John Skrentny, director of the Center for Comparative Immigration Studies at the University of California, San Diego, and Wayne Cornelius, co-director of the University of California’s Center on Migration and Health, comment on the decline of undocumented immigration from Mexico.
CCIS associate director David FitzGerald and director emeritus Wayne Cornelius’s research on migration was mentioned recently in a New York Times article about the suppression of illegal immigration in Mexico.
Economic, demographic and social changes in Mexico are suppressing illegal immigration as much as the poor economy or legal crackdowns in the United States.
BY DAMIEN CAVE JULY 6, 2011
AGUA NEGRA, Mexico — The extraordinary Mexican migration that delivered millions of illegal immigrants to the United States over the past 30 years has sputtered to a trickle, and research points to a surprising cause: unheralded changes in Mexico that have made staying home more attractive.
A growing body of evidence suggests that a mix of developments — expanding economic and educational opportunities, rising border crime and shrinking families — are suppressing illegal traffic as much as economic slowdowns or immigrant crackdowns in the United States.
Here in the red-earth highlands of Jalisco, one of Mexico’s top three states for emigration over the past century, a new dynamic has emerged. For a typical rural family like the Orozcos, heading to El Norte without papers is no longer an inevitable rite of passage. Instead, their homes are filling up with returning relatives; older brothers who once crossed illegally are awaiting visas; and the youngest Orozcos are staying put.
“I’m not going to go to the States because I’m more concerned with my studies,” said Angel Orozco, 18. Indeed, at the new technological institute where he is earning a degree in industrial engineering, all the students in a recent class said they were better educated than their parents — and that they planned to stay in Mexico rather than go to the United States.
Douglas S. Massey, co-director of the Mexican Migration Project at Princeton, an extensive, long-term survey in Mexican emigration hubs, said his research showed that interest in heading to the United States for the first time had fallen to its lowest level since at least the 1950s. “No one wants to hear it, but the flow has already stopped,” Mr. Massey said, referring to illegal traffic. “For the first time in 60 years, the net traffic has gone to zero and is probably a little bit negative.”
The decline in illegal immigration, from a country responsible for roughly 6 of every 10 illegal immigrants in the United States, is stark. The Mexican census recently discovered four million more people in Mexico than had been projected, which officials attributed to a sharp decline in emigration.
American census figures analyzed by the nonpartisan Pew Hispanic Center also show that the illegal Mexican population in the United States has shrunk and that fewer than 100,000 illegal border-crossers and visa-violators from Mexico settled in the United States in 2010, down from about 525,000 annually from 2000 to 2004. Although some advocates for more limited immigration argue that the Pew studies offer estimates that do not include short-term migrants, most experts agree that far fewer illegal immigrants have been arriving in recent years.
The question is why. Experts and American politicians from both parties have generally looked inward, arguing about the success or failure of the buildup of border enforcement and tougher laws limiting illegal immigrants’ rights — like those recently passed in Alabama and Arizona. Deportations have reached record highs as total border apprehensions and apprehensions of Mexicans have fallen by more than 70 percent since 2000.
But Mexican immigration has always been defined by both the push (from Mexico) and the pull (of the United States). The decision to leave home involves a comparison, a wrenching cost-benefit analysis, and just as a Mexican baby boom and economic crises kicked off the emigration waves in the 1980s and ’90s, research now shows that the easing of demographic and economic pressures is helping keep departures in check.
In simple terms, Mexican families are smaller than they had once been. The pool of likely migrants is shrinking. Despite the dominance of the Roman Catholic Church in Mexico, birth control efforts have pushed down the fertility rate to about 2 children per woman from 6.8 in 1970, according to government figures. So while Mexico added about one million new potential job seekers annually in the 1990s, since 2007 that figure has fallen to an average of 800,000, according to government birth records. By 2030, it is expected to drop to 300,000.
Even in larger families like the Orozcos’ — Angel is the 9th of 10 children — the migration calculation has changed. Crossing “mojado,” wet or illegally, has become more expensive and more dangerous, particularly with drug cartels dominating the border. At the same time, educational and employment opportunities have greatly expanded in Mexico. Per capita gross domestic product and family income have each jumped more than 45 percent since 2000, according to one prominent economist, Roberto Newell. Despite all the depictions of Mexico as “nearly a failed state,” he argued, “the conventional wisdom is wrong.”
A significant expansion of legal immigration — aided by American consular officials — is also under way. Congress may be debating immigration reform, but in Mexico, visas without a Congressionally mandated cap on how many people can enter have increased from 2006 to 2010, compared with the previous five years.
State Department figures show that Mexicans who have become American citizens have legally brought in 64 percent more immediate relatives, 220,500 from 2006 through 2010, compared with the figures for the previous five years. Tourist visas are also being granted at higher rates of around 89 percent, up from 67 percent, while American farmers have legally hired 75 percent more temporary workers since 2006.
Edward McKeon, the top American official for consular affairs in Mexico, said he had focused on making legal passage to the United States easier in an effort to prevent people from giving up and going illegally. He has even helped those who were previously illegal overcome bans on entering the United States.
“If people are trying to do the right thing,” Mr. McKeon said, “we need to send the signal that we’ll reward them.”
Hard Years in Jalisco
When Angel Orozco’s grandfather considered leaving Mexico in the 1920s, his family said, he wrestled with one elemental question: Will it be worth it?
At that point and for decades to come, yes was the obvious answer. In the 1920s and ’30s — when Paul S. Taylor came to Jalisco from California for his landmark study of Mexican emigration — Mexico’s central highlands promised little more than hard living. Jobs were scarce and paid poorly. Barely one of three adults could read. Families of 10, 12 and even 20 were common, and most children did not attend school.
Comparatively, the United States looked like a dreamland of technology and riches: Mr. Taylor found that the wages paid by the railroads, where most early migrants found legal work, were five times what could be earned on farms in Arandas, the municipality that includes Agua Negra.
Orozco family members still talk about the benefits of that first trip. Part of the land the extended family occupies today was purchased with American earnings from the 1920s. When Angel’s father, Antonio, went north to pick cotton in the 1950s and ’60s with the Bracero temporary worker program, which accepted more than 400,000 laborers a year at its peak, working in the United States made even more sense. The difference in wages had reached 10 to 1. Arandas was still dirt poor.
Antonio, with just a few years of schooling, was one of many who felt that with a back as strong as a wooden church door, he could best serve his family from across the border.
“I sent my father money so he could build his house,” Antonio said.
Legal status then meant little. After the Bracero program ended in 1964, Antonio said, he crossed back and forth several times without documentation. Passage was cheap. Work lasting for a few months or a year was always plentiful. So when his seven sons started to become adults in the 1990s, he encouraged them to go north as well. Around 2001, he and two of his sons were all in the United States working — part of what is now recognized as one of the largest immigration waves in American history.
But even then, illegal immigration was becoming less attractive. In the mid-1990s, the Clinton administration added fences and federal agents to what were then the main crossing corridors beyond Tijuana and Ciudad Juárez. The enforcement push, continued by President George W. Bush and President Obama, helped drive up smuggling prices from around $700 in the late 1980s to nearly $2,000 a decade later, and the costs continued to climb, according to research from the Center for Comparative Immigration Studies at the University of California, San Diego. It also shifted traffic to more dangerous desert areas near Arizona.
Antonio said the risks hit home when his nephew Alejandro disappeared in the Sonoran Desert around 2002. A father of one and with a pregnant wife, Alejandro had been promised work by a friend. It took years for the authorities to find his body in the arid brush south of Tucson. Even now, no one knows how he died.
But for the Orozcos, border enforcement was not the major deterrent. Andrés Orozco, 28, a middle son who first crossed illegally in 2000, said that while rising smuggling costs and border crime were worries, there were always ways to avoid American agents. In fact, while the likelihood of apprehension has increased in recent years, 92 to 98 percent of those who try to cross eventually succeed, according to research by Wayne A. Cornelius and his colleagues at the University of California, San Diego.
A Period of Progress
Another important factor is Mexico itself. Over the past 15 years, this country once defined by poverty and beaches has progressed politically and economically in ways rarely acknowledged by Americans debating immigration. Even far from the coasts or the manufacturing sector at the border, democracy is better established, incomes have generally risen and poverty has declined.
Here in Jalisco, a tequila boom that accelerated through the 1990s created new jobs for farmers cutting agave and for engineers at the stills. Other businesses followed. In 2003, when David Fitzgerald, a migration expert at the University of California, San Diego, came to Arandas, he found that the wage disparity with the United States had narrowed: migrants in the north were collecting 3.7 times what they could earn at home.
That gap has recently shrunk again. The recession cut into immigrant earnings in the United States, according to the Pew Hispanic Center, even as wages have risen in Mexico, according to World Bank figures. Jalisco’s quality of life has improved in other ways, too. About a decade ago, the cluster of the Orozco ranches on Agua Negra’s outskirts received electricity and running water. New census data shows a broad expansion of such services: water and trash collection, once unheard of outside cities, are now available to more than 90 percent of Jalisco’s homes. Dirt floors can now be found in only 3 percent of the state’s houses, down from 12 percent in 1990.
Still, education represents the most meaningful change. The census shows that throughout Jalisco, the number of senior high schools or preparatory schools for students aged 15 to 18 increased to 724 in 2009, from 360 in 2000, far outpacing population growth. The Technological Institute of Arandas, where Angel studies engineering, is now one of 13 science campuses created in Jalisco since 2000 — a major reason professionals in the state, with a bachelor’s degree or higher, also more than doubled to 821,983 in 2010, up from 405,415 in 2000.
Similar changes have occurred elsewhere. In the poor southern states of Chiapas and Oaxaca, for instance, professional degree holders rose to 525,874 from 244,322 in 2000.
And the data from secondary schools like the one the Orozcos attended in Agua Negra suggests that the trend will continue. Thanks to a Mexican government program called “schools of quality” the campus of three buildings painted sunflower yellow has five new computers for its 71 students, along with new books.
Teachers here, in classrooms surrounded by blue agave fields, say that enrollment is down slightly because families are having fewer children, and instead of sending workers north, some families have moved to other Mexican cities — a trend also found in academic field research. Around half the students now move on to higher schooling, up from 30 percent a decade ago.
“They’re identifying more with Mexico,” said Agustín Martínez González, a teacher. “With more education, they’re more likely to accept reality here and try to make it better.”
Some experts agree. Though Mexicans with Ph.D.’s tend to leave for bigger paychecks abroad, “if you have a college degree you’re much more likely to stay in Mexico because that is surely more valuable in Mexico,” said Jeffrey S. Passel, a demographer at the Pew Hispanic Center.
If these trends — particularly Mexican economic growth — continue over the next decade, Mr. Passel said, changes in the migration dynamic may become even clearer. “At the point where the U.S. needs the workers again,” he said, “there will be fewer of them.”
Praying for Papers
The United States, of course, has not lost its magnetic appeal. Illegal traffic from Central America has not dropped as fast as it has from Mexico, and even in Jalisco town plazas are now hangouts for men in their 30s with tattoos, oversize baseball caps and a desire to work again in California or another state. Bars with American names — several have adopted Shrek — signal a back and forth that may never disappear.
But more Mexicans are now traveling legally. Several Orozco cousins have received temporary worker visas in the past few years. In March, peak migration season for Jalisco, there were 15 people from Agua Negra at the border waiting to cross.
“And 10 had visas,” said Ramón Orozco, 30, another son of Antonio who works in the town’s government office after being the first in his family to go to college. “A few years ago there would have been 100, barely any with proper documents.”
This is not unique to Agua Negra. A few towns away at the hillside shrine of St. Toribio, the patron saint of migrants, prayers no longer focus on asking God to help sons, husbands or brothers crossing the desert. “Now people are praying for papers,” said María Guadalupe, 47, a longtime volunteer.
How did this happen?
Partly, emigrants say, illegal life in the United States became harder. Laws restricting illegal immigrants’ rights or making it tougher for employers to hire them have passed in more than a dozen states since 2006. The same word-of-mouth networks that used to draw people north are now advising against the journey. “Without papers all you’re thinking about is, when are the police going to stop you or what other risks are you going to face,” said Andrés Orozco.
Andrés, a horse lover who drives a teal pickup from Texas, is one of many Orozcos now pinning their hopes on a visa. And for the first time in years, the chances have improved.
Mexican government estimates based on survey data show not just a decrease in migration overall, but also an increase in border crossings with documents. In 2009, the most recent year for which data is available, 38 percent of the total attempted crossings, legal and illegal, were made with documents. In 2007, only 20 percent involved such paperwork.
The Mexican data counts attempted crossings, not people, and does not differentiate between categories of visas. Nor does it mention how long people stayed, nor whether all the documents were valid.
Advocates of limited immigration worry that the issuing of more visas creates a loophole that can be abused. Between 40 and 50 percent of the illegal immigrants in the United States entered legally with visas they overstayed, as of 2005, according to the Pew Hispanic Center.
More recent American population data, however, shows no overall increase in the illegal Mexican population. That suggests that most of the temporary visas issued to Mexicans — 1.1 million in 2010 — are being used legitimately even as American statistics show clearly that visa opportunities have increased.
Easing a Chaotic Process
One man, Mr. McKeon, the minister counselor who oversees all consular affairs in Mexico, has played a significant role in that expansion.
A lawyer with a white beard and a quick tongue, Mr. McKeon arrived in the summer of 2007. And after more than 30 years working in consular affairs in China, Japan and elsewhere, he quickly decided to make changes in Mexico. Working within administrative rules, State Department officials say, he re-engineered the visa program to de-emphasize the affordability standard that held that visas were to be denied to those who could not prove an income large enough to support travel to the United States.
In a country where a person can cross the border with a 25-cent toll, Mr. McKeon said, the income question was irrelevant. “You have to look at everyone individually,” he said in an interview at his office in Mexico City. “I don’t want people to say, here’s the income floor, over yes, lower no.”
This led to an almost immediate decrease in the rejection rate for tourist visas. Before he arrived, around 32 percent were turned down. Since 2008, the rate has been around 11 percent.
Mr. McKeon — praised by some immigration lawyers for bringing consistency to a chaotic process — was also instrumental in expanding the temporary visa program for agricultural workers. Called H-2A, this is one of the few visa categories without a cap.
Around 2006, as the debate over immigration became more contentious, employers concentrated in the Southeast began applying for more workers through the program. Mr. McKeon began hosting conferences with all the stakeholders and deployed new technology and additional staff members. The waiting time for several visa categories decreased, government reports show. For H-2As, Mexican workers can now receive their documents the same day that they apply.
Mr. McKeon also pushed to make the program more attractive to Mexicans who might otherwise cross the border illegally. Two years ago, he eliminated a $100 visa issuance fee that was supposed to be covered by employers but was usually paid by workers. And he insisted that his staff members change their approach with Mexicans who had previously worked illegally in the United States.
“The message used to be, if you were working illegally, lie about it or don’t even try to go legally because we won’t let you,” said one senior State Department official. “What we’re saying now is, tell us you did it illegally, be honest and we’ll help you.”
Specifically, consulate workers dealing with H-2A applicants who were once illegal — making them subject to 3- or 10-year bans depending on the length of their illegal stay — now regularly file electronic waiver applications to the United States Customs and Border Patrol. About 85 percent of these are now approved, Mr. McKeon said, so that in 2010 most of the 52,317 Mexican workers with H-2A visas had previously been in the United States illegally.
“It’s not easy to go through this process,” Mr. McKeon said, “and I think people who are willing to go through all of that and risk going back to the United States where they have to pay taxes, and withholding, I think we should look favorably on them.”
Speaking as the son of a New Jersey plumber, he added: “My bias is toward people who sweat at work because I really think that’s the backbone of our country. With limited resources, I’d rather devote our efforts to keeping out a drug kingpin than trying to find someone who works a couple of months at Cousin Hector’s body shop.”
A Divisive Topic
In the heated debate over immigration, however, this topic is inevitably divisive. Pro-immigrant groups, when told of the expansion to legal immigration, say it still may not be enough in a country where the baby boomers are retiring in droves.
Farmers still complain that the H-2A visa program is too complicated and addresses only a portion of the total demand. As of 2010, there were 1,381,896 Mexicans still waiting for their green-card applications to be accepted or rejected. And the United States currently makes only 5,000 green cards annually available worldwide for low-wage workers to immigrate permanently; in recent years, only a few of those have gone to Mexicans.
On the other side, Steven A. Camarota, a demographer at the Center for Immigration Studies in Washington, which favors reduced immigration, said that increasing the proportion of legal entries did little good.
“If you believe there is significant job competition at the bottom end of the labor market, as I do, you’re not fixing the problem,” Mr. Camarota said. “If you are concerned about the fiscal cost of unskilled immigration and everyone comes in on temporary visas and overstays, or even if they don’t, the same problems are likely to apply.”
By his calculations, unskilled immigrants like the Orozcos have, over the years, helped push down hourly wages, especially for young, unskilled American workers. Immigrants are also more likely to rely on welfare, he said, adding to public costs.
The Orozco clan, however, may point to a different future. Angel Orozco, like many other young Mexicans, now talks about the United States not as a place to earn money, but rather as a destination for fun and spending.
Today he is just a lanky, shy freshman wearing a Daughtry T-shirt and living in a two-room apartment with only a Mexican flag and a rosary for decoration.
But his dreams are big and local. After graduating, he said, he hopes to work for a manufacturing company in Arandas, which seems likely because the director of his school says that nearly 90 percent of graduates find jobs in their field. Then, Angel said, he will be able to buy what he really wants: a shiny, new red Camaro.
Former CCIS Researcher Whitney L. Duncan’s new work on mental health issues in Mexico highlighted by UC Global Health Institute.
Whitney L. Duncan, MA
PhD Candidate, Anthropology
UC San Diego
To tackle formidable problems in global health, scholars come from a wide range of disciplines. PhD candidate Whitney Duncan never guessed as an English Literature major at Columbia University that she would be conducting studies on mental health and migration in Oaxaca, Mexico.
Duncan worked as a freelance writer and editor for several years after graduating. Her experience at El Diario, a Spanish language newspaper in New York, combined with growing involvement with the migrant farmworker community in the Hudson Valley, solidified her interest in working with the Latino community.
“I wanted a deeper understanding of the issues I was drawn to journalistically, particularly migration and mental health,” says Duncan. “I felt strongly about approaching these problems through long-term research on both sides of the border.”
She decided to pursue a PhD in anthropology, and says she was fortunate to be able to do so in San Diego. “Because of the large Mexican migrant population in the area, I was able to begin volunteering and researching early on in graduate school,” she says.
Her Master’s thesis was based on work with an support group for Mexican migrant women. While completing her thesis, Whitney began volunteering at the Bayside Community Center, which offers English and Spanish courses for Mixteco (indigenous people from the region of La Mixteca) migrants, setting the stage for her research in Oaxaca. While in Oaxaca on a Foreign Language and Area Studies fellowship to study the Mixtec language, Whitney was drawn to what seemed like a proliferation of psychiatric and psychological services.
“Oaxaca is known for its thriving tradition of indigenous medicine,” she says. “The new popularity of mental healthcare struck me as a historical change that was probably impacting local culture and understandings of illness in important ways. I also wondered if and how the shift was related to migration.”
She received a National Science Foundation grant to conduct fieldwork on the changing landscape of mental health in Oaxaca, and is currently writing her dissertation.
Reflecting on her research, Whitney recalls meeting patients—many of them former migrants—who traveled long distances to seek care at a psychiatric hospital outside Oaxaca City.
“Many people came from communities over eight hours away for a 30-minute appointment,” says Duncan. “Clearly, despite the sudden growth in services, access to mental healthcare remains an issue.” Whitney’s work highlights the importance of understanding the social determinants of health as well as the risks and benefits of globalizing approaches to health care.
In addition to conducting her own research, Whitney has collaborated with the Center for Comparative Immigration Studies (CCIS) at UCSD. From 2007-2008 and in 2011, she worked with the Center’s Mexican Migration Field Research Program (MMFRP) in San Miguel Tlacotepec, Oaxaca. They are currently writing their second book about the effects of migration on the community.
“UC San Diego turned out to be the best place for what I am doing – and CCIS has been a great resource,” says Duncan.
As a Republican-controlled state, South Carolina has been added to the list of states being sued over their controversial immigration laws.
In the meantime, Congress has been deadlocked on immigration reform, with no major changes after a reform effort fell apart in 2007.
CCIS Director John Skrentny provides background.
BY TYLER KINGKADE JUNE 26, 2011
WASHINGTON — Gov. Nikki Haley added South Carolina to the list of Republican-controlled states to implement harsh immigration laws when she signed her state’s copycat bill to Arizona’s SB 1070 on Monday despite objections from a coalition of 21 faith and civil rights groups.
South Carolina is now poised to join Arizona, Georgia and Texas, all of which are being sued over their immigration measures, with lawsuits threatened by the American Civil Liberties Union, the National Immigration Law Center and other advocacy groups.
“It invites racial profiling,” said Victoria Middleton, director of the ACLU of South Carolina. “And it basically will subject anyone who looks or sounds foreign to discrimination.”
The South Carolina legislation was modeled off of the infamous SB 1070 Arizona immigration enforcement law, empowering local police to ask for documents to prove a person’s legal status. Police can check the status of anyone they suspect to be in the country illegally during an arrest or a traffic stop for anything other than speeding.
Also on Monday, a federal judge in Georgia blocked parts of the state’s similar immigration crackdown law — including the provision that allowed local police to check a person’s legal status and a measure that punished anyone who knowingly harbored an illegal immigrant.
U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Thrash questioned the intent of the Georgia government and whether it could effectively carry out an immigration overhaul as a state. He ultimately wrote that the state was entering federal jurisdiction.
“I mean, you are not going to have 50 systems of immigration regulation,” Thrash said last Monday in court. “In Georgia, you are going to have 159. Every county, every municipality is going to decide what its immigration policy is going to be under this law.”
South Carolina and Georgia are two of the 26 states to introduce bills copying Arizona’s SB 1070, but so far none have been successfully implemented, according to the Latino advocacy organization National Council of La Raza. Many states sought various immigration reforms this year, emboldened by the Republican sweeps in legislatures and governor’s offices throughout the country in 2010, but the reforms were wiped out in legislatures that focused on the economy and other issues during their sessions.
In the meantime, Congress has been deadlocked on immigration reform, with no major changes after a reform effort fell apart in 2007. Even incremental changes to the immigration system, such as the DREAM Act to legalize some undocumented young people who came to the United States as children, have been unable to pass the Senate.
Instead, the government continues to ramp up enforcement along the border to appease “restrictionists” who refuse to sign onto anything that includes legalization of the immigrants already in the U.S. until the border is completely sealed, said John D. Skrentny, director at the Center for Comparative Immigration Studies and a professor of sociology at University of California-San Diego.
“And so we keep throwing resources at the border and meanwhile advocates for immigrants keep saying, ‘Well look, this is bad for immigrants, they’re being exploited, it’s bad for American workers, they can be undercut. We gotta legalize these people, and many of them have been here for many years,'” Skrentny said. “So they’re at a deadlock on this.”
This led to frustration at the state level, where some legislatures have attempted to tackle illegal immigration on their own.
“Obviously this comes out of a frustration that I think everybody has over the broken immigration system,” said Elena Lacayo, immigration field coordinator for La Raza. “Everyone, I think, on both sides of the issue are very, very frustrated with what we have now. The status quo is clearly terrible for a lot of people — immigrants I think, especially — but a lot of other folks are concerned about what the consequences of the undocumented population [are].”
Other state-level proposals included cutting off public benefits and in-state tuition assistance for illegal immigrants. But states have also gone the other way, such as Maryland expanding tuition assistance and several opting out of the Secure Communities program, which checks for legal status whenever someone is detained.
“I’m not sure that there was any one thing that triggered state and local governments to get involved,” said Ira Mehlman of the Federation for American Immigration Reform.
Mehlman argued states have acted because in the absence of Congressional action, they are the ones paying for immigrants’ education, emergency health care, and other services removed from the federal government’s eye.
“You have this dichotomy here where the federal government is charged with responsibility of making and enforcing immigration laws; state and local governments wind up bearing the burdens of illegal immigration,” he said.
But states are also getting entangled in expensive legal fees as these tough immigration laws get challenged in court. Farmers Branch, Texas, a town of about 26,000, spent more than $3 million defending a 2006 ordinance that fines landlords who rent to illegal aliens and allows local authorities to screen illegal aliens in police custody. The Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) assisted the town, as well as one in Pennsylvania in a similar battle.
Alabama passed a law like the Farmers Branch ordinance, which would potentially place a landlord in prison for up to 20 years if caught knowingly renting to undocumented immigrants. The Alabama law landed the state with a lawsuit from the ACLU.
Beyond costly lawsuits, though, there are other monetary risks to implementing a controversial immigration law modeled after Arizona’s, Lacayo said.
Religious groups, civil rights activists and the Mexican government have all actively petitioned against South Carolina’s new law, arguing the bill spends $1.3 million to create a statewide immigration police force, in addition to the legal costs to defend the lawsuit.
“We see a coalition of religious groups, business groups, that have really seen the impact of SB 1070’s law on Arizona’s economy and tourism and industry, and they’re really saying, ‘Well, we don’t want that in our state,'” she said. “And also the fact that a lot of states are facing budget problems and these measures aren’t free.”
John Skrentny writes on winning strategies for immigration reform in a political climate of distrust.
Immigration reform: From distrust to direction
BY JOHN D. SKRENTNY MAY 16, 2011
What accounts for this distrust? The answer is obvious: the federal government’s long-term record is one of highly visible failure.
The lowlight was the bipartisan Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986. That law promised to seal the Mexican border, clamp down on employers who hire illegal immigrants, and legalize nearly three million then in the country. For many, this grand bargain became a tragic broken promise, making a mockery of rule of law and cheapening American citizenship. The number of illegal immigrants soared. New industries, notably meatpacking, restaurants and landscaping, joined agriculture in becoming heavily reliant on illegal immigrant labor. Yet the public image of “immigration” is often not of hard-working people tolerating bleak working conditions and low pay, but of news reports showing grainy footage of Mexicans streaming across the border.
Even Obama’s record-setting deportations and unprecedented crackdown on employers have done little to convince restriction-minded voters and lawmakers that the border is or even can be controlled. In this climate, even the targeted legalization bill known as the DREAM Act, which would benefit law-abiding young people who grew up in America and attended college or served in the military, has repeatedly failed.
On Tuesday, Obama hinted—but did not emphasize – something new: change coming from conservative business leaders (he even quoted Rupert Murdoch) and conservative Christian groups as forces for immigration reform.
Why rely on conservative groups? Reformers can learn from the stunning legalization bill passed in March in the deeply red state of Utah. Business and Christian groups in that state re-branded immigration reform as conservative and persuaded the Republican legislature to pass a bill to turn Utah’s illegal aliens into temporary, legal guest workers.
It happened after leaders in the Salt Lake City Chamber of Commerce witnessed convention business fleeing the restrictionist climate in Arizona for Utah. They saw an immigrant-friendly Utah as good for business. The conservative Mormon church joined the cause because its leaders believed that religious and moral teachings dictated welcoming strangers from foreign lands. Their “Utah Compact” pledged support for business- and family-friendly immigration policies guided by a “spirit of inclusion.”
Utah’s story shows reform is possible when change is led not by government or established immigration reform leaders, but by conservative religious groups with moral clout and business leaders with political and economic power.
The other lesson of the Utah story may be harder for reformers to accept: give up on citizenship as a goal. Unlike his July, 2010 speech, when Obama called for illegal immigrants to “earn their citizenship,” on Tuesday he only said they must “get in line for legalization.” This would be smart political strategy for results-oriented reformers.
The legislators in Utah could not offer U.S. citizenship, but national reformers can learn from Utah’s strategy of providing work visas. For years, reformers sought citizenship for the great majority of millions of illegal immigrants, failing under both Republican and Democratic presidents and Congresses. The DREAM Act’s narrowly-targeted pathway to citizenship has similarly failed. Since 1986, many voters strongly resist the full rights of American membership for people they perceive as lawbreakers. Reformers in Washington can follow Utah by providing people without papers with a work- or family-related visa.
Arguably, this is simply kicking the can down the road if these visas are made temporary. But as Obama said on Tuesday, most immigrants come to the U.S. to find work. This lesser prize protects workers from exploitation and American wages. Most importantly, it may break the congressional logjam, making other badly needed immigration reform – such as allowing more foreign talent, streamlining the visa process, reforming temporary visas for tech and agricultural workers—finally possible.
John D. Skrentny is Director of the Center for Comparative Immigration Studies and professor of sociology at the University of California, San Diego and a contributor to Reaching for a New Deal: Ambitious Governance, Economic Meltdown, and Polarized Politics in Obama’s First Two Years.
Congressional Republicans want more fencing, sensors, agents and drones to keep out all illegal migrants.
Congressional Republicans want more fencing, sensors, agents and drones to keep out all illegal migrants.
BY BRIAN BENNETT MARCH 30, 2011
Reporting from Washington — Congressional Republicans are drafting legislation that would require the federal government to develop a plan to add more fencing, sensors, agents and even drones to stop every illegal entry into the United States.
The legislative effort offers another example of how a more conservative Congress has steered the immigration debate away from the Obama admini-
stration’s two-pronged push for reforms and improved
border security, and toward strict enforcement
of immigration laws.
In December, a lame-duck House controlled by Democrats passed the Dream Act, a reform that would have created a path to citizenship for some young illegal immigrants in the U.S., but it was narrowly defeated in the Senate.
The Democrats’ Senate majority means the latest legislation is unlikely to pass, but the goal may be more political. By continuing to spearhead such measures, Republicans, who feel they are in agreement with most voters, hope to force Democrats to take a position on immigration issues in advance of the 2012 campaign.
The debate’s change in tone also comes as census data show that Latinos comprise the fastest-growing block of voters, potentially a complicating factor for Republican strategists. The number of Latino voters is increasing most in states that in 2010 gained congressional seats and Electoral College votes, according to a study released in January by the Pew Hispanic Center.
Immigration skirmishes seem to excite the Republican base, said Wayne Cornelius, a professor emeritus at UC San Diego who has spent more than 40 years studying cross-border migration.
“In the short-term, they calculate they can gain more votes with these hard-liner proposals,” he said, but some may have qualms about alienating Latinos.
A Republican strategist acknowledged there was debate within the party about how to handle immigration enforcement without driving away Latino voters who might otherwise agree with the fiscal conservative aspects of the party platform. Republican activists have said they think some Latino voters support the GOP position on immigration.
But many Republicans want a modernized immigration system that is consistent with the values of an immigrant nation, and those party members who speak loudly against reforms are a “vocal minority,” said the strategist, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the debate.
The U.S. has spent more than $4.5 billion to improve border security in the nine years since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, and critics argue that stopping every illegal crossing is an impractical goal.
“It is all just symbolic showmanship. It will never get through the Senate. It may have short-term electoral utility but will not result in any real legislation,” Cornelius said.
But Rep. Candice S. Miller, a Michigan Republican who wrote the Secure Border Act of 2011, said in an interview that “Congress needs to reflect the political will of the majority of the American people, which is to secure our borders.”
The Republican effort to push the Homeland Security Department to take a tougher stance on immigration enforcement follows a request last year by all seven Republican senators on the Judiciary Committee that asked the department to determine how much money it needed to deport every illegal immigrant the government encountered.
The Homeland Security Department has not estimated the cost, but a 2005 report by the Center for American Progress concluded it would require $206 billion over five years to deport the estimated 11 million people living in the country illegally.
The Obama administration has, in practice, largely supported the argument that border security is the first priority, Cornelius said. “It is really a red herring. We will never have the border secure enough…. Making immigration reform hostage to border security is a recipe for policy paralysis.”
Miller’s proposed legislation would require the Homeland Security Department to give Congress a five-year plan to bring unlawful entries and smuggling down to nearly zero, and let Congress decide whether to fund it. House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Peter T. King (R-N.Y.) and 10 other Republicans have agreed to co-sponsor the bill, which could be introduced as early as Thursday.
The proposal may come with such a hefty price tag that it’s unrealistic to carry out. But Republicans say cost should not be the Border Patrol’s concern. “They need to be very candid with us and tell us what they need,” Miller said. “We’re the ones passing the budgets and we have to decide amongst ourselves.”
Customs and Border Protection developed a strategic plan for securing the border by 2014, but some lawmakers say it doesn’t go far enough. The Border Patrol reported to the Government Accountability Office that by October 2010 it had control of 873 miles of the nearly 2,000 miles of the Southwest border, or 44%.
Asking the Homeland Security Department how it can stop all illegal entries is “asking the wrong question,” said Doris Meissner, former head of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, because law enforcement cannot change the underlying forces — jobs and the illegal drug market — that draw migrants and smugglers to the U.S.
“Members of Congress may want to pour concrete from sea to shining sea,” Cornelius said, “but it is simply not realistic.”
CCIS associate director David FitzGerald and director emeritus Wayne Cornelius were quoted recently in a KPBS radio story about undocumented immigrants crossing by sea.
BY AMY ISACKSON MARCH 21, 2011
People caught crossing into the U.S. illegally by sea face tougher penalties. Officials hope it helps prevent migrants from dying.
Smuggling people and marijuana from Mexico to San Diego by sea has become a new trend in the western-most corner of the border. Authorities caught twice as many boats last year compared to the previous one. There’s no way to know how many more vessels slipped through.
Now, U.S. Border Patrol officials say they’ll deport anyone caught entering illegally by sea. Deportation means violators could be charged with a felony and prison time if they’re caught again.
Steve Pitts, a Border Patrol spokesman, said they hope the stiffer penalty deters migrants.
“The chances for those boats capsizing out there is extremely high. And we’re trying to prevent death, so we’re trying to deter people,” said Pitts.
Two migrants drowned in San Diego last year. U.S. and Mexican civil-rights groups and researchers estimate more than 6,000 people have died crossing over land in the last 15 years.
Border researchers Wayne Cornelius and David Fitzgerald at the University of California-San Diego, who interviewed thousands of would-be migrants in Mexico, found that knowing someone who died crossing the border does not dissuade people from trying themselves. The researchers also discovered that tougher border enforcement does little to deter migrants.
The defeat in the Senate last Saturday of the Dream Act, which would have granted conditional legal status to qualifying undocumented college students, graduates and military hopefuls who arrived here before age 16, was just the most recent action on a proposal that has been circulating for nearly a decade. And each time it has come up for a vote, UC San Diego’s Wayne Cornelius has followed it, as he has every other federal immigration proposal that has come and gone since then.
Cornelius is one of the nation’s leading scholars on immigration and U.S.-Mexico border issues, a political scientist and director emeritus of UCSD’s Center for Comparative Immigration Studies. He is now associate director of the university’s Center of Expertise on Migration and Health.
After years of observing the politics of immigration, Cornelius has his own take on why the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act failed this time around, in spite of unprecedented student activism and a streamlining of the bill that allowed it to clear the House. He shares his opinion on the Obama administration’s strategy of pushing tough enforcement as a means to win support for broader immigration reform, a strategy he believes is doomed to fail.
BY ED YONG NOVEMBER 22, 2010
Meet Khadija Diouf. She is 24 years old, she’s single, she lives in France and she has spent the last three years working in secretarial and accounting jobs. Her surname tells us that she’s descended from Senegalese immigrants, and her first name strongly suggests that she’s Muslim. Hundreds of employers across France will have seen Khadija’s name and none of them would have known the most important thing about her: she doesn’t exist.
Khadija is one of three fake women invented by Claire Adida from the University of California, San Diego. They are all part of a clever experiment that reveals how the French job market is rife with discrimination against Muslims. Adida found that in at least two sectors, a Muslim candidate is around 2.5 times less likely to get a job interview than a Christian one, with all else being equal. These results were backed up by a large survey, which showed that among second-generation Senegalese immigrants, Muslim households earn far less than Christian equivalents.
To some, this won’t come as a surprise, for modern Europe doesn’t exactly seem like a welcome place to be a Muslim. In France, the Senate voted almost unanimously to ban women from wearing Islamic face-veils in public, a move that drew widespread support from other countries. Swiss voters approved a constitutional amendment to ban the construction of new minarets on mosques. In the UK, ridiculous headlines in so-called newspapers regularly portray Muslims as an identically-minded group, out to distort ‘traditional’ values, kill people and generally cause trouble. Negative opinions are growing everywhere.
These examples of religious discrimination are obvious and blatant, but others – such as prejudice in the workplace – are harder to uncover. Adida did it by focusing on France’s Senegalese community, which includes a mix of both Muslims and Christians. To see how they would compare on the job market, Adida created three imaginary CVs. All were single, 24-year-old women, with two years of higher education and three years of experience in secretarial or accounting jobs. Only their names, and small details about past employers, differed.
Khadija Diouf had a well-known Muslim first name and an obvious Senegalese surname and had worked with Secours Islamique, a humanitarian organisation. Marie Diouf had worked for its counterpart Secours Catholique and had an obvious Christian first name. And Aurélie Ménard had a typical French name with no religious connotations and had only worked for secular firms.
In the spring of 2009, Adida collected ads for secretarial and accounting jobs from the French national employment agency and grouped them into pairs, matched for area, sector, company size and position. For each pair, both received Aurélie’s CV while one received Khadija’s and one received Marie’s.
The results were striking. Marie Diouf got a positive response on 21% of her applications; she was clearly an employable (if fictional) young woman. But Khadija Diouf – her exact equal in virtually every respect – got callbacks from just 8% of her applications. For every 100 interviews that Marie was called for, Khadija was summoned for just 38. Even after Adida included a photo on the applications (the same one, showing a woman who was clearly not North African), she found the same bias.
It was impossible to send both Marie and Khadija’s CVs (which were virtually identical) to the same recruiter, given that they were identical except for a few names. Alarm bells would have rung. Nonetheless, it’s clear that Adida matched pairs of recruiters as well as possible, given that Aurélie’s odds of getting interviews were the same no matter which employer read her CV.
Adida essentially did the closest possible thing to a randomised trial (the gold standard in medicine), by assigning identical ‘people’ to be either Christian or Muslim and seeing how they fare. In her own words, “This experiment thus provides a clear indication that in at least one sector of the French labor market… there is significant religious discrimination.”
The strength of Adida’s experiment lies in isolating the effects of religion from the package of cultural traits that accompany it. That’s far from easy. In European countries, Muslim immigrants tend to come from the same place. In the UK, they largely hail from South Asia. In France, they mostly come from northern Africa.
If Muslims in these countries suffer socially and economically, religious discrimination is just one possible explanation. Others include racial or geographical discrimination (north Africa, for example, has a history of conflict against French imperialism), or differences in education, language or culture in one’s home country. An experiment that tries to look at religious discrimination needs to somehow hold all of those other factors equal. That’s exactly what Adida managed to do.
She also found that the discrimination that her fake applicants faced can directly affect the lives of real Muslims. She relied on a survey done in 2009 by David Laitin, looking at issues of integration among 511 second-generation Senegalese Muslims. Notably, the survey only looked at two ethnic groups – the Joolas and Serers – who have Christian and Muslim members in equal measure. Both groups arrived in France in the 1970s, so neither enjoyed an economic headstart, although the Christians were slightly better educated.
The survey’s data revealed that the Muslim households were significantly poorer than their Christian counterparts, even after adjusting for their initial educational advantage. They’re more likely to fall into poorer income groups and they make around 400 Euros less per month, around 15% of the average monthly salary in France.
If anything, this just scratches the surface of anti-Muslim discrimination in France. There is a common view in France that Senegalese Muslims aren’t “real” Muslims because they have know little Arabic and because they socialise with Africans of all religions. The level of discrimination faced by groups that are more clearly linked with Islam might be even greater. The big question now is why, and it’s something that Adida plans to explore in future studies, using interviews, psychological games and more.
For the moment, her current study stands as a rare treat among research into discrimination. Some research goes on in the lab and benefits from careful experiments, but it’s unclear if their results apply in the real world, with all its complexities and vagaries. On the other hand, real-world experiments often struggle to isolate a single factor like religion, from the many others than entangle it. Adida’s work – inspired by a classic experiment on racial discrimination in America – combines both approaches: a careful, real-world experiment that does its best to unveil the effect of religion, with all else being equal.
BY CHRIS COLLINS NOVEMBER 18, 2010
Vanessa, an illegal immigrant, has harvested fruit in Kerman, Huron and Madera for four years. Until this summer, she had never seen a white face in the fields.
Then one day, four teenagers showed up at a cherry orchard. They didn’t speak Spanish, and they didn’t seem to know what they were doing.
“Everybody was surprised to see them there,” Vanessa said.
It didn’t go so well for the newcomers. Within an hour, all four had quit.
At the heart of the debate over illegal immigration is a question that burns as hot as the afternoon sun hovering over the Central Valley: Are illegal immigrants doing the work that no one else wants, or are they stealing jobs from Americans and dragging down their wages?
To some extent, both are true.
As Vanessa’s story shows, some jobs might go unfilled — even in tough times — without illegal immigrants.
But there are drawbacks. Illegal immigrants push down wages for legal workers in food-processing, factory and service jobs, economists say. Because illegal immigrants will work for almost any wage, employers have little reason to pay other workers more. Sometimes jobs that low-skilled Americans would be willing to do, such as washing dishes and cleaning bathrooms, are instead taken by illegal immigrants.
Illegal immigrants help the nation’s private-sector economy by providing cheap labor — something that is especially critical for the Central Valley. But their competition with low-skilled American workers and their strain on local government budgets cancel out that boost for that nation’s overall economy, some economists say.
In the end, illegal immigration in the Valley means businesses are big winners while many blue-collar workers lose out.
Farmworker groups have tried to prove that we need illegal immigrants. In 2006, as Congress was considering immigration reform, immigrant workers around the country either stayed home or joined protests for the May 1 “Day Without Immigrants” economic boycott.
In the central San Joaquin Valley, the United Farm Workers of America estimated that tens of thousands of field workers didn’t show up for work. Restaurants, landscape contractors, food manufacturers and growers all struggled to make it through the day with skeleton crews.
With immigration reform again on Congress’ agenda, the UFW has tried to bring attention to the role of illegal immigrants, which it says account for half a million farmworkers. It launched a campaign in June called TakeOurJobs.org that invited anyone to sign up online for a farming job.
The campaign was mostly meant to grab headlines — and it did. UFW President Arturo S. Rodriguez was invited to appear on Comedy Central’s “The Colbert Report” to talk about the campaign.
“Americans do not work in the field because it’s very difficult work, requires a lot of expertise and the conditions are horrid,” he told host Stephen Colbert.
More than 10,000 people registered on the website; only 11 people actually went out to work in the fields — including Colbert.
Economists say illegal immigrants play a key role in the nation’s economy: Their willingness to work for low wages helps keep American businesses competitive and lowers the cost of goods and services.
But their economic benefit is very small. One researcher estimated that it represents only the slightest fraction of the country’s gross domestic product — 3 cents for every $100 the economy generates. That means that most businesses are only marginally more efficient thanks to illegal immigrants, although some businesses that rely heavily on them — including those in agriculture — benefit greatly.
Illegal immigrants also offer another advantage: They are much more mobile than legal immigrants, who often have more family ties or are required by law to work for the employer who sponsored their visas. They follow the booms and busts in the construction industry and are “much more responsive to changes in the economy,” said Michael Fix, senior vice president of the Migration Policy Institute, a nonpartisan think tank in Washington, D.C.
From 2002 to 2006, the number of illegal immigrants living in the country increased each year by about 500,000 during the economic boom, climbing from 9.3 million to 11.6 million; but from 2007 to 2009, during the height of the recession, the total decreased by more than 1.5 million. During the 1990s, the illegal immigrant population grew the most in the mountain states and Southeast — places where job growth was strongest.
The role of illegal immigrants has become even more critical because Americans are, on average, much more educated now than half a century ago. The economy needs immigrants to fill the low-skill jobs, some economists say.
In an ideal world, the United States would let in enough foreign workers to do the jobs unwanted by most U.S.-born workers, said Gordon Hanson, an economics professor at the University of California at San Diego, who grew up in Fresno.
But America’s restrictive immigration system doesn’t allow that. So illegal immigrants fill in the gaps by being the first to enter the country when there are jobs and the first to leave when jobs dry up.
Many economists say illegal immigrants have hurt the wages of low-skilled U.S.-born workers. One economist, Harvard University’s George Borjas, concluded that wages fall by 3% to 4% for every 10% increase in the number of workers in a particular skill group.
In other words, more competition for jobs means lower pay. He found that the average wage of U.S.-born high-school dropouts decreased by 5% to 8% from 1980 to 2000 because of competition with immigrants.
This trend has been especially true in industries that have increasingly employed illegal immigrants. Since 1980, for example, the average wage for meatpackers has dropped 45%, adjusted for inflation, according to government data.
The Center for Immigration Studies found that one company had to raise its pay after being forced to fire illegal workers. In 2006, federal immigration agents arrested 1,300 employees at six meat-processing plants owned by Swift & Co., where an estimated 23% of the workers were illegal immigrants. After the raids, the company advertised heavily for new workers and paid employees bonuses if they recruited others.
Within five months, the plants were running at full capacity again — a sign that the company could operate without illegal immigrants, according to the report. Meanwhile, wages increased slightly at two of the plants and four offered signing bonuses.
Some experts say employers pay illegal immigrants less than other workers because they are less willing to demand a raise or draw attention to their legal status — and that drives down the wages for all workers. Researcher Anita Alves Pena, an economics professor at Colorado State University, found in a study earlier this year that illegal immigrant farmworkers earn 5% to 6% less in hourly wages than legal immigrant workers.
Gerardo Gomez, who crossed the border with his future wife in 1989 and now lives in Madera, spent years working in the fields because other employers wouldn’t hire him without a real Social Security card and green card.
“If there was a job, I was willing to do it — it didn’t matter what,” Gomez said. “But the jobs that paid more money required documents. Just to clean and work in the hospital required documents.”
Finally, in 1994, he got a job working for a small construction company that built fireplaces. His boss paid him about $7 an hour while the other workers — all of them legal immigrants or U.S.-born — were paid $10 an hour. When Gomez asked for a raise, his boss said, “OK, but first bring me your papers.” Gomez knew he couldn’t complain.
Not all economists agree that illegal immigrants hurt American workers. Giovanni Peri, an economics professor at the University of California at Davis, contends that when the economy is growing, the employment of low-skilled immigrants creates jobs that are typically filled by U.S.-born workers. A construction company that hires five new roofers may promote one of its U.S.-born workers to supervisor — a job that requires English proficiency — or hire a U.S.-born clerical worker.
Peri noted, however, that the recession has made it more difficult for U.S.-born workers to compete with illegal immigrants for jobs.
Some American workers are fighting back.
A class-action lawsuit against the SK Foods tomato-processing plant in Lemoore claims the company knowingly hired hundreds of illegal immigrants over several years to save millions of dollars a year in labor costs. The Chicago attorney who filed the lawsuit, Howard Foster, estimated that the so-called “illegal immigrant hiring scheme” depressed the wages of other workers by at least 15% and made it easier for the company to get away with “deplorable working conditions” because illegal immigrants were less willing to complain for fear of losing their jobs.
Foster has filed similar lawsuits across the country in the past decade with some success — and said he will likely file many more.
“Workers call me and e-mail me almost every day asking, ‘Can you help me? Can you represent me?’ ” Foster said, noting that many of the calls are from the Central Valley, where he said the food-processing industry is “rife with illegal workers.”
The lawsuit says SK Foods’ management knew it was hiring illegal workers because many couldn’t speak English, presented documents that were obviously fake or had previously been hired by the company under a different name. Company CEO Scott Salyer denies that illegal immigrants were hired, according to his attorney.
So what would happen if there were no illegal immigrants? Because the central San Joaquin Valley is heavily dependent on them, a mass deportation would certainly hit the agriculture industry hard, at least in the short term. But it would also be easier for other less-educated, U.S.-born workers and legal immigrants to find jobs, and their wages could improve.
“The truth be told, if we were to eliminate illegal immigration over the next five years, the impact on the economy wouldn’t be that large,” Hanson said. “But it would hit parts of the country very hard, particularly Fresno. The farmers would have to change what they do and some would go out of business or would have to move toward much less-labor intensive crops.”
Some economists say employers need to do just that: change. They say farmers have become addicted to cheap labor rather than shift to less labor-intensive crops and invest in technology that would reduce the need for fieldworkers.
In the 1970s, after the end of the Bracero program that brought in thousands of seasonal Mexican workers, farmers were forced to grow tomatoes with thicker skins that could be harvested with machines, reducing labor costs. Soon they were picking twice as many tomatoes with half as many workers, Camarota said.
Philip Martin, an immigration and farm labor expert at the University of California at Davis, offered another example: Farmers in the Central Valley used to always be “screaming about a labor shortage” needed for the raisin grape harvest. Now a method called dried-on-the-vine harvesting allows them to use fewer workers.
Without illegal immigrants, similar changes would have to happen — although they would inevitably have some consequences.
“Would some farmers go out of business? Yeah, but we would see a restructuring of that industry,” Camarota said.
Some economists also say that if farmers paid better wages, more U.S.-born workers would be willing to work in agriculture.
Experts also say the cost of food would rise only slightly if wages increased. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates, for example, that the wages for production workers account for only 7% of retail beef prices and 9% of pork prices.
“Illegal immigration is not necessary for the functioning of a modern economy,” said Mark Krikorian, director of the Center for Immigration Studies. “But certain industries have gotten accustomed to it, and they benefit from it.”
Not everyone agrees increasing wages would work. Manuel Cunha, president of the Fresno-based Nisei Farmers League, an association of agriculture businesses in the Western U.S., said farmers would have to dramatically increase wages to convince U.S.-born workers to take a job in the fields — and even if they did, many would probably work just long enough to make a little money and then quit.
Cunha said that raising wages would hurt growers, whose No. 1 cost is labor. Grocery chains would turn to foreign countries to buy cheaper food, he said.
Besides, he said, most workers born here are unwilling to work mind-numbing food-processing jobs or do back-breaking fieldwork — no matter what they’re paid. According to government data, 98% of farmworkers in California are immigrants.
Some experts say there’s also a cultural stigma to working in the fields that would be difficult to overcome if farmers had to depend on U.S.-born workers.
“They’re doing a lot of jobs other people simply won’t do,” said John Hernandez, executive director of Central California Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. “I’m not going to go in there and slaughter a cow.”
Alfred de la Cerda, a pastor in Orosi, said that when his U.S.-born son was 18 and waffling on whether to go to college, he suggested his son try fieldwork. Every day, the teenager came home exhausted. After two weeks, he quit the job and enrolled in Reedley College instead.
Said de la Cerda: “The truth is, no one born here will go out in the fields.”