America tries a kinder, gentler way to remove illegal immigrants
The Obama administration thinks it has discovered a kinder and gentler way to remove illegal immigrants from the workplace. Instead of rounding them up, the administration simply frightens employers into firing them.
Problem solved. Or is it? Conservatives think the exercise is pointless because illegal workers who have been dismissed simply move on and take other jobs down the road. Liberals are just as upset because they consider the government-applied pressure heavy-handed and say that unemployed workers can’t provide for their families. Civil libertarians insist that, as word spreads, employers might eventually not hire anyone they suspect of being an illegal immigrant, which could lead to discrimination against Hispanics. And business groups are likewise incensed because the government is leaving them with a worker shortage and a raft of jobs that Americans won’t do.
Near the top of that list, you’ll find agricultural jobs. Federal labor officials estimate that more than 60 percent of farmworkers in the United States are illegal immigrants. The head of a growers association in Central California once put the figure at closer to 90 percent.
Trying to drive home a point, the United Farm Workers of America — with the help of comedian Stephen Colbert — are inviting unemployed Americans and anti-immigrant pundits to put up or shut up. They suggest taking jobs away from farmworkers. Interested parties are urged to apply for the thousands of agricultural jobs being posted with state agencies as harvest season begins. Recently, Colbert publicized the campaign on “The Colbert Report” on Comedy Central. Applicants can fill out an online form and sign up for job training and work placement from the UFW at
What could be more fun that picking peaches in triple-digit temperatures?
As someone who grew up in Central California, and who spent my first summer home from college lugging around 35-pound boxes of plums and nectarines in an outdoor packing house, I love the UFW campaign. Too many Americans are so far removed from their agrarian roots that they’ve convinced themselves that the reason young people aren’t out picking asparagus is because the wages are low rather than because the work is backbreaking. The experiment will clear up the confusion.
Meanwhile, immigrant rights groups have been privately complaining that President Barack Obama spent the first 18 months of his presidency mimicking the workplace raids conducted under George W. Bush. The former president used that crackdown in the hopes of softening up the opposition to comprehensive immigration reform. Activists detest these operations because authorities round up and deport immigrants, even at the cost of breaking up families and leaving their U.S.-born children behind. Besides, the raids rarely deal with the root of the problem because employers, many of whom are politically connected, go unpunished. And so activists were profoundly disappointed when Obama, eager to appear tough on immigration enforcement, simply picked up where Bush left off and continued the raids.
Now, the administration has begun to rely on what employers call “silent raids.” Swarms of federal agents conduct audits of companies’ records, looking for illegal immigrant workers. Once uncovered, these workers are usually fired. But in most cases, they’re not deported.
According to The New York Times, Immigra- tion and Customs Enforcement has conducted audits over the past year at more than 2,900 companies; agents can cover more ground through audits than through roundups. And get this: The agency has levied a record $3 million in civil fines on businesses that hired unauthorized immigrants. Thousands of workers have been fired, immigrant groups say, as a result of what the head of an association of growers in Washington state called “a far more effective enforcement tool” than traditional raids.
Because they lack the drama of detentions and deportations, silent raids certainly appear to be more humane. Better yet, they attack the problem in exactly the right spot by putting pressure on employers for a change.
Naturally, the workers are upset because they got fired and may not find other employment. But they broke the law and shouldn’t be here in the first place, so it’s especially galling for them to somehow believe they’re entitled to a job.
We don’t need to hear that nonsense from foreign workers. We already hear enough of it from the native-born — which, by the way, is how we wound up with so many foreign workers.