Legal Law

Illegal Immigrant Workers

Migrant labor is an issue receiving increasing attention. It has become an issue of growing importance due to a number of factors, including rapid population expansion and higher rates of urbanization, leading many people to seek better economic opportunities in other countries.

The International Labor Organization estimates that there are currently approximately 96 million migrant workers and their dependents in the world. Some experts predict that the number will double in the next twenty years.

In the United States there are 6.3 million illegal workers in the United States, according to estimates by the Pew Hispanic Center. About half of them are from Mexico. These illegal Mexican immigrants are at the center of an ongoing debate about how the United States should handle illegal immigration.

A common belief is that Mexicans migrate to the United States to find work. But according to a study conducted by the center, the lack of jobs in Mexico is not one of the main reasons immigrants come to the United States illegally. Rather, immigrants are pushed out of their home country due to Mexico’s low wages, poor quality of work, and a lack of long-term prospects and opportunities.

The study results were based on interviews with 4,836 men and women who applied for Mexican identification cards at consulates in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas, Fresno, Atlanta, and Raleigh, NC.

The study found that only 5% of Mexican immigrants who have been in the United States for less than two years were unemployed in Mexico. In fact, the vast majority of undocumented immigrants interviewed had paid employment before leaving for the United States.

The study also found that immigrants have little trouble finding work in the United States, despite a lack of legal rights to work. After six months in the United States, only 5% of immigrants reported being unemployed. This statistic reveals just how important these immigrant workers are to the US economy, because they do jobs few are willing to do.

And they do it for low wages. Immigrants generally earn poverty wages in the United States, or about $300 per week. Although surprisingly low, these wages are twice what workers in Mexico earn.

According to the Pew Hispanic Center study, Mexican immigrants provide many types of labor needed across the country, including construction in Atlanta, Dallas, and Raleigh; hospitality in New York; manufacturing in Chicago; and agriculture in California. These four industries employed about two-thirds of the respondents.

Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies in Washington DC, says it’s not news that there is a demand for low-wage labor in the United States. But rather than establish guest worker programs or amnesty for illegal immigrants, Krikorian advocated phasing out immigrant workers from the economy. In his opinion, this would improve, among other things, the wages of American workers.

Despite a seemingly steady stream of immigrant workers, California farms and other businesses are having a hard time finding enough people willing to work for low wages. Many immigrants choose to work in the construction industry, which is riskier but better paying. And the government and civil border patrol groups like the Minutemen are stepping up efforts to secure the US-Mexico border, making it harder for immigrants to enter.

Government officials, including the president, want to put in place new legislation that will more strongly enforce immigration laws.

In January 2004, President Bush outlined a plan to revamp the nation’s immigration laws and allow some eight million illegal immigrants to obtain legal status as temporary workers, saying the United States needs an immigration system “that serves the American economy and reflect the American dream. “

Illegal immigrants already in the United States can apply for the temporary worker program only if they already have a job. The special status would last three years and could be renewed once, for a total stay of six years. If temporary workers do not keep their jobs or break the law, they will be sent home.

Bush said the new legal status would allow illegal immigrants to travel back to their home countries without fear of not being allowed back into the United States.

The reason for the reform, Bush said, is to confront “a basic fact of life and the economy: Some of the jobs being created in America’s growing economy are jobs that American citizens are not filling.”

Currently, about 140,000 “green cards” are issued each year to people who want to immigrate to the United States. Bush has asked Congress to increase it, but gave a specific number.

Bush described the immigration proposals as a national security measure that will help the United States exercise more control over the borders. “Our homeland will be safer when we can better account for those who enter our country,” he said. “Instead of the current situation, where millions of people are strangers… law enforcement will face few problems with undocumented workers and will be better able to focus on the real threats to our nation from criminals and terrorists.”

The US Department of Homeland Security, in coordination with the Department of Labor and other agencies, would administer the new program.

When Bush announced his ideas in early 2004, some Democratic Party leaders expressed suspicions that he was trying to increase his popularity among the Latino contingent as the 2004 campaign began. Senator Kennedy said, “I certainly hope that the so-called The administration’s expected involvement in this critical debate is genuine and not due to election year conversion. The immigration status quo is outdated, unfair and unacceptable.”

Many senators also have ideas about immigration reform. Republican Sens. John Cornyn of Texas and Jon Kyl of Arizona are proposing a program that would allow immigrants to work in the United States for two years, followed by a one-year break. This pattern could be repeated a total of three times before the worker would have to return to their country of origin permanently.

Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., support legislation that would allow illegal immigrants to work in the United States for up to six years without obtaining any permits or paperwork. After six years, workers would have to be in the process of obtaining legal residency or returning to their country of origin.

And Nebraska Republican Senator Chuck Hagel has proposed granting legal status to illegal immigrant workers if they pass criminal background checks, have lived in the United States for at least five years, pay taxes, have a working knowledge of the English language, and pay a fee of $2,000. Before this program is implemented, Hagel wants border security to be strengthened.

But efforts to stem the wave of immigrant workers pouring into the United States appear to have stalled. Many farmers do not want to change the system that provides them with much-needed labor. And conservative anti-immigrant groups like the Minutemen vigilante group are critically opposed to reform that would in any way encourage immigration.

“Guest worker programs are worthless,” says Minutemen president Chris Simcox. “We can’t even talk about it until there is real government enforcement at the border.” Minutemen is a volunteer organization of citizens who oppose illegal immigration. Members patrol the US-Mexico border looking for illegal immigrants trying to cross.

“This is a direct challenge to President Bush,” Simcox has said. “You have continued to ignore this problem. Our state officials, senators and congressmen will do nothing. So this is one last effort to roll up our sleeves and do it ourselves.”

The Minutemen and others believe that illegal immigrants are bad for the United States, an economic drain and a security threat. Immigrants often require the assistance of government agencies and social services, but because of their non-legal status, they often do not pay the taxes that fund these programs. Groups like the Minutemen claim that immigrants are a threat to national security.

Many businesses and industries also oppose the new immigration legislation fearing it could further reduce the number of available workers they need. Tamar Jacoby, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, says most Americans are not willing to do forced or farm labor. Immigrants are willing and do so cheaply, so their presence is a matter of economic importance.

Those who are in favor of new immigration legislation can get away with it. A 2004 poll by National Public Radio, the Kaiser Family Foundation and Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government found that Americans are less negative about immigration than they have been in several years. However, nonimmigrant Americans surveyed felt that the government has not been tough enough on immigration. They would like the government to spend more to reinforce the borders.

According to, Florida has between 243,000 and 385,000 undocumented immigrants. But the numbers are probably even higher, because experts say illegal immigrants often avoid government surveys. The 2002 census survey included legal and illegal immigrants.

In the Tampa Bay area, Pinellas and Hillsborough counties have seen foreign-born populations grow faster than the general population. Of the more than one million residents in Hillsborough, 13% were foreign-born. Census data shows that Hillsborough’s foreign-born population grew by more than 80% during the 1990s, four times the growth rate of the general population.

In Pinellas, the proportion of foreign-born residents topped 10% for the first time in 2002, according to the Census Bureau. The foreign-born population grew by 45% during the 1990s, almost six times the growth rate of the general population.

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