Law in Contemporary Society

Modern form of slavery: undocumented immigrant workers

Nothing was said in this piece that justifies the title. If you mean to retain it, you should show it is not mere inflammation, but is relevant to the text.

-- By WookJinChung - 02 June 2015


Hilary Clinton’s visit to Nevada after Iowa and New Hampshire revealed her ambition to aggressively court Latino voters in the coming election. During a roundtable discussion there, she called for a path to full and equal citizenship for undocumented immigrants.

What is the surprise in this?

Political pundits are mentioning Julian Castro as one of her likely running mates in the 2016 presidential election. On the other side of the ring, potential Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush asserts that he is “not going to back down” even though his pro-immigration stance is at odds with the Republican Party base. In the event where either candidate becomes the presidential nominee, immigration reform favorable to undocumented workers may become a major agenda in the 2016 election. Despite hopeful signs, undocumented immigrant workers issue cannot be solved simply by bridging the political divide between the left and the right. It goes beyond the issue of what is morally the right thing to do, and it certainly is not limited to penalizing law-breaking individuals. It is a complex problem that deeply implicates various parties of interest, the national economy, and the entire structure of the immigration law.

What is the point of this paragraph? The rhetoric is intense, but the heat is disproportioned to the light shed.

Various interests that uphold the system

To employers, hiring undocumented workers directly translates into increased profit. Virtually without any bargaining power, undocumented workers are rarely in the position to demand proper wages. They are often subject to unreasonable and/or illegal demands of the employers. In many cases, employers hire them off-the-books and pay substandard wages “under the table” with no benefits. Working overtime without compensation or being called into work during off duty on short notice are just a few of many improper treatments that undocumented workers tolerate. Moreover, employers save on healthcare cost and do not have to worry about workers’ compensation claims or discrimination lawsuits. In fact, undocumented workers are the perfect employees from a profit maximization perspective. On the other side, the economic incentive for undocumented workers to support such employment practices is equally strong. Despite the substantial discount in wage and unfair treatment, the pay and the working environment are far more attractive than what are available at home. Even after deducting living expenses, the workers can send back handsome amount of money sufficient to support the family members at home. Their main concern is not the subpar wage but being out of a job. As long as they are making adequate money, undocumented workers will leverage their competitive advantage in cheap labor to gain economic benefit unimaginable at home. Critically, native-born Americans do not perceive undocumented workers as a serious threat to their employment opportunities. The jobs that they take are mostly unskilled labor jobs that are physically burdensome and unattractive at the first place—these jobs are concentrated in agriculture, construction, and service industry. Also, insofar as native-born Americans are homeowners relying on laborers, gardeners, cleaning ladies, nannies, and other services they benefit from the cheap labor typically provided by undocumented workers.

Implication to the national economy

Separate from the moral or political discussions regarding undocumented immigrant workers, the economic reality of this nation cannot be properly conceived without taking the 11 million undocumented workers into consideration. According to the Pew Research Hispanic Trends Project, undocumented immigrants employed in the U.S. represent more than 5 percent of the U.S. labor force. Authorities estimate that undocumented workers contribute about $15 billion a year to Social Security through payroll taxes, and only take out $1 billion.

These numbers are tiny. Are we supposed to conclude from them that this is by volume a large problem or a small one? Don't these indicate that the effect on the national economy of the presence of these immigrants is utterly insignificant?

Also, they spend a large portion of their income in purchasing basic amenities and foods, consequently paying a significant amount in sales taxes. More importantly, many small businesses, such as grocery shops and restaurants, and even big businesses that hire subcontractors to do the dirty work derive benefit from the cheap labors of undocumented workers. A considerable change in the availability of such labor may threaten the survival of many businesses triggering an economic downturn. On top of its effect on businesses, actual enforcement of deporting undocumented workers will incur an astronomical cost. While the estimation varies widely from couple hundred billion dollars to over $ 800 billion for the deportation of all 11 million undocumented immigrants, deporting any fraction of that will still require a massive expenditure of federal tax money. Immigration law designed to produce massive undocumented workers The promise of opportunity, liberty, and equality has been the bedrock principles of immigration in this nation. However, the immigration law has not developed to fully embody such principles. Pathway to citizenship is more or less limited to privileged classes with monetary resources and talents. Unless one has a family member who is a citizen, permanent residency—a prerequisite to a full citizenship—can be obtained in three ways: (1) investing $1 million in capital, (2) possessing extraordinary abilities, such as being a Nobel laureate or a notable athlete, or (3) through employer sponsorship. Considering that vast majority of undocumented workers are unskilled workers, it is virtually impossible to obtain a U.S. citizenship. Opportunity to achieve the American dream is not allowed to Mexican men or women whose two fists are the only assets. Those opportunities are reserved to those who are able to afford higher education and work at a large corporation. Without providing a pathway to those who believe in hard work and better future, the undocumented workers issue cannot be adequately addressed.


In order to solve the undocumented immigrant issue, Democrats and Republicans have to engage in a discourse that transcends the current political paradigm. It cannot be solved by choosing or finding a middle ground between deportation and absolution. They need to go beyond and open up the doors to unskilled workers with modest means so that they can continue to contribute to the economy and society with the dignity of a lawful citizen.

Much of the rhetoric seems as though it's supposed to come from an open border position (unless those two-fisted Mexicans are to be held to achievement of the Mexican dream rather than the American one), but the essay is not apparently advocating open borders. What "transcending" it is in favor of beyond allowing those here to become citizens, it does not say.

Facts about immigration history would help. A clearer policy recommendation would help. So would choice of rhetoric no more intense than the recommendations themselves.


Webs Webs

r4 - 29 Jun 2015 - 21:56:09 - MarkDrake
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