News from the Tennessee Valley Opinion
MONDAY, MAY 1, 2006


Both companies, citizens making use of illegal labor

Americans may be against illegal immigration in theory, but a different theory comes into play for a lot of them when they need help around the house.

On talk radio and in conversations, Americans often blame commercial employers for encouraging illegal immigrants by offering them jobs. But it turns out that the No. 1 employers of day laborers in the United States are private individuals.

Day laborers are men and women who congregate in public places such as intersections and the parking lots of home improvement stores, looking for work. Abel Valenzuela Jr., a UCLA professor, conducted a nationwide study of these workers and found that 87 percent of them are from Mexico or Central America and three out of four are undocumented migrants, aka illegal immigrants.

Homeowners and renters represent almost half — 49 percent — of the employers of day laborers, with contractors employing 43 percent and companies employing 6 percent. The top five occupations of day laborers are construction laborer, gardener and landscaper, painter, roofer and drywall installer.

In the South, where 12 percent of the nation's day laborers reside, contractors (46 percent) are slightly ahead of private individuals (45 percent) in hiring day laborers.

These numbers help explain the nation's ambivalence about illegal immigration: We want to control it, but we don't want to lose its benefits.

The Associated Press quoted Chris James of California, who hired two Guatemalan men to move a piano and boxes at his music studio. He pronounced himself "absolutely satisfied" with their work. And day laborers said homeowners pay them reliably and feed them.

Immigration reform efforts are going to have to deal with the reality that immigrants and United States citizens often find their relationship mutually beneficial.

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