Anyone who wants to hear and see the truth about the need for immigrant workers should read CNN’s special report, “Beyond the border: Tracking America’s hidden workforce.”
Interviews with religious leaders and owners of farms and food processing plants in places like Iowa and Minnesota attest to the value of undocumented workers who do the jobs American-born people won’t do. Not only are they eager to do the hard work required, they also pay taxes and contribute to local economies. Many small towns, they said, would die without them.
I didn’t have to see the report to know this. My experience working with immigrants started when I was a job placement specialist in Wisconsin Rapids.
Several job programs operated out of my office. One was for workers who’d lost their jobs when three factories in the area went out of business. All of the applicants I interviewed for that program were middle-aged, white, male Americans who’d been making excellent wages before the businesses closed. Working with local employers, I found many openings, but none of the dislocated workers accepted one because the wages were less than they’d made before. So I looked outside the area and found jobs that paid more, but they’d didn’t want to move.
Another program I implemented was for unemployed, low-income people, including several members of the Hmong community. The Hmong people, from Southeast Asia, came here with the blessing of the U.S. government after they helped our armed forces and the CIA during the Vietnam War. They had identified members of the Viet Cong, fought alongside our troops and saved American lives. When our military left, they had to leave, too, or be killed by other Vietnamese.
They happily accepted every job I found for them. Their employers often called me to thank me for sending them because they said they’d never seen people work as hard and as long as those immigrants did.
I saw that firsthand when I took a summer job at a canning company while looking for a permanent job. I was amazed to see, in that small, rural Wisconsin town, that almost all of the workers were Mexican migrants. I even asked the manager why there weren’t more Americans there. He said, “Because they don’t apply.” Apparently, college students were happy to take lower-paying, easier jobs in Wisconsin Dells so they could have fun and get a tan at the same time.
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The canning operation was extremely hot, and the ancient, dark stone walls and floors reminded me of a Dickens novel. Huge pressure-cookers filled the rooms and emitted steam all day. Yet the immigrants rarely took breaks and worked without complaint. They were very helpful to me and, even though they didn’t do the same, urged me to take breaks to cool off.
My next experience was a few years later, when I was hired to manage a garden center at a landscaping business. Since the construction of the garden center wasn’t done when I started working, the owner asked me to go out with the landscapers and oversee their work until the construction was complete.
I soon learned that the landscapers, a young Polish couple and one older Mexican immigrant who couldn’t speak English, didn’t need anyone to oversee them. Like the canning factory workers, they never stopped working except to eat a quick lunch. All day, under the hot sun, the couple carried and spread mulch and the Mexican man, who was only about 5-foot-6, carried trees and their huge root balls, most of them bigger than he was, from the truck to the planting holes he’d dug for them. As all of the farmers and other employers interviewed for the CNN special report confirmed, I observed that very few Americans will do the hot, hard, dirty work jobs like that require.
An acquaintance who operates greenhouses in several states years ago confirmed the same conclusions of the CNN report and what I’d experienced. He said every time he hired an American, they quit within a day or two because they said the work was too hard. He said he wouldn’t hire anyone but an immigrant because they were the only ones who stayed and were dependable.
Not only do immigrants help employers, they add billions to the economy. A Feb. 16, 2017, ABC News article, “Without immigrants, the U.S. economy would be a ‘disaster,’” quotes several economists who verify how much they add — in dollar terms — to our economy.
It quickly would be obvious to the rest of us if they all went on strike for a month. If they did, you can bet there’d be an immediate, bipartisan law passed that makes it easier and cheaper for them to become citizens.