Undocumented Workers and the US Economy

By Joseph Iratxetaphoto (96)

Well, besides the European (Spanish, French, German and Italian) plundering of our natural resources (oil, gold, tin, silver, copper, coal, and now water from deep water aquifers), crops (corn, potatoes, tomatoes, chile, peanuts, avocados, maguey, cashews, pineapples, chocolate,vanilla, and cotton), and ancestral art (codices, gold and precious stone sculptures) NAFTA has done an economic number on Mexico and probably represents the death knell for Indigenous cultures. Most of the companies in Mexico are owned by Carlos Slim Helu and he is selling large tracts of land to Walmart and Target and putting national and local small merchants out of business. Local culture and crops are being overtaken by U.S. “branded” products (often made in Mexico, Haiti or other 3rd world countries). Many indigenous groups are putting their ancestral and legacy seeds into seed banks so they won’t be contaminated by Monsanto’s Frankencorn.

But in recent years there have been some hefty consequences for the disasters of NAFTA. For example, since so many migrants have been scared into going back to Mexico…the crops in 2012 Georgia, specifically the Vidalia onions, were rotting in the ground with losses costing millions of dollars because no white or black Americans will debase themselves to do that type of work. The Georgia government sent prisoners to do the work but since they can’t be legally forced to perform the work most prisoners gave up after a day and some after just a few hours.

I recall hearing this story on NPR where three commentators were discussing migrants and the economy and one was an ultra conservative researcher, by which I mean he had a penchant for diminution of the statistics. That researcher posited that although undocumented workers added 20 million dollars a year to tax coffers they used 35 million in public services. I didn’t buy it. ‘At least he admitted that they contribute!’, I thought. But he neglected to include other taxes undocumented immigrants pay like sales tax, roadway tolls, licensing fees, utility taxes, or the ways in which undocumented immigrants save money or create revenue they don’t use. For example, undocumented immigrants save their employers billions of dollars on since many of companies that employ them don’t pay minimum wage, provide paid training, employment benefits, vacation or sick pay, health care or 401K or pension. Undocumented immigrants also create revenue they don’t use through the billions of dollars they generate in uncollected tax refunds each year which their employers falsely pay to keep the books straight on undocumented workers who can never actually file tax returns. Considering these and other ways in which undocumented immigrants save money or generate revenue, their actual contributions to the economy should be considered much greater. And that’s why the conservative researcher on NPR annoyed me so much, because I knew he was not accurately considering undocumented immigrant contributions, while at the same time overstating the so-called “public service costs” which many times don’t even make sense. For example, I constantly hear about how undocumented immigrants use public healthcare via emergency room visits when I know the reality is that most undocumented migrants won’t go to the doctor or a hospital for fear they might get deported.

Here’s another shocker most people don’t know about: this researcher went on to say that because migrants can’t access Social Security, there are $20 billion dollars in Suspended Status funds just sitting in the Social Security coffers. I wondered what would happen to that money. Would any of the migrants receive that money in their old age, or upon becoming disabled? NO! Of course not. In fact, those billions generated by undocumented workers are the only thing that keep social security benefits flowing to the mostly white baby boomer populace.

I soon realized the point of the conservative researcher’s comments: use Mexicans as the scapegoats for a failing economy. Given the way this researcher could provide numbers that showed migrants in a favorable light but chose to spin that information in a negative way, I concluded the commentator obviously believed Mexicans to be a detriment to American society. What was remarkable was that even in his quest to spin undocumented worker’s as a negative drain on society, he had to concede that they do make hefty contributions. A fact that I am sure he tried to avoid but could not.

He went on to blame the floundering economy on Mexicans because he claimed the glut of poorly educated workers gutted the middle class and caused the have vs. have not economy we are currently experiencing. However, he failed to cite the GW Bush/Cheney policies that were the real cause for the decimation of the middle class.

Later at a 2012 Applied Anthropology (2012) meeting for Traditional Native Food Sovereignty, I was given insight by an expert of sorts, an immigration official, as to who the real culprits were in creating the “immigration” problem. This expert I’m referring to was one of the speakers at the event; a white guy from the immigration department who, as one would expect from a federal agent, promoted the interest of the united states of America. That is probably why it was such an eye opener to hear him tell us how the whole immigration problem actually started with the conservative business community (read: white business owners).

He told us it all started when the conservative business community lobbied congress for special permission to recruit and transport people from 3rd world countries to pick crops and work in factories (often brought to break strikes) back in the 1920’s. At first they preferred Chinese and Filipino workers because they had limited work visas and could be rounded up and sent back home when finished. However, businesses also frequently used Mexicans and South Americans simply due to their close proximity. Because of the open border, it was not unusual for immigrant families from Mexico or South America to work for a part of the year in the U.S, and then return to their homes.

After a while, however, shipping and transporting Asians back and forth across the Pacific became too costly for businesses. Also, due to certain labor laws (union efforts and minimum wage laws) it was feared that the increased “white” american salaries paid to farm workers would also have to be paid to the immigrants. So the conservative business community simply turned on their supposed “American” allies decided not to employ whites or to continue ferrying Asians. Instead they came to rely upon the cheap and steady ( & often purposefully undocumented) supply of Mexican labor. This immigration agent also described how certain U.S. legal formulas about hourly wages and acreage harvested per day have been manipulated so that companies could look like they are paying the minimum wage on paper, but actually require three times the amount of work out of the Mexican migrants in order to give them that pay. This practice has since been viewed as abusive and a violation of their civil rights but the practice has never been discontinued.

Moreover, there are numerous documented cases of meat packing companies (pig, cattle, chicken and turkey farmers), factories and canning facilities in Iowa, Minnesota, and throughout the Midwest going into Mexico with buses to pick up undocumented Mexicans, giving them limited term work visas, bringing them into the USA to work for a season and then cutting them loose with no way to get back home. Frequently, the employers have been known to deduct charges from unwitting Mexicans  (similar to company stores and white coal miners in Appalachia) to pay for everything from rent, food, and transportation costs to English classes and uniforms; leaving Mexican immigrants with little wages in the end.

This isn’t a problem caused by Mexicans. This problem is simply and obviously the result of greed and not, as they say, a necessary result of keep costs low for the consumer. If it were about fair prices and quality of life for the average American, we would not see manufacturing  and service industry (phone banks) jobs outsourced, corporate lobbies against increasing the minimum wage, and the ever mounting costs at retail, grocery and gasoline outlets. This is a problem, a situation, that is created and maintained by conservative business owners

The very party that screams the loudest against immigration  — The Republican Party — is the party of conservative business, NAFTA, CAFTA and economic traitor-ism that created the  immigration problem in the first place. If only the lower middle class and working class Republicans would read the newspapers, search the internet and open their eyes to this blatant reality affecting their livelihoods instead of believing inaccurate pundits on conservative news networks, perhaps there could be a real move toward a solution. Until then, things will continue the way they are now.

A the end of our summers, we will continue to see many vegetable and fruit prices increase due to the lack of farm workers and more injuries to the economy due to crop losses from unharvested fields. There will be be a karmic retribution for these two-faced approaches to Mexican immigrant labor. The greatest fear, however, is that continued dysfunctional approaches to the immigration and labor problems the US faces with Mexico will be resolved not through immigration and economic policy reforms, but rather through continued market and military positioning, eventually leading to the annexing of Mexico to make it the 51st state ahead of Puerto Rico!

[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’]http://mexi-can.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/joe.jpg[/author_image] [author_info]Joseph Iratxeta, MS Pharmaceutics Purepecha & Raramuri (Mexican Natives: Tarascan & Tarahumara) Joseph makes his home in South Dakota, where his wife and kids are enrolled Lakota members. He graduated from the Loyola University of Chicago with a B.S. in Psychology and minor in Biology. He has been a biomedical technician for 16 years in fields spanning neuroendocrinology, drug abuse, cardiovascular endocrinology, kidney transplant and immunology. Joeseph has been a high school science teacher in Lakota (Sioux) communities for 3 years. Most recently, he spent the last 4 years studying pharmaceutics, genomics, public health and the bioethics of research in Native communities. His interests lie in closing the health disparity gap for Native Americans and all Indigenous people of the Western Hemisphere. Joseph hopes to do that in a culturally appropriate and ethical manner via science or social reform. One of his interests is in helping to educate and empower Native groups to make Genomics a tool they use at their own discretion and benefit.[/author_info] [/author]

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