Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Another face of immigration



When I was a young girl in San Miguel Allende, Mexico, we had a gardener with the name of Herminio. He loved to work the soil and take care of the plants. Herminio was a shy, not-very-educated man and had a hard time expressing himself. But every year Herminio went to work in the "pizca," or crop harvest, in California. Immigration authorities caught him many times, and as soon as he was on Mexican soil, he would take a bus and go back to the United States.

For many people living in rural communities in Mexico, crossing the border to work in the "pizcas" was the only opportunity to improve their lives. To Herminio and thousands of immigrants like him, crossing the border is not a crime. U.S. laws and politics are unknown to them. If the Americans demand labor, Mexicans will supply it.

In fact, the ones who know the U.S. laws well are the employers who hire cheap illegal labor. But American employers ignore the laws because they know Hispanics work hard, don't complain and are loyal. They get the work done.

And politicians ignore the fact that American employers are breaking the law because they know growers cannot supply cheap food without cheap labor. They also know that Hispanics are not "stealing jobs from Americans," as columnist Chris Friend from The Philly Post put it. The Hispanics do the hard-labor jobs that most Americans don't want. If you don't believe me, I invite you to come to Twin Falls County and visit the dairies with me. The people shoveling and walking in cow manure are Hispanics.

But today it's different for Herminio's sons and grandsons. Going to work in the United States may not be worth the risk and expense. According to an article in The New York Times, "Better Lives for Mexicans Cut Allure of Going North," immigration has fallen to its lowest level since at least the 1950s. Fewer than 100,000 illegal immigrants from Mexico settled in the United States in 2010, down from about 250,000 annually between 2000 and 2004.

The reasons for this decrease are the rising border crime created by the drug cartels (see my January column: "A country in trouble"), the increasing costs of "coyote" fees (smuggling) and the U.S. immigration crackdowns.

Furthermore, it seems like more Mexicans are coming to the United States legally. "Tourist visas are being granted at higher rates of around 89 percent, up from 67 percent, while American farmers have legally hired 75 percent more temporary workers since 2006," The New York Times stated.


American farmers are issued H-2A visas for their workers under the Agriculture Guest Worker Program, which allows employers to bring in foreigners to fill temporary agricultural jobs for which U.S. workers are not available.

The bad news is that around 11 million illegal immigrants remain in this country and 4.5 million U.S.-born children have undocumented parents. They live in limbo, as my Catholic aunt says.

Friend also writes, "American taxpayers are educating known illegals to the tune of billions a year." I am not a lawyer, but my understanding is that a U.S.-born child is a U.S. citizen. Is Friend referring to the 4.5 million U.S.-born children of undocumented parents? My children were born in Illinois, so they're U.S. citizens, or am I missing something?

The illegal adults are too busy making money for the American employers, so they don't go to school.

Some argue that these 11 million illegal immigrants (especially non-white immigrants) hurt the U.S. economy because immigrants are more likely to use benefits like welfare, food stamps and so on. But it's unfair to blame the deficit solely on social benefits when the government spends much more on wars and generous subsidies to financial institutions, utilities and oil companies, not to mention the lavish benefits that Congressional representatives award themselves.

It is our responsibility, as a developed country, to control who gets those benefits and decide which benefits we want to provide to people, illegal or not. I grew up in a country where my parents had to pay for private education, health care and food; our family took care of their elderly until they died. We saved our money for family emergencies. We did not expect anything from the Mexican government.

Likewise, most Hispanics don't want anything free from the U.S. government, as long as their earnings match the cost of living. Most Mexicans just want the opportunity to have a decent job, be valued as contributing members of society and provide better lives for their children.

Friend concludes his column by saying that the United States is "the most welcoming country in the world." I don't agree with that. Mexicans, legal or illegal, don't like to be treated poorly just because we belong to an ethnic group lower on the American acceptance scale. I don't believe many immigrants feel welcome, especially non-white immigrants.

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