The baker's dozen in employment (part 1)

Our symbolic Juan, a Mexican national, recently converted all his worldly possessions into cash. Almost 5,000 pesos (US$450) which he knows won’t allow him to enlist an A, B, or even C-class coyote to help him cross the border to the Promised Land. Barely enough for a D-tour… but if his luck holds, he’ll stay alive, and hopefully not get caught by the US Border Patrol. Our Juan made it across and is now safe and sound in economic paradise making all of $5.50 per hour. Blessed be this USA !

Now that you have read the paragraph above, are you ready for a simple quiz… one with a single, multiple-choice question? Yes? Well, here it is!

Question: Would you describe Juan as 1) an illegal immigrant; 2) an unauthorized immigrant; 3) an undocumented worker; 4) all- 1, 2 and 3; or, 5) none of the above?

Most of us would probably choose 4, describing all three characterizations. But, suppose that we decided to skip the 4 and 5 choices in our question. Which one of the remaining three would we pick? This time our answer would probably depend on what Juan, or any other Juan-type person, means to us personally.

To those in the business community, particularly farmers and managers in labor intensive service industries, the additional pool of low-wage labor from these “undocumented workers” is viewed with favor. As for the ethnic community they will be part of, in all its facets- business, religious, cultural and media, these “undocumented workers” represent invigorating economic growth, and future opportunity for greater political power. Middle and high income families who also might benefit by having around people working for low wages would hardly condone calling these people “illegal”… and be tainted themselves in the process.

To the INS, as the government agency caught in the middle of the fray, it’s critical that it maintains a politically neutral position on this issue, preferring to address those people who cross the border in a furtive way as “unauthorized immigrants.” That politically correct term serves politicians as well, except for an extremist few.

To the many Americans whose living-wage jobs have either disappeared or have been unashamedly exported, they are likely to view Juan as a reminder of their economic fall from grace, some of them seeing him as a competitor in the bidding for the available low-paying jobs. To those people, and the ever present and vociferous neo-nativists, all these border crossers are unwelcome “illegal immigrants.”

Call them what you wish… there are millions of them. How many? If you believe the INS estimate which was developed from 2000 census data, there were 8.7 million unauthorized immigrants in the US at that time, 1.7 million of which were quasi-legal immigrants. Unfortunately, the reliability of the INS cannot be taken any more seriously than that of the CIA, or any other government agency for that matter. A more plausible figure being tossed around is probably somewhere in the range of 10-12 million adults in the job market plus an additional 4-6 million children living with them.

If for argument’s sake we accept 11 million as the number of unauthorized workers in the US job market, most of them unaccounted for in the census of 135+/- million existing jobs, we can rightfully say that 1 in 13 jobs around the nation is filled by someone who crossed our borders without appropriate documentation. That person has becomes the baker’s dozen in American employment circles… the dirty little secret to many employers, and the outrageous political reality to much of America ’s citizenry.

Immigration policy for the two political parties which take turns governing this nation follows in the tradition of the other “policy”: foreign policy. Both are just not discussible, not to the level of creating a national dialogue to find a solution. Our politicians, Republicans and Democrats alike, in their wisdom to get reelected, treat symptoms, not causes: terrorism, instead of a flawed foreign policy; and blind inaction, instead of a rational immigration policy.