The "Demand" Side of Illegal Immigration

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

The "Demand" Side of Illegal Immigration

A number of politicians and activists say they oppose amnesty because it rewards illegal behavior. But doesn't a guest-worker policy do the same?

Over the past 12 months, many companies in the U.S. have hired workers whom they know to be illegal immigrants or at least strongly suspect they are.

I finally tracked down this AP article from last month, which indicates that the illegal immigration debate is as much about demand as it is about supply:
When Pedro Lopez Vazquez crossed illegally into the United States last week, he was not heading north to look for a job. He already had one. His future employer even paid $1,000 for a smuggler to help Vazquez make his way from the central Mexican city of Puebla to Aspen, Colo.

... Vazquez, 41, was interviewed along the Arizona border after being deported twice by the U.S. Border Patrol. He said he would keep trying until he got to Aspen. His story is not unusual. A growing number of U.S. employers and migrants are tapping into an underground employment network that matches one with the other, often before the migrants leave home.

... As debate over immigration heats up in the United States, more U.S. companies in need of cheap labor are turning to undocumented employees to recruit friends and relatives back home, and to smugglers to find job seekers.

Darcy Tromanhauser, of the non-profit law project Nebraska Appleseed, said companies in need of workers rely on the networks to "pass along the information more effectively than billboards."

... At the same time, it has become less risky for companies to recruit undocumented migrants. Since the Sept. 11 attacks, U.S. prosecution of employers who hire such workers has dwindled to a trickle as the government puts its resources toward national security.The few cases that are prosecuted, however, highlight how lucrative a business recruiting undocumented workers has become.

In one case, a single smuggler allegedly earned $900,000 over 15 months placing 6,000 migrants in jobs at Chinese restaurants across the upper Midwest.

... Shan Wei Yu, a 51-year-old Chinese-American, was sentenced in December to nine years in federal prison on charges involving the transportation of 40 of those migrants.

... Shan sent a recruiter with Spanish interpreters to find migrants in Dallas willing to be fry cooks and dishwashers, Hilzendager said. A team made up mostly of undocumented Chinese immigrants rented cars and drove them up. Shan allegedly charged a $150 finder's fee for each migrant while the drivers earned $300 per worker. Restaurant owners deducted the $450 from workers' first-month paychecks of $1,000.

... Nick Chase, assistant U.S. attorney in North Dakota, said Shan offered to replace workers free of charge if one left within two weeks of starting. "It was a two-for-one special, like a pizza," Chase said. "Everything about it was ugly."

The employees, housed in cramped apartments provided by employers, worked 14-hour shifts and had little outside contact.

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