Profiting from Illegal Immigration?

By Domenico Maceri

"I don't want to have to be the police" stated an auto sales manager in California to justify the company's ads, which announced driver's licenses are not necessary to buy cars. The ads were aimed at selling cars to undocumented workers in California who don't qualify for driver's licenses. The car dealer is not the only one who profits from illegal immigration.

Many companies hire undocumented workers and claim not to know that they are breaking the law.

It happened at Wal-Mart. In March of this year the retail giant agreed to pay $11 million to settle accusations that it employed undocumented workers. The money was not a fine but a voluntary payment. No criminal charges were brought because company officials pledged strong actions to prevent using undocumented workers in the future.

Since there are anywhere from 10 to 12 million undocumented workers in the US, many companies, big and small are in all likelihood breaking the law.

Yet, although it's illegal to hire workers without proper papers, virtually no one gets prosecuted.

Even the hands of government officials to enforce laws are tied when profits are endangered.

Once in a while you hear about the U.S. Border Patrol conducting raids, but they never occur during harvest time in the agriculture industry. One such raid, however, did occur several years ago in Georgia, during the harvest of sweet Vidalia onions.

The screams about "la migra" did not come from the undocumented workers but from the owners who contacted their elected officials in Washington. The raids during harvests stopped and you won't hear about them.

A similar case occurred in Nebraska several years ago. Immigration officials compared Social Security numbers in their database with company records of meatpacking plants and found a lot of discrepancies. Soon a large number of workers vanished. But then the governor of the state and other elected officials balked at the operation since it caused havoc in the Nebraska economy. Companies couldn't operate without the undocumented workers and that had a ripple effect on everyone's pocketbook.

The message is simple. Yes, we have immigration laws, but business has priority. We don't want illegal immigrants, but at the same time we want their work. Yet, many people rail against illegal immigration.

Some politicians would have no career except for their "crusade" against illegal immigrants Congressman Tom Tancredo (R-Colorado) has made himself a national name using his opposition to illegal immigration. His very high visibility even angered the White House, which has taken a more moderate approach on the issue. Yet, there has been some talk about Tancredo riding the immigration issue into a candidacy for president.

California Governor Arnold Schwar-zenegger, whose polls have dropped significantly in the last several months, even got into the fray when he stated that we should "close" the border with Mexico. Schwarzenegger even praised members of the Minutemen Project, whom President Bush called "vigilantes" for patrolling the Arizona border with Mexico.

Schwarzenegger copied Pete Wilson who used the immigration issue as a springboard to reelection as governor in 1994 when he supported Proposition 187, which denied benefits to undocumented workers.

Although businesspeople and politicians "profit" from illegal immigration, the average taxpayer does not. Since companies hiring undocumented workers pay them very little and provide no health benefits, citizens end up subsidizing employers.

Legalizing undocumented workers would eventually end this subsidy. Unfortunately, the federal government has been slow to act. Yet, there is hope. Three immigration bills are being discussed in Congress. One is very promising. It's sponsored by Senators John McCain (R-Arizona) and Edward Kennedy (D-Massachusetts).

One of the features of the proposed legislation is the opportunity for the estimated 10-12 million undocumented workers to come out of the shadows and regularize their status. If that happens, demagogic politicians will have to look elsewhere for their "profits."

Domenico Maceri (, PhD, UC Santa Barbara, teaches foreign languages at Allan Hancock College in Santa Maria, CA. His articles have appeared in many newspapers and some have won awards from the National Association of Hispanic Publications.