When one thinks of an illegal immigrant, one might think of construction and farm jobs and not paying taxes. One thinks of border control agents chasing border crosses on foot. They are called “illegals”, “freeloaders”, and many worse names. But why are these men and women risking everything they have to come to America?
In mid-2007, Daniel Altman, a New York Times business columnist, discussed the role immigrant workers play in the U.S. economy. According to Altman, “Illegal immigrants do not just pick fruit, they do not just work off the books, they rarely earn less than the minimum wage, and they may even be raising employment without harming incomes.”
Many conservative politicians and officials, particularly in the Southern and Midwestern states, have made immigration one of their primary concerns. Maricopa County (Arizona) Sheriff Joe Arpaio has a history of mistreating Latinos in his county, and is currently being investigated by the U.S. Department of Justice. Other politicians have criticized immigrants for taking jobs from American workers. However these accusations are unfounded.
University of Chicago Public Policy Professor Robert LaLonde has studied the trends of immigrant workers. He says that the “presence of illegal immigrants in some service jobs makes it easier for Americans to participate in the labor force. The immigrants act as complements to higher-wage workers, who can then participate in greater numbers and become more productive.”
So where do all of the inaccurate stereotypes and rumors about illegal immigrant workers come from? Well, as with all stereotypes, they are rooted in some truth. According to Altman, from 2001-2008, the purpose of “cracking down” on illegal immigrants came as a diversion for the President while waging war in Iraq. President George W. Bush used his position on immigrants to distract the American people from the unpopular war being waged in the Middle East. While the issue of immigration has been around much longer, it came to a peak in those eight years, and is beginning to descend. However lawmakers are still facing this complex issue today.
The work that immigrant workers have done in the past involves jobs in agriculture, construction, and cleaning businesses. However these jobs are becoming less of the majority taken by immigrants. A recent poll by the Pew Hispanic Center, in Washington D.C., revealed that only about fifty-five percent of the jobs that immigrants take are in the construction, manufacturing and trade fields. The rest are highly skilled or trained jobs such as finance, law and small business.
The Dream Act is a bipartisan act sponsored by Senator Orin Hatch of Utah and Senator Richard Durbin of Illinois. This act has a rigorous set of standards for children who came into the country as illegal immigrants. After high school, the student must attend college or spend two years in the United States Military, among other requirements. After a period of six years, and fulfilling all the requirements, these young adults have earned citizenship.
The role of the illegal immigrant in the United States is mixed. They provide labor that many Americans would sneer at. They work hard and strive to do the best they can. Many stereotypes still persist. But the truth is that these hard-working men and women simply want what’s best for their family and their children. And they are willing to work for it. Maybe some Americans could learn a thing or two from the work ethic of these so-called “illegals”.