Enforcement is lax, treatment is rough
The federal government’s focus is not on rounding up illegal gardeners or maids. In a post-9/11 world, it focuses on national security and critical infrastructure sites.Nowhere is that more evident than in communities across the country where thousands of illegal immigrants wait for work on street corners. With the federal government paying little attention, many cities have been forced to create day-labor sites, where job seekers can congregate at a central location without loitering near businesses and bothering citizens.That has come with its own set of problems. Critics don’t believe local governments should use tax dollars to fund centers that cater to illegal immigrants.In Herndon, Va., six residents, represented by the conservative legal group Judicial Watch, have sued the town over its plans to create a day labor site. And in Farmingville, N.Y., Hispanics have been beaten, harassed and evicted in disputes over day laborers.”No one’s solving the problem,” said Wade Bohn, owner of Jay’s Market, a gas station near where day laborers loiter in Las Vegas. The county here is considering creating a day labor center.
“They’re just moving it. Instead of enacting some type of legislation that forces them to become legitimate, they’re trying to find a way to corral them and put them in a center.”Something just smacks me all wrong about that.”In the sidewalks around Jay’s Market, contractors and landscaping companies pull up constantly. Few seem to care that men are taken to job sites where they will be paid under the table for a day’s work, usually around $8 an hour. The practice is widely known and largely unchecked. Israel Gonzalez is thankful for the steady work. He usually gets chosen for a job and sends money home to his wife and 7-year-old son in Mexico. Experts project illegal immigrants will send $19 billion to $20 billion home to Mexico this year.Gonzalez was deported once, but easily made his way back to booming Las Vegas, where jobs are plentiful.
“Here you can work year round,” he said. “It gets hot, but the climate is a lot like Mexico.”But in the underground economy, there is no one to make sure workers like Gonzalez are getting paid and are treated properly. Many workers are willing to take risks to get cash, sometimes at horrible consequences.A 2004 Associated Press investigation found that Mexican workers are 80 percent more likely to die on the job than are native-born workers.The hazard is not just workplace safety. Upset that he wasn’t paid for three weeks, construction worker Jesus Hernandez shot his boss to death in January 2004 in Lehi, Utah, and is now serving five years to life in prison.In Denver, a Saudi Arabian man and his wife are facing charges for allegedly keeping an Indonesian women captive for four years. The woman, an illegal immigrant, said she was paid less than $2 a day to work as baby sitter, cook and maid.
“All of this brings out the worst in society,” said Vernon Briggs, a Cornell University labor economics professor. “It’s just like a cancer. It just eats at the social fabric. It brings out all kinds of prejudice. (Illegal immigrants) are willing to take the chance, and as long as they’re there, there are people willing to take advantage of them.”A Government Accountability Office report in August found worksite arrests were down from 2,849 in 1999 to 445 in 2003. In 1999, 417 civil notices of intent to fine employers for hiring illegal workers were issued, not counting civil settlements; in 2003, there were just four. Part of that may be due to employees using false documents, making it harder for employers to be held accountable.But since the Immigration and Naturalization Service disbanded and Immigration and Customs Enforcement was created in 2003, the focus has switched to criminal investigations of national security sites instead of civil fines.From 2004 to 2005 the number of work site criminal indictments, mostly from national security investigations, were up from 67 to 140. But with the government occupied with national security sites, the numbers show the practice of hiring illegal workers is not only tolerated, but largely ignored.Vail, Colorado