Is This What We Wanted?

Listen to this 'Talk of the Nation' topic

Remember the national "Day Without Immigrants," held more than a year ago? Legal and illegal immigrants left their jobs in the fields, at factories, and at restaurants for a day, giving Americans a peek at what our nation would look like without their labor. In workplaces around the country, this dry-run has become a reality, as ICE raids round-up illegal immigrants, and the mere threat of raids has still more headed back over the border. To some, this shows immigration policy has been successful, but on a more concrete level, businesses are losing a reliable workforce and struggling to replenish it. Have you noticed a difference at work, or at the businesses you patronize?

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Paying these people under $30 an hour is rediculous. The question should be how money would it take to get the managers to do this smelly work?

Sent by Jonpaul | 2:19 PM | 10-15-2007

At what point are we, as legalized or natural-born citizens, going to get back to the point: the illegal aliens are breaking the law?

I am a 3rd generation American whose family had to endure Ellis Island and the process, so to should immigrants today. Just because they do jobs no one else may want, does not justify the ignoring or suspending the law.

Sent by Brian Simmons | 2:25 PM | 10-15-2007

Can't businesses hire people for inner cities or rural areas where the uneployment rate is much higher than the the national 5% rate? Can these people be given transportation?

Sent by Bob Dettman | 2:26 PM | 10-15-2007

Shame on a buisness that would pay less than it would take to get an American to do the work. Shame on them for taking advantage of desperation in other countries

Sent by Jonpaul | 2:27 PM | 10-15-2007

I understand the discussion is immigrants Pay rates, whether it is fair and a livable income. Why do we pinpoint immigrants??? I work in the ski industry where most employees are making minimum wage and unable to make a livable wage and afford to live in high priced resort towns where it is extremely difficult to find affordable housing, transport and medical insurance. Why do we feel that wages in America only unfairly target only Immigrants????? Could we not look at employment at large and look at all those trying to earn a living under much the same circumstances????

Sent by Kathryn | 2:28 PM | 10-15-2007

This entire subject is a bandaid around the real issue. The reason for immigrants OR Americans not willing to take low pay difficult jobs IS taht we (USA and all it's inhabitants) want to buy goods cheaply and be apid a premium. Therefore we are not willing to support our economy or pay the price for good made in the USA or to emply our own. THis is the REAL issue and blaming the immigrants is like putting a bandaid on a heart attack patient. This will only get worst as the world shrinks especilaly if we do not take care of our educational system.

Sent by Henry | 2:28 PM | 10-15-2007

Neal, You have missed the opportunity for the perfect question to these employers. Each one has said I pay minimum wage or perhaps a buck over. Ask the employer, how much would they or their children do the job for? The fact is there is a disconnect between getting it done cheap and paying a fair wage.

Sent by Gary Summer | 2:32 PM | 10-15-2007

What I find very interesting is that for the sake of a greater profit margin, American business people are willing to break the law by exploiting people who have no voice. Why not just go and hold a bank - "that's where the money is" - than either raising the wages they pay or taking less of a profit. Aah, the the "free market."

Sent by Roger | 2:32 PM | 10-15-2007

Labor should be subject to market forces, shouldn't it? If you can't get someone to cut up a cow for $12 an hour, you're not paying enough.

I'm pretty sure that the cost of labor in the meatpacking industry has gone down, not up, despite the fact that there's a shortage of workers. That's not only counterintuitive; it's unsustainable.

The farmers, the restaurant owners, the meat producers -- if you need illegal labor in order to make a profit, think about how much profit you could make if you didn't have to pay workers at all! If you're willing to support illegal immigration but not slavery, what's the difference in your mind? All I see are exploited workers.

Sent by Patrick Solomon | 2:32 PM | 10-15-2007

I am concerned and intereste) to see the long term effect on policies when the workers' children who are US citizens become adults and can vote and be engaged politically. The long term impact on the children concerning how these mothers, fathers, and friends were treated will unfold for decades.

Sent by Amber Pinter | 2:33 PM | 10-15-2007

One thing that people here in the Hampton's have realized is that once illegal immigrants are either made legal or develop a relationship with the community, they too, do not want to do the "hard work" "low pay" jobs.

In the 20 years I have been here I have seen several waves of illegal immigrants. Irish, Mexican, Costa Rican, Columbian, etc. Eventually each group moves on to better paying jobs, or start their own business.

Hard jobs should pay well, and we will have to pay the cost. We live in a fantasy land of cheap goods and a blind eye to unsafe, terrible working condiions that take advantage of the marginalized.

It puzzles me to see millionaires here in the Hampton's who will not hire a competant, well trained, well educated Nanny for their children because they do not want to pay the cost and benefits, but would rather "get a bargain" using an illegal alien as an indetured servant.

We do need to change our immigration policy to be less obstructive, but we also need to look at our unbelievable cheapness as a nation when it comes to compensation for hard work.

best regards.
Kathleen Shannon

Sent by Kathleen Shannon | 2:34 PM | 10-15-2007

When did the profit margin of businesses become more important than compliance with federal law? Think of all the businesses that would be "viable" if they were allowed to steal their raw materials! Taxpayers may receive "cheap" goods & services but we are paying in other ways!

Sent by Chris in Illinois | 2:34 PM | 10-15-2007

It strikes me as odd that we call those coming here by any means necessary, fleeing the economic as well as the often social and political instability in their homelands, "illegal aliens" In almost any other place in the world, they would be called "refugees". If it holds that we stike out at what we fear, then we should ask ourselves just what it is about this issue that scares us so...

Sent by John Rogers - Charlotte, NC | 2:35 PM | 10-15-2007

The specific example of meatpacking should include a history of the 1980s when these were middle class jobs. The unions were "broken" in Iowa and Minnesota and the plants began to operate as they now do. Lines speeded up, immigrants with no voice hired, benefits and pay cut.

This is the natural result of a government that supports business over labor and enables this type of situation to prevail.

They pit one group of working people against the other.

Sent by Jill Versace | 2:35 PM | 10-15-2007

I think that we as Americans need to wake up and realize that immigrants aren't taking jobs away from Americans. Both the farmer from CA and the plant in NC can't hire workers because Americans won't take the jobs. They aren't willing to work that hard, yet we all reap the benefits of cheap healthy food that these laborers are helping produce. So either we as Americans are going to have to pay so much more for food or we are going to have to start realizing and appreciate how much of our prosperity depends upon very hardworking illegal and legal immigrants.

Sent by Angela | 2:36 PM | 10-15-2007

Will americans who tout "the law" as a reason to deport aliens be willing to pay that much more for their food, for their houses, for everything that these low-wage earners do? I think that people need to think a little harder before casting aspersions on the people who provide the labour they depend on for their way of life.

Sent by ramsey | 2:41 PM | 10-15-2007

If your listeners want illegal immigrants deported, who will pick your California veggies ? Are they ready to pay 4 $$ a head of lettuce, or 6 for a bag of frozen mixed ? Are they ready to support a huge guest worker program to do all this work ?

Sent by Andy | 2:43 PM | 10-15-2007

On August 27th, 2007, over 300 ICE agents, local police and sheriff's deputies, raided the Koch Foods chicken processing plant in Fairfield, OH (Butler County). Arrested were 160 immigrant workers. These workers were on the verge of organizing into a union to gain better workplace safety standards. In a remarkable recovery, Koch Foods was able to re-start operations within 24 hours with a new workforce. Koch Foods was never charged or fined for the so-called "immigration violations". This only speaks to the flagrant business abuse of labor in our country and the sad misuse of our judicial system.

Sent by solar_win | 2:43 PM | 10-15-2007

I was born and raised in El Pueblo de Nuestra Senora la Reina de los Angeles del Rio de Porciuncula, founded in 1781 by Governor Neve of California. This city is now known as Los Angeles, California. Californians, Texans, and New Mexicans who wish not to speak Spanish nor tolerate Spanish-speaking immigrants should learn their history. The U.S. acquired these states in a bald land grab under Pres. Polk, and ever since we have used Mexicans as a contingent labor force to lower our costs of consumption.
Why does capital cross the U.S. Mexican border so freely (think of the maquila system), yet U.S. people object when laborers cross the border? This is not a matter of law; it is simple racisim.
The state of Washington, where I live part time, has suffered from the immigration crackdown, for example, farmers plowed under the entire spring crop of asparagus in 2007. All agrarian economies in the U.S. will suffer this way. I hope U.S. people will enjoy getting all their food from China after Mexican agricultural workers are prevented from working in the U.S.

Sent by Elizabeth Keathley | 2:46 PM | 10-15-2007

Labor should be as free to move as capital.

Sent by Chris | 2:48 PM | 10-15-2007

Thus far there has been no discussion of the massive cost to our society through social services. Within 40 years, Hispanics will be over 50% of the total population!! The price we will pay to have cheap labor now is comparable to what slavery brought brought us! I know it is not "politically correct" to discuss population control, but the US is the only western country with a population explosion. We will be looking at a population comparable to India and China if nothing is done to control immigration.

Sent by Gary Hamilton | 2:48 PM | 10-15-2007

Immigration Raids are waking up business. "Shell Shocked" business? Good! I will pay extra to rid of country of lawbreakers who flaunt the law of our land. The Irish, my anscestors were legal. It is not a human rights issue. Illegal, not undocumented!!! This is my Country, as a Saponi (Naive American) decendent I condemn your view that illegal immigrants are good. Legal immigrants are enough of a problem. This guest of yours is so ridiculous in his empirical assessment of why companies need to break the law. I am sorry for the kids of the illegals that decide that the best example is to break laws of my neighbor, rather than fight, as a warrior, the corrupt elements in my own country. I have no respect for them or those who wish to weaken our country, such as your guest today.

Sent by Ron | 2:51 PM | 10-15-2007

P.S. Thank, you, Neal, for your kindess to Jessica during the immigration segment today. Her call really underscored the human costs of these attitudes and policies, and your understanding was quite noble.

Sent by Elizabeth Keathley | 2:52 PM | 10-15-2007

The unspoken end of the sentence "American workers won't do the work" is "for the wages paid to illegals." Why do illegals work for so much less? Because they know that their position is dangerous, what they have can be snatched from them at any time without warning, so they take what they can get.
So the solution is to make sure that enough Americans are equally desperate and fearful! When tens of millions of Americans are roaming the streets starving and scared, they too will take whatever employers are offering.
The alternative would be to pay everyone a wage that would allow them to live a pleasant life, but we can't have that, it would be un-American.

Sent by christine | 2:53 PM | 10-15-2007

Workers from other countries who have begun families here and have been here and worked very hard for a long time need to be the first to be given credit toward citizenship instead of having to go back to their country and wait years to be able to return. Those who came through Ellis Island didn't have this many hoops to jump through.
Hispanics pay payroll taxes toward social security that will be reaped by other US citizens. If immigrants are accepted into the army and fight in Iraq, why should they be denied citizenship or even a drivers' license? Our ancestors basically stole land in the US from the Native Americans and from Mexico and now some in thie generation fear immigrants are taking something away from them. We have such short memories!

Sent by Carol | 3:11 PM | 10-15-2007

The worst consequence of illegal immigration is the creation of a permanent underclass composed of workers who function in the shadows and have no standing in our legal system. The economy becomes addicted to them, just as it has become addicted to cheap imports in the retail sector.

It is hard to believe that a that was founded on the idea of giving its citizens the best lives that their ambitions and efforts can produce has to rely on indentured servants to realize that goal.

Additionally, cheap labor doesn't guarantee cheap prices in all markets. Very few of the laborers that worked on our two year old house spoke English - a requirement to get the best labor cost and also, I suppose, the lowest price on our house. We all know, however, that home prices were driven primarialy by cheap interest rates in recent years. A $150,000 house for only $1000 a month is a deal right?

SInce we put down the deposit on our property in dec. 2004, the base price for the least expensive home in our development has risen from $110,000 to $140,000. Any savings in labor have yet to be passed on to the buyer, and indeed, prices have risen almost 30% in 3 years for the same property.

Where's the benifit of immigrant labor to anyone other than those involved in developing the land or building the houses?

Sent by Bill Schas | 3:12 PM | 10-15-2007

Is it really true that American citizens will not do the work? I agree with Angela above that there is a racist (or a prejudiced) component to this issue. But not in the way she says. Many of the inner city unemployed are black. Does anyone want to reach out to this group? Do companies in Colorado or Georgia want to recruit workers on the South Side of Chicago? Do they want to hire rehabilitated criminals? No! I think that businesses know that immigrants are less of a risk. Americans will do the work. They will if given the chance.

Sent by Bob Dettman | 3:15 PM | 10-15-2007

Gee, Neil, I listened for most of the segment and I heard only one caller who spoke contrary to your guest's opinion. Look at the number of writers on this blog and you'll find the majority think your guest is off the mark, (me, too). You wouldn't be selectively taking your callers to fortifiy your opinion or NPR's? Next time you want to play softball give me a call.

Sent by Thomas Ferlito | 3:28 PM | 10-15-2007

I don't feel that it is right for American Corporations to hire illegal immigrants just because they can pay them less, while they make money hand over fist. Maybe if corporations paid American workers a fair wage, than they wouldn't have to worry about who will do the jobs that the immigrants are performing. I would like to see the illegal immigrants to try and go to Iran or even North Korea to work without the necessary paper work. The United States and the Mexican government should work together to provide jobs for the citizens in Mexico. Furthermore, any American Corporation who hires illegal immigrants should be given a hefty fine and pay extra in taxes.

Sent by Sarah | 4:02 PM | 10-15-2007

this isue is no good ,because is antiracial, and also the USA need this immigrants for the workplace as agriculture, construction,and more.this isue is not reflecting the USA as a country of immigrants,and opportunities
now the country looks with a lot of division everywhere at the country,we need respect the human rights for every body and we need to have a immigration reform now.

Sent by miguel | 5:53 PM | 10-15-2007

Much of the discussion today has focused on how the economy will be affected if we lose our illegal labor pool. How much of these affects, however, would be offset by Health, Education and Judiciary systems less burdened by the influx of illegal immigrants?

Sent by Patrick Hill | 6:54 PM | 10-15-2007

My concern is the fact that cheap labor impedes techonological advancemtn and inovation. One of the farmers today mentioned that if the cheap labor was not avaiable then the farmers would have to mechanize! This is a goood thing. Our country will be paying for not inovating due to the availability of cheap labor for some time to come. This is the true cost of liilegal immigration and also legal guest worker programs, which institutionalize poor business practices by discouraging inovations!

Sent by Joe | 7:43 PM | 10-15-2007

To John in Napa -
Please attend a business class at your local community college. The concept that you may need to speak the language of your customers should be a basic tenant of good customer service. Sir all have done is show that you're not flexible. Do you think that this nations founders had to learn to communicate with the natives... (ney neocon dictionary "squatters") as they negotiated the ownership rights of the very land your near sighted bum is presently occupying

Sent by Michael | 8:37 PM | 10-15-2007

I found it very ironic when the Mayor of Greeley Colorado described the 300 arrests at the Swift & CO meatpacking plant, but then the company was saved by a Brazilian corporation! I understand the corporation may have had legal rights to purchase the company and the workers did not have legal rights to work in the US... however, it seems both situations are part of the labor issues in America!

Sent by Jennifer Mendenhall | 2:02 AM | 10-16-2007

I am an ESL teacher and I know first hand about the conditions "illegals" work under. Not only do corporations pay them less money, but they also require that the employees work 10 - 12 hours a day, 6 -7 days a week and offer no health care.

If any of you people were offered a job under these conditions, you would flat out refuse it. Therefore could you please stop offering them to "rural" and "inner city" Americans. They have as must right to a fair job as you white collar people.

Sent by Lela | 12:04 PM | 10-16-2007

I have two thoughts on the illegal alien issue. The first concerns the fact that these people are illegal, we don't know whom they are nor where they are from. Is this fair to the people of the US? Let them in but document them. If it takes a fence for them to go through the proper channels of documentation then so be it. And second, does anybody else realize that the wealthy/elite in Mexico are loving this because it allows them to force the poor out of their country. It keeps their wages low by denying higher wages to workers and making them go elsewhere to earn more. The wealthy/elite in Mexico even get another benefit from this policy from the influx of money from these poor/absent people to fuel their economy.
Eventually, the fence will work for the US by forcing people to stay in Mexico and exerting pressure on both the employers and government to satisfy their needs.

Sent by Emery Parsons | 12:42 PM | 10-16-2007

It's funny how everyone who is making a buck off illegal aliens is in denial over the simple fact that "cheap foreign labor" isn't cheap.

Sure, you can pay an illegal alien five dollars an hour to pluck chickens, but someone else has to pay the costs of health care, education, law enforcement, and environmental damage accrued by that illegal alien and his family.

People get all weepy about "disrupted families". Well, I guess if I snuck into a foreign country, illegally, the last thing I would do is have children there. And the last I heard, those children are absolutely free to return home with their parents.

I don't want to pay ten dollars a pound for chicken, but if that's what it costs to get a native born worker to process that chicken then I guess the true cost is really ten dollars a pound whether you pay an American a living wage or hire an illegal alien for peanuts and then pay through the nose for the destruction of your community.

There's no free lunch. Somebody has to pay the bill in the end.

Sent by Bill King | 2:06 PM | 10-16-2007

This comment is in response to Brian Simmons who claims that his family "endured" the process at Ellis island. What process is that? Back in those days, there were no limits on immigration to the United States. Your family simply showed up and here they are. The only thing they endured was a long journey from Europe. The people that come to the United States now from countries that are impoverished in part due to U.S. foreign policy do not have an option like your parents did. The visa program for low-skilled workers is broken and difficult to navigate. The breaking of laws could be viewed negatively, but lets face it - these laws are arbitrary and without any basis in logic or reason. Our country needs every immigrant it can get, whether legal or "illegal" to fulfill the empty positions.

Sent by Jan Krasny | 2:36 PM | 10-16-2007

This response goes out to Jan Krasny. What laws do you refer to? Without laws there would be no society. We created the USA because we didn't want to be like the UK. "arbitrary and without any basis in logic or reason", I think not! Everyone US Citizen has a SSN and files taxes with the IRS, why should someone cross our border and NOT have to pay their taxes? I want the same benefit!! Why should those people not go through a screening process so that criminals don't come here? Don't the citizens of the US have that right?

Sent by Emery Parsons | 3:28 PM | 10-16-2007

the American Indians found out the hardway what will happen if immigration is not controlled

Sent by kurt | 5:40 PM | 10-16-2007

THIS GOES BEYOND FARM WORKERS!. They are replacing american workers all over the country. I work in manufacturing and my last employer had replaced 90% of the Amercians who made an average of 15.00 per hour with illegals that made 6.50 per hour. Special interest groups like to portray the hard working illegal when in fact they are simply just cheap labor. The cost of health care and education we taxpayers have to deal with is out of control. If they are deported and the taxe rates go down, the increase on any food or service would be balanced out.

Sent by Jeff Sickler | 11:49 AM | 10-17-2007

So true Kurt. And they are still suffering for it.

Sent by Emery Parsons | 1:00 PM | 10-17-2007

I thought it was very interesting that at the very end of the show the point was made that meat packers in the '70's made the same wage illegal immigrants make for the same job today. That is exactly why so many Americans don't want these jobs. The illegal immigrants have supplied a never ending amount of cheap labor. I am not blaming them but I do blame the government and business for taking advantage. It is ridiculous to act as if this does not force all of our wages down.

Sent by Katie Kiper | 2:44 PM | 10-17-2007

i think that the call from jessica was a shill used to get support for the illegals in this country. i am a proud mexican american and wouldn't mind one bit if i was questioned about citizenship status. she should develop a backbone and tell these folks off if it bothers her so much or move to a more hospitable climate not ruined by illegals. i'm glad that the country is FINALLY doing something about this menace, even if in baby steps.

Sent by edwin | 11:46 AM | 10-21-2007

I agree, no one should cut a cow or pick strawberries or grapes in the heat for a miserable wahge while I go to the supermarket and I pay HUNDREDS of dollars to feed my family, and I can'r get a meal for less than $45 a person here in LA. So, one thing seems pretty sure: farmers, meatpackinhg co's, restaurants etc. are NOT passing the savings onto the consumer. At the same time, schools, ER, etc are flooded by an uncontrolled influx of immigrants that are taxing our infrastructures. The US should be able to decide how many immigrants and what types of skills it needs each year.

Besides, because of the GREAT deterioration of our education system I can see hundreds of thousands of unskilled people graduating from our high-schools, barely able to read nand write, making it useless to import additional unskilled workers from other countries.

Sent by blanca | 1:02 AM | 10-22-2007

I find it ironic that the apparent majority stand high on their little hills and run off those that keep their cost of living manageable, mostly without complaint, and mostly without truly stealing jobs (that most americans would not do), and then turn around and buy goods for the Walmarts out there that basically, to keep their cost of living down, and have driven most of our manufacturing jobs out of the country-- where people are paid sub-standard wages, and human rights are thrown out the window.

Sent by Michael | 8:31 AM | 10-22-2007

Fact is most Americans won't face up the the economic realities of immigration. Labor is a classic example of supply and demand. If supply goes down (cut off illegal immigration), then either the price of the good will go up, or the good will go away because nobody will pay the true cost.

Now, if you look at the current unemployment rate(~4.5%), that translates into just about 6-7 million unemployed Americans...um...close to the number of illegal immigrants working in the U.S. So, if you cut off the flow of illegal immigrants, then you effectively would have a 0% umemployment rate...and most economists will tell you that even at 4.5%, that's effectively full employment. So, yes we need a guest worker program.

Now for opinion...if we have a guest worker program, why do most people think it would be Mexicans and other Central Americans? If a fair and open guest worker program existed, then Chinese, Russians, Pakistanis would all be lining up to register. Hence, the lack of support from Hispanic and Democratic groups.

Bottomline? We'll NEVER solve this problem so long as economic and polictical interests benefit from the status quo.

Sent by Steve Ray | 5:36 AM | 10-25-2007

Dear Emery Parsons, sorry for the belated reply, but here it is: I agree that we should screen immigrants that enter this country to exclude criminals. I do believe that this is in our national interest for the purposes of security. I also agree that laws are an important part of governance. My comment however was aimed at the fact that the current immigration system is not functioning. Thus it encourages people to enter the country illegally, because it is the only way that they can enter (except for the lucky few). I call upon our legislators to fix the system, to allow people to come to this country legally and fill the positions that remain open. You question my claim that our country's immigration laws are not based in logic, but then how do you explain to me why the U.S. tech industry begs congress to expand the H-1B program, why the U.S. farmers are lobbying the congress to allow low-skilled labor into the country and why the country's largest producers of meat are risking liability by hiring undocumented workers? I will tell you why -- because this country's demand for labor is so high that our domestic labor pool is simply inadequate. After all our country's unemployment rate is at a mere 4%. This is what I mean by saying that United States needs and can use every immigrant who wants to come in. Lastly your assertion that "illegal" immigrants who come to this country do not pay taxes is absurd. I invite you to read this wonderful article about how much taxes "illegal" immigrants really pay. Perhaps you will be lucky enough to use some illegal immigrant's social security contributions when you retire. The idea that illegal immigrants pay no taxes is a myth. I hope that one day our country will come to appreciate rather than fear the immigrants that come here.

Sent by Jan Krasny | 7:43 PM | 11-1-2007

What do you think are the viewpoints on illegal immigrants. what are the different interest groups, PACs or political parties on this issue?

Sent by Angela | 6:00 PM | 11-29-2007