An undocumented immigrant worker may be defined as someone who entered the country so they could find a job in the United States. In 2005, the American workforce included over 6 million undocumented immigrant workers, most of whom came to the United States from Mexico or other Latin American countries (Passel, 2005, p. 26). Undocumented workers are also known as “illegal immigrants” or “guest workers”, depending on the political beliefs of the person who is describing them.
Whatever you want to call them, life in the United States would be very different without the undocumented workers who work on farms and in other jobs in the cities and small towns of the United States. It is not hard to imagine what would happen if all of these workers were suddenly rounded up in some massive raid and were arrested or deported. If such a raid actually happened, there would be a 20% shortage of farm workers to harvest crops and provide other services that put food on the tables of Americans (Passel, 2005, p. 6).
There would also be shortages of workers to clean hotel rooms, work in service industries, and who perform many other types of low-skill but essential jobs. Almost all service sector jobs would suddenly have a shortage of workers. Many businesses would have to close. American needs an expanded guest worker program because having fewer available workers would mean that there would be less food, fewer new buildings, and other shortages of goods and services. Prices for goods and services are driven by supply and demand.
Less food in the grocery store – the result of not having enough immigrant workers to harvest the crops before they rotted in the fields – would lead to higher food prices. Fewer new buildings would mean that businesses and homeowners would pay more for their buildings and, in some cases, would have to make due with the facilities that they already have. This same supply and demand relationship would apply to all businesses. If the contributions of immigrant workers were removed, the amount of goods and services that were available would go down and the price of the remaining goods and services would go up.
This is basic economics. People who disagree with the current guest worker programs say that unauthorized immigrants take jobs away from Americans. This opinion, however, does not seem to be supported by the facts. Construction contractors, for example, are not firing 1 out of every 5 American roofers just so they can replace them with roofers from Mexico. Hotels are not passing over American applicants because they prefer maids that speak Spanish. The reality is that companies are hiring immigrants because there are not enough Americans who apply for the jobs. Americans would rather do something else.
Hard work and physical labor seems to be an abstract concept to many Americans, especially for jobs that are not very glamorous and that do not pay very well. These so-called unglamorous jobs, however, are essential and deserve more respect. In many cases, the jobs performed by unauthorized immigrants are more essential to the daily lives of average Americans than the jobs that are performed by CEOs and other high paid people. It is hypocritical for a country that relies so heavily on the labor of immigrants to have a policy that punishes immigrants for coming to work.
People often complain about immigrants, but they rarely complain of the low prices that they pay for the products that are made by immigrants or the services that immigrants provide that no one else really wants to do. It is also hypocritical for the descendents of European immigrants who arrived in waves from England, then from Germany, and then from Ireland, and then from other European countries, to complain about the wave of immigrants that are coming from south of the border.
The immigration debate is more about racism and prejudice than it is about jobs and economics. No one would complain about “illegal aliens” if this wave of immigrants was made up of white people who spoke English. Lou Dobbs is a just another racist. The United States should adopt a policy that recognizes the contributions of this group of workers and that would preserve this essential source of labor. A rational guest worker policy would allow people to work and live without the fear that they might be deported.
A fair guest worker policy would require employers to pay immigrant workers a fair wage, instead of allowing employers to take advantage of their undocumented workers by paying them far less than they would have to pay an employee who was an American citizen. An effective guest worker program would also eliminate the need for fake social security numbers and other fraudulent documentation that is currently used by unauthorized workers. By allowing immigrants to register as guest workers, and by making it easier for them to do so, the government could collect taxes from a large portion of the workforce that is currently untaxed.
Guest workers who were documented could also be tracked as they moved from employer to employer. Guest workers who were no longer working could then be notified that if they do not find employment, they would be sent back to their native country. It makes no sense to deport someone who has a job and is contributing to the economy, especially when the American economy depends on guest workers to meet the demands of American consumers. America needs an expanded guest worker program.