Day labor centers -- Two editorials

By Jon Feere on June 3, 2011

City doesn't need a hiring center
Argus-Courier (Petaluma, Calif.), June 1, 2011
by Jon Feere

According to experts at the University of California, Los Angeles, day laborers are overwhelmingly likely to be in the United States illegally, and therefore cannot be legally hired. Last week’s Argus-Courier editorial, "A day labor center for Petaluma,” gave support to a proposed hiring center, but such centers promote illegal hiring practices, encourage illegal immigration and create real victims.

The editorial suggested that the only solutions to illegal immigration are mass deportation or U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids, that neither solution will work, and concluded that day laborer hiring centers are therefore necessary. However, a real solution is “attrition through enforcement,” where the illegal immigrant population is shrunk over time through a commitment to enforcement of immigration laws combined with an effort to turn off the magnets for illegal immigration.

The most significant inducement to illegal immigration is the jobs magnet. Sonoma County could turn off this magnet by requiring all employers to use the workplace verification program E-Verify, which checks names against Social Security numbers in order to weed out illegal employment and fraud. If we send the message that one must come to the United States legally in order to acquire a job, people will come legally. Unfortunately, day labor centers send the wrong message by facilitating illegal hiring.

The editorial also got it wrong when it claimed that illegal aliens do work “that most American-born residents do not want to perform.” In reality, there is no such thing as a job Americans won’t do. According to statistics from the Census Bureau, many professions often thought of as “immigrant jobs” are mostly made up of native-born citizens. For example, of janitors, 75 percent are native-born; of construction laborers, it’s 65 percent; of grounds maintenance workers, it’s also 65 percent; of maids and housekeepers, 55 percent are native-born. The percentages would be even higher if employers were held accountable for violating immigration law. It’s not the work that is deterring citizens, it’s the substandard wages and poor working conditions, all of which is perpetuated by illegal immigration.

It’s important to remember that there is a high cost to this cheap labor. While some employers may find it profitable to hire day laborers in the country illegally, it remains costly to the rest of us because most day laborers are paid under the table, meaning taxes are not collected.

Additionally, much of it is not spent in the United States; on average, more than $20 billion is transferred to Mexico in the form of remittances every year. If income is reported to the IRS, it’s reported with use of a Social Security number that does not belong to the illegal immigrant, a phenomenon that creates real victims — usually young children. The SSNs of young children are prized among illegal immigrants because their illegal use goes unchecked for years until the true owner begins to make use of the ID at their first job. It’s only then that the citizen discovers he owes thousands in back taxes for jobs he never held.

As any victim of identity theft knows, it is painstakingly difficult to correct such abuse, and victims may find themselves being denied jobs, unemployment insurance, lines of credit, Social Security payments and Medicaid benefits. Additionally, taxpayers will be subsidizing this cheap, illegal labor by paying for “free” health care at emergency rooms and “free” public education for the children of day laborers at a time when unemployment in Sonoma County is above the national average.

Instead of building a day labor center, which will very likely be paid for with taxpayer funds when private donations run dry, the city of Petaluma should follow the national trend of requiring businesses to use E-Verify, a surefire way of discouraging illegal immigration that was supported by the Supreme Court in Chamber of Commerce v. Whiting just last week. Cities have a role to play in immigration matters and the City Council should use its power to encourage legal hiring practices.


The problem with day labor centers
Press Democrat (Sonoma County, Calif.), May 30, 2014
by Jon Feere

Supporters of illegal hiring practices are once again pushing Petaluma to endorse the construction of a taxpayer-subsidized day laborer hiring center that will undoubtedly cater to foreigners who are in the United States illegally.

According to experts at UCLA, day laborers are overwhelmingly in the United States illegally and therefore cannot be legally hired. A recent Argus-Courier editorial, "Envisioning a day labor center" (April 11), gave support to a hiring center, but such centers promote illegal hiring practices, fail to prevent loitering and other problems associated with day laborers, and are a disservice to unemployed legal residents.

The Argus-Courier incorrectly asserts that foreigners here illegally do work "that most American-born residents do not wish to perform." This must come as a surprise to the citizens of Petaluma who work in construction, paint homes, or landscape, for example. In reality, there is no such thing as a job Americans won't do.

According to Census Bureau statistics, professions often thought of as "immigrant jobs" are mostly made up of native-born citizens. For example, of janitors, 75 percent are native-born; of construction laborers, it's 65 percent; of grounds maintenance workers it's also 65 percent; of maids and housekeepers, 55 percent are native-born.

It's not hard work that is deterring citizens — it's the substandard wages sometimes associated with these professions, which is perpetuated by illegal immigration and law-breaking employers. Employers have no incentive to offer better wages or benefits in order to attract Petalumans to a job if it is clear that cheap, illegal labor is readily available at a labor center that turns a blind eye to illegal employment.

Advocates of constructing a hiring center argue that it is the only way to prevent the problems associated with day laborers — problems that range from loitering to public intoxication, public urination, and harassment. But this reasoning is flawed.

First, the city already has statutes that address these problems and the police simply have to enforce them. People are loitering on the corner of Bodega Avenue and Howard Street because they're not being told not to.

Second, many cities have discovered that day laborers often do not like the structure imposed by day labor centers, preferring instead to swarm the vehicles of potential employers with the hope of being chosen rather than wait to have their name called by those running the hiring center.

Additionally, the laborers are well aware that even where hiring centers exist, employers still want the best bargain and continue to hire from the streets as a way to avoid the wages demanded by the hiring centers.
If law enforcement isn't attempting to stop street-side hiring and loitering right now, is there any reason to believe they would do so after the construction of a hiring center?

It remains unclear how much taxpayers would be expected to fork over to construct and operate the hiring center. The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors already supported a $91,000 grant for the Graton Day Labor Center and a $15,000 grant for the Healdsburg Day Labor Center for fiscal year 2012-13, for example, even though the board admits that there is "intense stress" on the general fund.

The Graton center has also received private donations, but when private funds run out, day labor centers always wind up asking city and county governments for additional funding. The use of taxpayer dollars for such purposes raises significant legal and ethical questions when it is clear that these centers assist unscrupulous employers in obtaining illegal labor.

Private organizations like Labor Ready already provide temporary labor (there is one in Santa Rosa) and they require workers to be legal residents.

Taxpayers shouldn't be required to get into the business of matching law-breaking employers with law-breaking foreigners who are in the country illegally.

Considering the county's high unemployment and strained budgets, Petaluma should be cautious with moving forward on a plan that will cost money, facilitate illegal hiring, and ultimately not fix the problems associated with day laborers.