The United States Immigration Debacle, Part 2: The Role of Businesses

 

There has been a large group of Americans who have encouraged immigrants to come into the United States a little sooner than our foreign visa and immigration system permits: Business owners and managers, but are they criminals or victims?

 

Many businesses around the country have employed undocumented workers and paid them less, denied them benefits, and made them pay taxes, and anything else they could get away with for decades. Being illegal, you can’t really complain much can you?

 

We all knew this was going on.  All those millions of undocumented immigrants had to work for somebody, and at most times of the day in just about every town in the U.S. you will have seen a great many of them. And of course they worked cheaper than an American would — and harder.

 

They do all the heavy lifting, bending and picking, sewing, cooking, gardening, car washing . . . All the stuff we are now privileged not to have to do any more because we have a sub-class of citizen that will do it for us.

 

As business owners and managers we encouraged every undocumented worker we employed to tell their friends, cousins, aunts and uncles to come here and work for us.  This promotion of illegal behavior for the benefit of business is the reason there are so many of them here.

 

The reason owners and managers do this is quite logical: If you run a business and pay your employees the same wages a competitor pays theirs, you can offer similar services at similar prices. If all of the sudden your competition pays their employees lower wages and less benefits, then they would be able to charge less for the same service and still make the same amount of money. Your company would be in trouble when your customers found out and started contracting with the other guy, because they charge less, and we are always looking to save a buck. You would have to charge the same as your competition or go out of business, and suggesting to drop an employees wages has never been a popular course for any business manager. You will often lose your best employees that way.  Of course you could keep your prices the same and advertise that you are the Apple Computer of service companies, but that business model works for a very limited number of businesses, and many highly successful American companies export most of their production to countries with cheaper labor than can be found in the U.S., legal or otherwise!

 

So it sounds like a no-brainer; hire undocumented laborers like everyone else and stay in business, but there is one drawback to hiring undocumented workers: it is illegal. There are penalties for knowingly hiring undocumented workers. You can get fined and possibly even closed down for a period of time. Also, if the employee got picked up by any agency that bothers to check their legal status,  you could be out an employee that day, and have to make emergency arrangements for a replacement. If they can’t come back quickly, you may even have to interview and hire a new employee, which costs time and money.

 

I actually experienced something like this when I was joining the workforce. I was demoted from busboy back to dishwasher when one of the other dishwashers suddenly quit. It took several weeks before we were able to find a replacement, and get him trained. Companies lose good employees this way. I was not going to stay a dishwasher forever, nor sacrifice the additional income I received from tips.

 

The whole reason we are at this particular juncture in our country’s history is because we could not get our politicians to stop arguing long enough to fix our immigration quota system. We noticed it was not keeping up with the demand for cheap labor many decades ago, but somehow we constantly manage to stumble over our own feet.

 

The world’s demand for cheaper products has pushed a lot of production overseas where their workers get paid even less than our undocumented friends get here. Much less. Competing with them is extremely difficult, if not impossible for many businesses. The companies that are able to compete in the world marketplace have probably been outsourcing their production and even some services overseas for years. Importing cheap labor, exporting labor to cheaper countries, it’s all an issue of commerce. There is no escaping it.

 

So why don’t we change our laws to reflect the current state of affairs here at home and abroad?  Who are the people that have the power to change the laws, but have consistently kicked that can down the road a ways so someone else will have to deal with it some other time? That’s what we’ll talk about next week.

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