Who would Jesus strafe?

A relative has told me that the only way to secure our border is to allow the Border Patrol to shoot to kill. He honestly believes this is OK. He also honestly believes he is a Christian.

I’ve heard of prosperity gospel. Perhaps his church teaches hostility gospel. My church doesn’t.

Talk about immigration generally ceases to be talk and quickly descends into rhetoric. Porous borders! Welfare cheats! Low riders! Constantly pregnant Latinas! It’s easy to whip up hysteria and to present a convenient scapegoat: the Mexican drywaller who took away an “American” job, rather than the millionaire developer who hired him – and who even now is lobbying your congressman not to pass stricter immigration standards.

As recently as the 1970s, Mexican immigration was largely invisible to the majority of United States residents. Unless you lived in or near California, Texas or Illinois, you were not likely to be aware of the traditional scenario: men between the ages of 18 and 40 who came north, worked for a time and then went home. This cycle had been going on for decades, an open secret that ensured a steady supply of temporary workers (especially for agriculture).

The Immigration Reform & Control Act of 1986 required employers to confirm work eligibility. But IRCA didn’t work-a. The infamous “paper fix” was doomed from the start because so many employers were unwilling to give up cheap labor. They didn’t have to; since the law’s language included the phrase “knowingly hire,” they could claim they didn’t know workers’ documents were forged.

In addition, IRCA included a pathway to amnesty. This led to new citizens petitioning to bring in relatives. We started seeing entire Mexican-American neighborhoods, instead of catching quick glimpses of men who worked a few months and returned home.

Those neighborhoods burgeoned during the 1980s as Mexico’s economic turmoil caused many new workers to surge north. Plenty of work was available in that decade because increasing U.S. affluence had turned certain secondary-sector jobs into “immigrant” jobs, i.e., things that many Americans didn’t want to do: park cars, make beds, mow lawns, clean houses, etc.

Where labor demand exists, migration will occur – or so the classical labor theory goes. This is particularly true as regards to agriculture. We can’t seem to get enough affordable fruits and vegetables as well as poinsettias, lilies, fuchsias, chrysanthemums, and landscape and bedding plants. Growers will do anything to ensure a ready supply of such items. (Except, possibly, to pay a living wage.)

Why shouldn’t Mexicans head north? After all, we’re hiring.

A new underclass

During the 1990s, the growth of the “economically active population” (those of an age to look for work) in Mexico continued to outpace existing employment. Between 1990 and 1996, the EAP grew by 7.6 million while at the same time 260,000 jobs were eliminated in Mexico.

Then and today, immigrants who head north often keep moving – and not just to urban areas. To supply our insatiable national appetite for cheap fryers and wall-to-wall carpeting, factories are changing the face of rural America. For example, the Catskills region now features a year-round economy based on jobs such as poultry farming and foie gras production. Southern states are luring Mexicans to work in rug mills or chicken-processing plants.

These new “immigrant jobs” are as physically demanding as the traditional stoop-labor gigs held by farmworkers, and as poorly paid. But since the cost of living is lower in Texarkana than in Los Angeles, immigrants find it possible to survive.

But they survive as an underclass: A group of people allowed in for a specific amount of time to do hard labor for relatively little money. They are welcome to do our dirty work, but ineligible for benefits and protection of law.

Our dirty little secret

Workers slip across the border every day and find work thanks to what author Hyperborder author Fernando Romero calls “the politics of tolerance” by both governments. The U.S. and Mexico have been content to leave well enough alone because the situation is, on the whole, mutually beneficial:

  • Mexicans get jobs and send home remittances.
  • Captains of industry get a ready supply of cheap labor.
  • U.S. citizens benefit from the invisible price supports that undocumented workers provide.

That last one is our dirty little national secret. We want the standard of living that goes along with those price supports. We want workers to mop our floors, mow our lawns, detail our cars, sew our clothes, slaughter our chickens and build our homes. We want inexpensive produce in the markets, a decent price on dry-cleaning and great dinner specials at Applebee’s.

But we don’t want to know how we get these things. We just want them. We feel entitled to them. And if you’re a low-income worker yourself, you might not be able to get by without them.

The fact is, we cannot get these things without a cheap, dependable workforce – and undocumented workers are the answer to an employer’s prayer. They’re clamoring for jobs. They’ll work for less (and often you can get away with stiffing them on their wages). They don’t complain about long hours, hazardous working conditions or a lack of health-care benefits.

Luxuries are now necessities

It’s easy to fasten on “illegals” as the only thing wrong with our country’s economy, and easier still to resent Mexicans because of skin color and cultural differences. Ever turn on a talk-radio show and hear someone ranting about the untold numbers of undocumented Irish immigrants in Boston?

Immigration fears aren’t borne out by the facts. For example, most immigrants do pay taxes, directly or indirectly. (In fact, they seem to be helping prop up Social Security.) They either take jobs Americans don’t seem to want (see above) or create entire new classes of employment like taco trucks or tiendas that cater to fellow immigrants.

But try telling that to a “militia” volunteer standing at the border, or to a middle-class American who feels her salary isn’t keeping pace with inflation. That middle-class salary looks pretty good to someone from Oaxaca. In fact, it is pretty good – so good that many middle-class Americans can afford to hire a yard guy or a maid.

Things once considered luxuries now seem like necessities, thanks to enterprising Mexican gardeners and cleaning women. Even a blue-collar worker can convince himself he deserves the best that money can buy – and with price supports from undocumented immigrants, his money goes a lot further.

Too much anger, too little information

I’m not saying that Americans don’t work hard. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t ever indulge in a new blouse or that dinner special at Applebee’s.

What I am saying is that we can’t have it both ways. Americans can’t enjoy cheap goods and services and then pretend outrage that immigrants are slipping across the border. We can’t stock up on 59-cent-a-pound whole fryers and then claim that we are shocked, shocked! to find that Tyson hires illegal workers who don’t unionize.

Is this the kind of country we want to be? One whose lifestyle continues to rely on the backbreaking, poorly paid labor of others? (Don’t get me started on globalization, either.)

Leo R. Chavez, author of The Latino Threat, proposes that “if the economy needs more workers than we produce through births, then let those workers and their families live under the protection of law.”

I don’t know what law that will be. I don’t pretend to know the answers. Like so many others, I’m not even sure I understand the questions. However, I do know that too much anger is being generated by too little information. What the economists have to say takes time to hear and effort to comprehend.

We need to listen, and we need to stop thinking the situation can be resolved with a sound bite or a slogan. Immigration has re-shaped this country in the past, and will do so in the future – legally or not.

Related reading:

The divine up-yours

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  1. Excellent article.

    And don’t forget undocumented immigrants taking care of our children.

    The more general idea that you are entitled to get something for nothing seems pretty prevalent. Government shouldn’t interfere with our lives, but don’t touch Medicare. Cut the deficit, but do it without cutting spending or raising taxes. It would be nice if we lived in a magical world with no hard choices, but that’s just not the way the world works.

  2. Personally, my problem with illegal immigration is 1) the anchor babies ruling and 2) the amount of money it costs U.S. citizens. Whether or not some illegal immigrants are paying taxes, we know that the ones who don’t cost the U.S. billions of dollars every year. In Tennessee alone, illegal immigration costs taxpayers $547 million in 2007. (I think it was 2007. Don’t quote me on the year.)

    But you do have a point about the jobs. I work for a janitorial company’s corporate office, and in Knoxville (before the economic slump anyway), we had a very high turnover rate. Why? Most of our employees are Caucasian and African American. In our other locations – especially in Virginia – we have our lowest turnover rate. And guess what? About 95% of our employees there are Hispanic. That’s a fact!

    • Donna Freedman

      @Red: When people talk about “anchor babies,” I assume they mean “Women having kids so they can petition for citizenship because their kids are citizens.” This is true….BUT….the kid has to be 18 or older to petition for the parents. So if you’re talking about a pathway to legal citizenship, it’s technically true but the parents will have not only to avoid ICE for the next 18 years, but will also have to go back to Mexico and reside there before being allowed citizenship here.
      I think that “anchor babies” is another red herring, something that people like to bring up to cloud the issue. The same relative who told me we ought to shoot to kill told me, with absolute authority, that every Mexican girl in a nearby town starts having babies at age 13. “EVERY one?” I asked. Yes. “How do you know that?” I’ve seen them, he says.
      I’d be interested in the source of your $547 million per year figures.
      And again: Even if it were possible to kick out every undocumented worker and keep out every person who wants to come in…Well, you’re not going to like the result in terms of cost to ordinary consumers. Those chickens are going to cost a LOT more per pound. So is just about everything else.
      Thanks for reading, and for leaving a comment.

  3. Oh! I also wanted to comment on your thoughts on feigned indignation. I feel similarly about people who speak out against sweatshops – oh, they’re SO wrong – but then rush to Walmart to buy all their necessities because it’s so cheap. Well, yeah, there’s a reason their goods are so cheap! We can’t have it both ways. You either support workers’ rights and pay more for things or you support shady business practices (and disrespect for human life) and praise the stores for selling goods so cheaply. Pick a side, we’re at war! 😉

  4. Illegal immigrants cost California taxpayers a lot in terms of education and health care. I’m not saying we should eliminate those services for the ones here, but I would really like to cut down on the number.

    However, I see the dilemma you discussed because Americans want to have our cake and eat it too. We want cheap car washes, produce, etc. and yet don’t want jobs going to illegal immigrants. I doubt many Americans would apply at the wages being paid.

    • Donna Freedman

      @Kay Lynn: A Seattle Times reporter talked to apple growers who said they advertise the jobs locally but no one is interested. It’s damned hard work for damned little money.
      I’m not saying that all Americans are too spoiled to take certain jobs. But some of them certainly are.
      Thanks for reading, and for leaving a comment.

  5. Thank you Donna. That was an excellent, thought-provoking piece.

  6. Great article. Thanks for posting it!

  7. Wow. Wonderful, informative, intelligent article. There are so many sides to this heartbreaking issue. You are a magnificent writer.


  8. Aunt Jenny

    Excellent, excellent article. Thank you.

  9. Excellent summary of the current immigration situation, thank you! This should be printed in every newspaper and plastered all over the web

  10. Concerned Californian

    I think this article might have been more appropriate 2 or 3 years ago. I recently read that the job outlook for American teenage workers has not been this grim since the 1940’s. While Americans have been too spoiled to work some of the lower paying jobs in the past several decades, perhaps it is time for that attidude to change. I remember cleaning house for several neighbors in my early teens. (1970s) My teenage (caucasion) boys earned money the past few summer by mowing yards. I read daily about college educated professionals who are working in retail or other types of jobs unrelate to their field and are now making a fraction of what they used to. Maybe the next trend we will see will be teenager workers who are willing to work the more difficult, lower paying jobs because their parents can no longer afford to fund their own extravagants lifestyles as well as that of their children. We need to get back to the point where jobs are no longer “beneath” us and we will proudly work those jobs rather than accept unemployment checks. If I worked in the unemployment office in Seattle, the first question I would be asking the applicant is why they aren’t apply for the apple picking job. If they weren’t willing to do the work (and were able), I would suspend the unemployment check.

    I don’t believe the solution is to simply welcome everyone who comes into this country ILLEGALLY and offer them all of the same benefits as those who are here LEGALLY.

    As relates to your comment about lack of medical coverage, have you done much research regarding the use of emergency rooms by illegal immigrants for treatment of everything from the common cold to life threatening illnesses and injuries? The statistics are overwhelming. And as Kay Lynn mentioned, the cost of educating the illegal population in California has placed such a burden on the California taxpayer that our taxes continue to increase and we are now ranked as one of the most tax UNfriendly states in the nation. (Alaska is ranked as the most tax friendly.)

    So, if we close the borders and the cost of my apple, chicken or carwash goes up…so be it. I would expect a corresponding decrease in my taxes as I would no longer have to support the infrastructure for millions of people who are in my state illegally, using the services, and not paying any taxes.

    • Donna Freedman

      @Concerned Californian: If an undocumented worker is getting paid under the table, then he or she is not paying state/federal taxes. (Which is an issue you better take up with the employers, not with the workers.) But they pay sales tax and gas tax, and contribute to the economy in other ways — renting apartments, buying food and clothing, attending movies or sporting events, etc.
      Of course some of them use the ER. Wouldn’t you, if you had a serious pain in your stomach? But as Funny pointed out, a lot of people in this country use the ER as their primary care provider because they can’t afford a doctor. Picture yourself with a seriously ill child and no insurance: Even if you were a legal citizen of this country, can you honestly say you’d let your son or daughter suffer when you could instead go to the ER despite being unable to pay?
      I’m not saying the system is perfect. Far from it. But I keep seeing this painted as a “constant drain on our economy” when that’s not the case.
      As for your solution to unemployment being “Pick apples or die,” that’s a tad simplistic. There are reasons that some people couldn’t pick apples. Here are a few off the top of my head:
      1. Lives 75 miles away from the nearest apple orchard and has an old, unreliable car
      2. Has a physical problem (serious asthma, back issues, arthritis)
      3. Would earn less picking apples than on unemployment — which can mean the difference between making the rent or not
      4. Has a child in day care and couldn’t afford to pay child care on an apple-picker’s salary
      I agree that no job should be “beneath” someone — especially a teenager, whose focus should be putting money away for school — but that seems to be the trend. If orchardists have to import workers from Jamaica, for heaven’s sake, then maybe a few parents should put some boots up some kids’ butts. As my dad says, “That’s why they call it work — if it were fun, they’d call it ‘fun’.”
      Thanks for reading.

  11. It’s important to bear in mind that Latino immigrants are highly upwardly mobile. People who are willing to work like dogs are people who have a strong work ethic. If you’ve ever watched Mexican men shoveling gravel in 110-degree heat, you surely have had the thought that burglary and theft would provide a much easier living for someone who is “illegal” in the first place.

    Here in Arizona, the place is overrun with good Christians who have latched onto the immigration issue as a convenient tool to vent their latent bigotry, fear, and hatred. The superstition, errors in fact and thinking, and downright viciousness that mark this discourse are truly ugly things. They bring to mind the discourse about Blacks of the 40s and 50s…my father used to talk like this about people to whom he freely applied the N-word. I for one am sick of listening to it. Truly: I do wish these bigots would get a clue!

    During the first couple of decades of the 20th century, a third of the population of Mexico drifted north of the border, seeking work. It should be remembered, too, that most of the American Southwest started out as part of Mexico, and that for people who lack sophisticated education in abstract concepts, a border is just an imaginary line…a highly porous entity.

    Immigrant laborers cost us no more than any other underclass. While you’re bellyaching about the cost of medical care for undocumented workers, has it crossed your mind to bellyache about unemployed white trash who also require “free” medical care? How about unemployed and disabled African-Americans? Do you think they refrain from using the medical system to spare your feelings about tax support of indigent care?

    Don’t pay taxes? What do you mean, don’t pay taxes? If a company is cutting a paycheck, it has to withhold state and federal taxes, FICA, and Medicare. You might get away with paying your cleaning lady or your lawn dude under the table, in cash. But when any of us — you, me, or the undocumented guy you just hired to cut down that big dead tree in your yard — goes into a store and buys food and household goods, we pay taxes on them. In Arizona that tax amounts to almost 10 percent, significantly more per dollar than the state income tax. GET A CLUE, please!

    About Social Security: That is only one of several reasons this country needs to welcome immigrant workers. My generation and the one directly after it did not produce enough babies to fund Social Security well enough to make good on its promise to the Baby Boom generation. We got the Pill, and so we proceeded as we pleased without worrying about making babies…and without thinking about the consequences of the baby bust that resulted. These low-paid workers should be on the books, so that they can pay into the system they benefit from. The only way to get them on the books is to change “illegal” to “legal.” Or maybe we could say to change “illegal” to “human,” hm?

    There have always been barrios in this country. The city of Tucson began as a Hispanic community; it was relatively late in its history that Anglos took over, disenfranchising and overwhelming a large portion of the Latino population. In Phoenix, a large segment of the housing has been occupied by Latinos for generations. In Arizona and several other states, corporations like Goodyear built company towns for their Latino labor force; see, for example, Gloria Cuadraz’s “Reuniting a ‘Community of Memory’: Stories of Belonging from the Labor Camps of Goodyear Farms,” University of Vermont Carole and Dan Burack President’s Distinguished Lecture Series (Apr 2009), and “Mexican Americans and the Making of Community in Litchfield Park, 1916-1986: Oral Histories from the Goodyear Farms Camps,” The Lectures Committee of the University of Wisconsin, Madison (Oct 2008).

    Well, enough already. Nice post…it’s refreshing to run into a bit of common sense about this issue.

  12. Concerned Californian

    Funny About Money,

    I am an employer in the state of California with 140 employees, and I am required to verify, to the best of my ability, that any employee I hire is a legal resident of the United States. I run background checks, SS# checks, etc. I CAN NOT legally hire an illegal worker. Thus I am not sure how you have come to your conclusion that the majority of illegal immigrants are on a payroll, getting paychecks and having their taxes withheld just like you and I. If they are, than either the employer is breaking the law and should be held accountable with fines and potential criminal charges, or the illegal employee has falsified documents, breaking yet another law.

    I am a Christian, a fair employer, and of course I see that illegal immigrants are human. To say that I don’t is very intolerant and judgemental of you. About 50% of my work force is hispanic, and they are wonderful workers. However they are here legally (or they lied to me and falsified their documents.) The thousands of people that are waiting to get into our country legally are also human and I would prefer to give preference to those who go about the process the proper(legal) way. This country needs to stop rewarding wrong behaviour and incentivize integrity. If this means we need to make it easier to come to America, we should change the laws in a way that is fair to all potential immigrants.

    We have laws for a reason, and they need to be observed as long as they are on our books. To arbitrally and subjectively interpret them according to what is politically correct at the moment is a dangerous precident to set. And, before the laws are changed, even those dreaded Christians should be allowed to have open discussion as to their opinions without being subjected to accusations of bigotry and hatred. You sound quite hateful and intolerant yourself. The last I checked, more support/aid money is flowing out to the entire world to people of every race and religion through those narrow minded, racist Christians than any other source.

  13. Wonderful article! It amazes me how some people have the ability to look at another group of people and not see them as fellow human beings. It seems many are lacking empathy and compassion.

  14. Concerned Californian


    I do appreciate your response. Obviously my statements are oversimplied and I realize there are reasons why “some” people can’t pick apples. However my theories are not oversimplified. I do run a business and have seen what works to both motivate and demotivate employees; and I believe our government would work much more effectively if run with policies that encourage the behaviour that we want to reinforce.

    There are much better ways to distribute financial aid than the system we have now. We should encourage people to take whatever work is avaiblable to them…such as what was done when we were coming out of the great depression. We can reward the unemployed for taking a job by only offsetting the income partially by reduced unemployment. The greater point is this…we have 10% of our workforce unemployed and we are paying people to stay home while illegal immigrants are doing the more menial tasks. Our system is very flawed

    As far as the emergency room scenario that you mentioned…thanfully I have never been in that situation. I am a mother of three, and I see and feel things just as you do. However sometimes the greater good outweighs the good of one individual, no matter how painful that reality may be. It is quite probable that the quality of emergency room service has been negatively affected due to the overuse by the uninsured. Who knows how many people have died waiting for the uninsured patient to be treated for the flu.

    I personally don’t believe that we come into this world being owed ANYTHING but basic human respect, and I am raising my children with this same philosophy. And if that means they have to pick apples to survive, then so be it.

    • Donna Freedman

      @Concerned Californian: I think you’re oversimplifying again. Emergency rooms use the triage method, so that the guy with sucking chest wound gets in ahead of the lady with the possibly broken toe. If someone has flu-like symptoms, he or she will wait behind the gunshot victim and the baby with the high fever and convulsions.
      I’ve got nothing against picking apples. I’ve picked tomatoes, and worked in a glass factory, and done other jobs some people would consider menial. See “What do we want to be? A few thoughts on labor” for an idea of how I feel about the working world.
      Thanks for reading, and for leaving a comment.

  15. Wonderful article and you are as usual right on about everything. I’m just having a hard time getting past the first line. Where do these people come from?

  16. I would have really respected your article a lot more if you had strengthened your platform by stating with great enthusiasm that many many Americans are very well read on the subject of illegal immigrants and know that at the heart of this situation are corporations (Walmart, Gebber Farms, et al) that continue to hire illegal immigrants.

    Many Many Americans know that they can make a statement and support only local businesses. Patronizing local businesses that pay their employees not only a living wage but a competitive wage. Many Many American will only fund local businesses that create products that are made by Americans and made in America.

    I do not feel entitled to all of the blessings that have been bestowed upon me. I have worked very hard to have a résumé of debt free, sound savings and investments. I live well below my means and give back to my community. I do not frequent Dry Cleansers, this process in fact damages the clothing and I believe that this expense weakens a healthy and robust household budget. I do not have a maid because I can burn 129 calories scrubbing my floors. I do not have a lawn service because I can burn 169 calories mowing my own lawn. I do not shop at Walmart or any other mass retailer. I know that I have powerful purchasing dollars and make a conscience decision to be loyal to local businesses.

    Your voice is very educated. It would stand to reason that you would and have attracted very educated readers. Please be mindful of this when presenting a point of view such as this topic that is meant to educate by fortifying your podium with the fact that many many Americans are doing what is right and not what is popular.

    • Donna Freedman

      @Cam: The article isn’t aimed at people who are already “doing what is right and not what is popular.” It’s aimed at the folks who want all of the pleasure and none of the guilt — who want the maid and the lawn guy and the cheap food and all the rest, without wanting to see how they get these things.
      Thanks for reading, and for leaving a comment.

  17. Now wait a minute… How can the “anchor babies” issue be considered a “red herring?” Supreme Court Justice Brennan said, during a case called “Plyer v. Doe,” that “no plausible distinction with respect to Fourteenth Amendment ‘jurisdiction’ can be drawn between resident aliens whose entry into the United States was lawful, and resident aliens whose entry was unlawful.” I mean, the 14th Amendment clearly states that it does not confer citizenship on children born to illegal immigrants, yet the Supreme Court opinion in Plyer v. Doe has set this precedent. Still, I see no reason to call it a red herring. It wasn’t invented as a scare tactic by the evil bigots who don’t understand why their tax dollars need to be used to educate and provide benefits for families who are here illegally.

    Here’s the link to the source used by my state government professor on the cost breakdown of illegal immigration in the U.S.: http://www.fairus.org/site/News2/708226221?page=NewsArticle&id=23190&security=1601&news_iv_ctrl=1761

    The estimates were actually made on 2009 data. If you read the material, they claim that only 5% of illegal immigrant costs to the government are recouped through their taxes. We also watched a video interview with a hospital administrator in Texas who said it is not uncommon to have women come into his hospital’s emergency room in labor and still wet from swimming across the border.

    I’m not saying that all Hispanics are here illegally or that they should be entirely blamed for our economy’s collapse. That would be ridiculous. But it’s also ridiculous to pretend every illegal alien pays their taxes and that most of the country’s opinion on the subject is born out of bigotry. Americans have a right to be angry that their tax dollars are used to prop up criminals. They have a right to be angry when a hidden camera along a trail from the border into Arizona shows 700 illegal immigrants walking into the country over the course of only 39 days. And that’s ONE TRAIL. How many hundreds of trails do you think are all along the border? I mean, that just blows my mind to even consider.

    • Donna Freedman

      @Red: Even as I asked you for the source of that “$457 million in Tennessee” factoid, I said to myself, “I bet she got it from FAIR.”
      This organization was founded by John Tanton, a man who “has corresponded with Holocaust deniers, former Klan lawyers and the leading white nationalist thinkers of the era. He introduced key FAIR leaders to the president of the Pioneer Fund, a white supremacist group set up to encourage ‘race betterment,’ at a 1997 meeting at a private club. He wrote a major funder to encourage her to read the work of a radical anti-Semitic professor — to ‘give you a new understanding of the Jewish outlook on life’ — and suggested that the entire FAIR board discuss the professor’s theories on the Jews.”
      Mr. Tanton hangs out with a really compassionate group of folks, such as board member Garrett Hardin, a man who “has argued that aiding starving Africans is counterproductive and will only ‘encourage population growth’.”
      I can’t help thinking that any numbers from a group like this are suspect.
      I just read the 14th Amendment and here’s what it says about citizenship:
      “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”
      I’m not seeing the part where it “clearly states that it does not confer citizenship on children born to illegal immigrants.” Could you elaborate on your assertion that it does say this?

  18. Simply excellent post, Donna! You’ve really cut to the core on a lot of issues. I was having a similar discussion with someone a few weeks ago and I stated if people really wanted to stem the tide of illegal immigration, there needs to be tougher standards and penalties for hiring them. Of course, as you point out, this will lead to price increases on many things we’re used to buying cheaply. But while I’d like to see some tougher policies on illegal immigration, at the same time I think we need to revisit and open up our policies on immigration in general. If people want to come to the United States for a better life and brighter future (and isn’t that what our country was founded on after all?), it shouldn’t require dodging border snipers to accomplish this.

  19. Debbie C.

    OMG Donna, you are my new Hero! You have answered the posts with such eloquence, grace and intelligence. Thank-you.

  20. Debbie C.

    Plus…I have fogotten to say that you really have guts to tackle such an issue! Thanks again for giving an educated commentary.

  21. Excellent article. It’s also important to remember that not every hispanic guy you see digging ditches or picking fruit is illegal. H4 visas, for example, allow Mexican citizens to come to the U.S. legitimately and work.

    Unfortunately it’s pretty easy to whip people into a frenzy these days and that’s a scary thing.

    • Donna Freedman

      @SimplyForties: Good point. Some people assume everyone who looks Mexican is without papers. Not true.
      Have you noticed, though, that Muslims have temporarily replaced undocumented workers as the subject of massive hysteria?

  22. Concerned Californian

    ) Have you ever been in an emergency room at 8:00 PM in the Los Angeles area? I have been there several times in the past year, including Sunday when my mother had a heart attack. There were 468,000 hits when I googled “deaths in California Emergency rooms due to long waits.” And before you correct me again…I don’t believe that this means there were 468,000 deaths. However there were many references of deaths (expensive lawsuits) due to lack of proper triaging because of the overcrowding. Here is one such article.


    2) In addition to my work force that is 50% Hispanic, I also have hired 2 employees that legally immigrated from Venezuela, one from Cuba, 2 from Iran, 1 from Myanmar, 1 from Korea and possibly one or two more. Be assured that NOBODY at my place of business is more concerned about the problems with illegal immigration in California than my “legal” immigrant co-workers. Why do you think this might be?

    3) As relates to unreliable statistics from FAIR…can you provide any substantiation — other than a hunch—that these numbers are not correct? I have a hunch that the 5% tax recovery number that Red quotes is probably fairly accurate. Those workers who are paid under the table would most likely only be paying sales tax. And much of what my Hispanic friends need is purchased from garage sales (this isn’t a put down…I shop garage sales too), they rarely eat out and of course groceries aren’t taxable in California. Those workers who are paid through a valid payroll are probably in such a low tax bracket, that with a few children under the age of 18…thanks to the generous child tax credit instituted by George Bush…most of these workers will pay no income tax or they might even receive a refund check from the government in excess of what they actually paid in FIT. (See last line of attached article about how 47% of Americans pay no income tax and some make a profit on their taxes)


    4) I would venture to say that I have much more day-to-day contact with the Hispanic culture than quite a few of your readers. Hispanics are my friends and neighbors, co workers, and a few family members by marriage. I greatly admire many qualities of my Hispanic friends…particularly the way they handle their money. My father was a Spanish teacher that taught ESL at night in the 1960’s and 1970’s…so he was before his time….and he is pro closing our borders. My sons attend a high school that is 55% Hispanic, and I shop at the Hispanic grocery store. I could go on and on. I can’t tell you how insulting it is to have perfectly valid arguments shot down merely because I have been pre-judged as a racist (not by you) instead of properly being classified as a citizen that believes in abiding by our laws. However I do take great consolation in knowing that more than 50% of our country agrees with me on this one.

    I generally enjoy what you write, and had already read your Labor Day article. I loved it and I will continue to read your blog…regardless of the fact that we appear to disagree on this subject. However I take offense to the intolerance shown by your friend over at “Funny about Money.” I glanced at her blog and found the hypocrisy amusing. She might want to take a long look in the mirror when she finishes ranting about the hatred she observes in all of those “other” people she knows.

    • Donna Freedman

      @Concerned Californian: I’ve been in several ERs (though not in California) that were horribly overcrowded. Triage only goes so far when a lot of folks are sick or injured. I would note, however, that not every Hispanic person in an ER is a non-resident alien.
      I did not hunt down evidence to corroborate my “hunch” (your word) about FAIR’s stats. Too many other things are going on right now; I’m on the other side of the country due to a family medical (end-of-life) situation, I still have to make my regular deadlines for MSN, and there are a couple of more private issues with which I’m grappling. But seriously: Do you truly believe that FAIR, an organization with racist underpinnings is going to be, well, fair?
      Books are being written on laws and immigration and history and economies. To fully develop a response to your comments I’d need a lot more room than a blog post. A whole lot of agreeing to disagree will have to go on.
      Thank you for reading.

  23. Concerned Californian


    PS…As I dedicted a slight mocking undertone at my flu example…be assured I used the flu example on purpose. Emergency Rooms were flooded last year with people who had the Swine flu and even more by those who thought they did. This was a REAL contributing factor to recent triage issues…not just an oversimplified example.

  24. Sherry H

    Donna, thank you for this compassionate and well-reasoned article. If only the people who need to hear this were open to the message. Undocumented workers are not ‘stealing our jobs’; they’re raising our standard of living. (Frequently at the expense of their own quality of life.)

    There are no easy answers, but I think it’s very important to keep thinking about the questions, even if it is hard to face them sometimes.

    (Oh, and I love your title for this piece!)

    • Donna Freedman

      @Sherry H: Thanks for your comment. If the people who complain about how hard it is to make ends meet were able to boot all the undocumented workers out of the country, they’d have quite a shock at the grocery store. Think apples are expensive now…?

  25. Donna,
    Great article especially asking the follow on questions.
    Reminds how current presidential candidates who speak out in favour of a border wall but don’t say where it will be built, ie in the middle of the river on the mexican or american side of the river.
    To often simplistic answers given to complex problems without thought given to the ensuing consequences.
    Well done

  26. Why can’t we think about opening our borders wide, making it terribly easy to become a citizen, so that everyone who works in this country is paying SS and income taxes. Yes, there would be a whole lot of people taxing (pun intended) our social safety-nets but then, those same people might be paying their way, so to speak. But would this mean that all of those newly minted citizens would be entitled to higher wages and actual benefits? Hmmm.

  27. Lauretta Kloer

    Not every person that sneaks into our country is a harmless person. I find the article a little naive. A workers program needs to be developed to allow folks to come and work and return home. Many people from Mexico, especially the women, would like to do just that. Come work then go home to where they are from. At least the many families I work with in my communities.

    • Donna Freedman

      @Lauretta: I don’t think that everyone who enters the country is “a harmless person,” any more than I think that every legal resident is a fine, upstanding person. Not sure where you got that idea.

  28. Chuck

    Just discovered your blog. Awesome post about middle-aged invisibility – my wife and I had a conversation about this in the past and so I shared it with her.

    I just have a question about this one though – Illinois??

    • Donna Freedman

      Quite a few Mexicans live in Illinois, and not just in Chicago. They’re also showing up in fairly large numbers any place where hard, not particularly well paid jobs exist: carpet mills, slaughterhouses, etc. You’ll find a fair number of Hispanic names in the Catskills, even.
      And thanks for your kind words about the “Turning invisibility into stealth.”


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