Illegal immigration past and present: Valley economic impact
Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio continues to raid Valley businesses for undocumented workers. One undocumented raid migrant finds new light in the seemingly adverse aftermath.
By Christina Silvestri
PHOENIX - Arizona businesses cannot escape reverberations from the contentious issue of illegal immigration from Mexico.
According to U.S. Census data, Arizona's immigrant population is about 1,321,000 with illegal immigrants accounting for almost 38 percent. The University of Arizona's Udall Center says immigrants make up 14 percent of the state's workforce.
The majority of immigrants migrate for economic reasons looking for work. The incentive to cross the border illegally under dangerous conditions is due in part to the willingness of U.S. employers to hire.
Since many U.S. employers benefit from the supply of cheap labor, some employers are not vigilant about inquiring the legal status of their workers. In consequence, immigration sweeps, or raids, lead by Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, are conducted on businesses to seek out undocumented workers. Arpaio has conducted 19 immigration sweeps to date since 2008.
Employers are responsible to verify that new hires are legally authorized to work through the use of an eligibility form called an I-9. State law also requires federal agencies, contractors and private-sector businesses to use E-Verify, a free internet-based program that compares and verifies I-9 information to government records. In a matter of seconds, employers can check a new hire's immigration status with the program. If E-Verify cannot immediately authenticate that a new hire is eligible to work in the United States, the new hire has eight business days to dispute the finding and appeal with federal officials.
In July, Arpaio's deputies served search warrants on two Sizzler steakhouses in Phoenix suspected of employing illegal immigrants. Deputies arrested 23 Sizzler employees for identity theft. Sometimes, undocumented workers make up a fictitious name and Social Security number so they can apply for a job and work in the U.S.
The arrests followed a yearlong investigation into a tip from a former manager who claimed he was fired by the restaurant for being unwilling to hire employees without proper identification.
Of the 23 suspects charged with identity theft, a few have obtained their legal statuses after the raid and have been re-employed by Sizzler. One Sizzler employee, Octavio Díaz, was one of the 23 suspects working at the 5060 W. Indian School Road location. Díaz said he was detained for three weeks at Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Despite the arrests, Sizzler owner Wayne McDaniel said he bvv was sure that workers were legal.
"Every new employee hire goes through E-verify," he said.
Although E-Verify is noted to confirm employment eligibility more than 96 percent of the time, fraudulent documents of false identities are more difficult for both employers and the safeguard system to detect.
When Díaz presented his case before a federal immigration judge, he was granted a work permit since he had no criminal history and had children who are U.S. citizens. Díaz now works legally at Sizzler with a work permit, or Employment Authorization Document. Issued by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, a work permit grants the legal right of an immigrant to work in the United States for a certain period of time.
Arpaio's immigration sweeps date back to March 22, 2008 when the first sweep was conducted around 32nd Street and Thomas Road in Phoenix.
The sweeps, or raids, typically begin with tips to Arpaio's immigration-enforcement hotline. During the sweeps, deputies flood an area of the city to seek out traffic and business violators. Most raids are conducted in heavily Latino areas.
Despite critics' protests that Arpaio's deputies have racially profiled Hispanics during the sweeps, Arpaio claims deputies only approach people when they have probable cause to believe they have committed crimes.
More recently, Maricopa County deputies made 26 identity-theft arrests at three Pei Wei Asian Diner locations in March.
The manager at the 7th Street and Glendale Avenue location declined to comment.
"To the extent that any employee has gained employment with us using a false identity, we will take appropriate action," said in a statement released by P.F. Chang's China Bistro Inc., the company said it is cooperating with investigators. "While we have rigorous pre-employment and hiring practices and are committed to using the best tools available, it is unfortunate that some individuals may gain employment through the use of false identities," the statement said.
History of Mexican Immigration and the U.S. EconomyThe issue of illegal immigration from Mexico is not just a contemporary issue; it has its historical roots, and has impacted the U.S. economy for more than a century.
Prior to 1882, there were no national restrictions on immigration, allowing migrants to move freely across the border to work in the Southwest. Rather than raise wages to levels that would attract American farm labor, farmers relied on foreign labor, mainly from Mexico. The unlawful status of migrants forced them to accept under par wages.
U.S. employers redoubled their efforts in recruiting foreign work from Mexico after U.S. immigration law placed restrictions on the entry of Southern and Eastern European immigrants in 1920. The annual number of Mexican migrants grew from about 10,000 in 1913, peaking at 106,000 in 1924. Between 1920 and 1929, some 621,000 Mexicans entered the United States.
With the start World War II, Mexican workers were recruited again to fill jobs vacated by American men at war under the Bracero Program. The Bracero Program was initiated in August 1942 as an agreement between the United States and Mexico that allowed for the importation of temporary agricultural laborers from Mexico into the United States. This "temporary" stay, where migrants were able to renew six-month visas to work for approved agricultural growers, did not officially end until 1964. Over the Program's 22 years, more than 4.6 million Mexicans were imported to the United States, encouraging many to stay.
Rather than halt the influx of Mexican immigrants, the obliteration of the Brancero Program spurred increasing new waves of migrants that filled manual labor jobs up to the present day.
Arizona Immigration Law
On the tail of Senate Bill 1070, which aims to identify, prosecute and deport illegal immigrants, Arizona lawmakers are currently proposing a package of bills of further immigration restrictions. The package would include restricting immigrants' access to education, medical facilities and right to state citizenship.
Arizona's business community generally opposes the new package of immigrant restrictions.
"This will put Arizona through another trial and hurt innocent businesspeople who are just trying to get ahead," said Glenn Hamer of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry in a recent New York Times article.
Eighty percent of Americans favored increasing fines for employers of illegal immigrants while about 70 percent favored criminalizing employment of illegal immigrants in a May 2010 poll taken by The Economist/YouGov.
Some opponents of such immigration laws have suggested boycotting Arizona businesses.
"By boycotting Arizona businesses, people are effectively making it harder for business owners to employ illegal aliens," said online business blogger Brian Johnson. "If they [businesses] are getting boycotted, they won't be able to pay wages…so they are essentially hurting the people they are trying to help."