Amer­ica tries a kinder, gen­tler way to re­move il­le­gal im­mi­grants

Austin American-Statesman - - OPINION -

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.

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