Migrant labor is an issue that receives increasing attention. It has become an increasingly important issue as various factors, including rapid population expansion and higher rates of urbanization, drive many people to seek better economic opportunities in other countries.
The International Labor Organization estimates that there are currently approximately 96 million migrant workers and their dependents in the world. Some experts predict that the number will double in the next twenty years.
In the United States, there are 6.3 million illegal workers in the United States, according to estimates by the Pew Hispanic Center. About half of them are from Mexico. These illegal Mexican immigrants are at the center of an ongoing debate about how the United States should handle illegal immigration.
A common belief is that Mexicans emigrate to the United States to find work. But according to a study carried out by the center, the lack of employment in Mexico is not one of the main reasons why immigrants arrive illegally in the United States. Rather, immigrants are expelled from their home country due to low wages in Mexico, poor quality of work, and a lack of long-term prospects and opportunities.
The study results were based on interviews with 4,836 men and women who applied for Mexican identification cards at the consulates in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas, Fresno, Atlanta, and Raleigh, North Carolina.
The study found that only 5% of Mexican immigrants who have been in the United States for less than two years were unemployed in Mexico. In fact, the vast majority of the undocumented immigrants interviewed were in paid employment before leaving for the United States.
The study also found that immigrants have little trouble finding work in the United States, despite the lack of legal rights to work. After six months in the United States, only 5% of immigrants reported being unemployed. This statistic reveals how important these immigrant workers are to the US economy, because they perform jobs that few others are willing to do.
And they do it for low wages. Immigrants generally earn poverty wages in the United States, or about $ 300 per week. Although surprisingly low, these wages are twice what workers in Mexico earn.
According to the Pew Hispanic Center study, Mexican immigrants provide many types of labor needed across the country, including construction in Atlanta, Dallas and Raleigh; hospitality in New York; manufacturing in Chicago; and agriculture in California. These four industries employed around two-thirds of the respondents.
Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies in Washington DC, says it is not news that there is a demand for low-wage labor in the United States. But instead of setting up guest worker or amnesty programs for illegal immigrants, Krikorian advocated gradually pulling immigrant workers out of the economy. In his view, this, among other things, would improve the wages of American workers.
Despite a seemingly steady stream of immigrant workers, California farms and other businesses are having a hard time finding enough people willing to work for low wages. Many immigrants are choosing to work in the riskier but higher paying construction industry. And the government and civilian border patrol groups like the Minutemen are stepping up their efforts to secure the U.S.-Mexico border, making it harder for immigrants to enter.
Government officials, including the president, want to enact new legislation that will enforce immigration laws more strongly.
In January 2004, President Bush outlined a plan to renew the country’s immigration laws and allow some eight million illegal immigrants to obtain legal status as temporary workers, saying the United States needs an immigration system “that serves the economy. and reflects the American dream. “
Illegal immigrants already in the United States can apply for the temporary worker program only if they already have a job. The special status would last for three years and could be renewed once, for a total stay of six years. If temporary workers did not stay employed or violated the law, they would be sent home.
Bush said the new legal status would allow illegal immigrants to travel back to their home countries without fear of not being allowed to return to the United States.
The reason for the reform, Bush said, is to confront “a basic fact of life and the economy: some of the jobs that are created in the growing economy of the United States are jobs that American citizens are not filling.”
Currently, about 140,000 “green cards” are issued each year to people who want to migrate to the United States. Bush has asked Congress to increase it, but gave a specific number.
Bush described the immigration proposals as a national security measure that will help the United States exercise more control over the borders. “Our homeland will be more secure when we can better account for those who enter our country,” he said. “Instead of the current situation, in which millions of people are unknown … law enforcement agencies will face few problems with undocumented workers and will be better able to focus on the real threats to our nation from criminals and terrorists.”
The US Department of Homeland Security, in coordination with the Department of Labor and other agencies, would administer the new program.
When Bush announced his ideas in early 2004, some Democratic party leaders expressed suspicions that he was trying to increase his popularity with the Latino contingent as the 2004 campaign began. Senator Kennedy said, “I certainly hope that the long-awaited reintegration of the administration into this pivotal debate is genuine and not because of the election year conversion. The immigration status quo is outdated, unfair and unacceptable.”
Many senators also have ideas about how to reform immigration law. Republican Senators John Cornyn of Texas and Jon Kyl of Arizona propose a program that would allow immigrants to work in the United States for two years, followed by a year off. This pattern could be repeated a total of three times before the worker had to return to their home country permanently.
Senators John McCain, R-Ariz., And Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., Support legislation that would allow illegal immigrants to work in the United States for up to six years without obtaining any permits or paperwork. After six years, workers would have to be in the process of obtaining legal residency or returning to their country of origin.
And Nebraska Republican Senator Chuck Hagel proposed granting legal status to illegal immigrant workers if they pass criminal background checks, have lived in the United States for at least five years, pay taxes, have a working knowledge of the English language, and pay a fee of $ 2,000. Before this program is implemented, Hagel wants border security to be strengthened.
But efforts to stem the tide of migrant workers entering the United States appear to have stalled. Many farmers do not want to change the system that provides them with much needed labor. And conservative anti-immigrant groups like the vigilante group Minutemen are critically opposed to reform that would somehow encourage immigration.
“Guest worker programs have no value,” says Minutemen President Chris Simcox. “We can’t even talk about it until there is a real government enforcement at the border.” The Minutemen is an organization of fully voluntary citizens who oppose illegal immigration. Members patrol the US-Mexico border looking for illegal immigrants trying to cross.
“This is a direct challenge to President Bush,” Simcox has said. “You have continued to ignore this problem. Our state officials, senators and congressmen will do nothing. So this is one last effort to roll up our sleeves and do it ourselves.”
The Minutemen and others believe that illegal immigrants are bad for America, an economic drain and a threat to security. Immigrants often require assistance from government and social service agencies, but due to their non-legal status, they often do not pay the taxes that fund these programs. Groups like the Minutemen claim that immigrants are a threat to national security.
Many businesses and industries are also opposing the new immigration legislation, fearing it could further reduce the pool of available workers they need. Tamar Jacoby, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, says that most Americans are unwilling to do forced or agricultural labor. Immigrants are willing and cheap, so their presence is a matter of economic importance.
Those in favor of new immigration legislation can get away with it. A 2004 poll by National Public Radio, the Kaiser Family Foundation, and the Harvard Kennedy School of Government found that Americans are less negative about immigration than they have been in several years. However, nonimmigrant Americans surveyed felt that the government has not been tough enough on immigration. They would like the government to spend more to narrow the borders.
According to http://www.census.gov, Florida has between 243,000 and 385,000 undocumented immigrants. But the numbers are likely even higher, because experts say illegal immigrants often avoid government polls. The 2002 census survey included both legal and illegal immigrants.
In the Tampa Bay area, Pinellas and Hillsborough counties have seen foreign-born populations grow faster than the general population. Of the more than one million residents of Hillsborough, 13% are foreign born. Census data shows that Hillsborough’s foreign-born population grew more than 80% during the 1990s, four times the growth rate of the general population.
In Pinellas, the proportion of foreign-born residents topped 10% for the first time in 2002, according to the Census Bureau. The foreign-born population grew by 45% during the 1990s, almost six times the growth rate of the general population.