arizona.

Today, the Obama administration announced the appropriation of $600 million to "secure the border." Troops, fences, electronic surveillance. So, once again, we are forced to subsidize employers who will continue to wave around the honey pot promise of good jobs to nationals from countries where there are none.

There are rather stringent penalties under existing law to put the hammer down on the employers. Yet disturbingly, the average penalty is roughly at 10% of the strength of the maximum allowable by law.

Sec. 274A of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) and 8 U.S.C. 1324a, makes it unlawful for any person knowingly to hire, recruit or refer for a fee any alien not authorized to work. An employer that violates these laws can face penalties of:

· $250 to $2,000 fine for each unauthorized individual;
· $2,000 to $5,000 for each employee if the employer has previously been in violation; or
· $3,000 - $10,000 for each individual if employer was subject to more than one cease and desist order. 

The employer can also be fined $100 to $1,000 for each individual “paperwork” violation. 

The criminal penalties for a pattern and practice violation can be up to $3,000 for each unauthorized alien, imprisonment up to six months, or both.

The rub is this - it is very hard to prove such allegations against an employer. Only about 1% of illegal employers are ever convicted.

Illegal workers benefit by the system on the macro level to some degree. The bigger winners are the employers. 

If you own a construction company that employs 10 workers at $10 rather than $20 per hour,  you are saving $800 per day. Over the course of a 10-week project, that's a savings of $40,000. 

Meanwhile, taxpayers pick up that remaining difference that should be going toward taxes, health costs, and other costs. 

Now multiply all that by thousands and thousands of illegal employers. How many billions does it make per year? How many trillions over 10 years?

And to put the cherry on top of this sinister sundae, stir in the impoverishment, demoralization and degradation of our fellow citizens who cannot get even those lower pay jobs.

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