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News :: Globalization : Human Rights : International : Labor
Living Wages: Immigrants and the State's Economy
18 May 2006
The men flock around the car with hope and apprehension: they weigh their distance, eager but cautious, drift in through the crowd of friends and contenders in hopes to find a job. This time the car deceives them, hums and rattles, but leaves with as many passengers as it arrived. With hunched shoulders setting a front against the cold that sneaks through the cracks, the men disperse and resume talking about life, about soccer, anything that will keep their minds off the accumulated stack of bills and debt. These are but a few of the undocumented immigrant workers who stand around our street corners, looking for work.
In less than 15 years, the number of immigrants living in Massachusetts has increased by nearly 40 percent. Over the past 12 years, the growth in labor force in the state has depended for the most part on international immigration. Massachusetts has lost significantly more skilled workers to other states than it has attracted, leaving the state with a deficit of 213,000 domestic migrants, according to a study conducted by the Massachusetts Institute for a New Commonwealth (MassINC). In fact, it is estimated that in 2004, Massachusetts was the only state in the country to shrink in size. MassINC researchers claim that the state's future economic health will be increasingly dependent on how we deal with the challenges and incentives posed by the influx of migrant workers. "Immigrant workers have become indispensable to the Massachusetts economy," wrote Andrew Sum, author of MassINC's report The Changing Face of Massachusetts and Director of the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University, "But at the same time that the education and skills required for success are increasing, large numbers of immigrants lack a high school diploma and have limited English-speaking skills."

Elias Lacuna has a high school degree and two years of college education, but he has been unable to obtain a green card since he came to the U.S. ten years ago from Minas Gerais, Brazil. He came with a work visa and was planning to stay only for a couple of years but met his wife, another Brazilian, and had a daughter. A few years later his marriage fell apart and since then, he tries to make ends meet with his daughter's alimony in mind. "During the winter months I'm lucky to find one or two days of work per week," said Elias, "So during the summers I try to work at least 60 hours per week. It's really not worth working for less than that." Most of the jornaleros, or immigrant daily workers, complained about how inflation in this country has affected them in the past years. In Brazil, they were used to seeing a gradual devaluation of the currency and an increase in consumer prices. Not in the US. "Before I could live on $60 per week, now it's about $200-300," said Mauro, an immigrant who preferred his last name not mentioned for fear of deportation, "The immigrants who are living in the US are dying."

According to the Boston Indicators Project, consumer prices in Metro Boston rose faster every year between 1997 and 2003 than the metropolitan average, making Greater Boston one of the most expensive regions in the nation and making it difficult for many households to make ends meet. One-quarter of Massachusetts residents polled by MassINC said that personal finances and the high cost of living were dominant concerns for people considering moving out of state. Unlike legal residents, however, most undocumented immigrants have small protection from the law and face daily exploitation. A third of the men on this particular street corner have been cheated out of their pay one time or another.

Ricardo, a 24-year-old jornalero, arrived in Massachusetts a year and seven months ago. He owes his coyote $10,000 and most of what he makes goes to pay this debt. In July of 2005, he and another nine immigrants were contracted by Paco's Carpentry in Buzzards Bay, Mass., where they were hired to work for 45-50 hours per week for $500 a month. That is, $2.50 an hour. At the end of two months Ricardo's check for $1,000, which he still holds in his pocket, bounced. So did the checks of the other undocumented workers. Paco's Carpentry was unavailable for comment.

At the Brazilian Immigrant Center, workers rights coordinator Emanuel Souza said he sees 5-7 cases like these per week. He runs a weekly workshop where he teaches immigrants about basic workers rights such as: minimum wage, overtime pay, workers' injury compensation, and health and safety in the workplace environment. The cases Souza deals with range in average from $200 to $5,000 for worked hours owed by an employer, but he has had cases for as much as $40,000. The Office of the Attorney General accepts complaint forms from workers, regardless of their legal status in this country, but is often unable to penalize violators from a lack of documentation. Souza always encourages workers to get as much as information from the employer, phone, address, and all hours worked written on a paper, to protect themselves.

Some immigrant workers have even taken their cases to a small claims court, but for the larger amounts of money owed, the cases usually go unresolved. "What happens is that the employer will give them very little, like $200, to keep them at bay," said Souza, "The guys believe it, 'Oh, in a few weeks I'll have $6,000,' but they never get paid. I tell them that if it continues just quit, get another job. But it's even worse for them to be without a job."

"The employers will go after the most vulnerable group of workers," said Suren Moodliar, Coordinator at the North American Alliance for Fair Employment (NAFFE), "If the government does its job around enforcing wage and hour laws, and enforcing health and safety laws, then immigrants and native born workers would be on the same playing field, and there wouldn't be any kind of incentive on the part of potential employers to hire this special cast of exploitable workers.”

One of NAFFE’s goals is to promote global standards for workers rights to ensure that states have the ability to fit their laws with respect to investment as well as labor and environmental standards, without interference from organizations like the World Bank, the IMF, and WTO. “We think that corporate globalization has lowered living standards by promoting a race to the bottom,” said Moodliar, “And under the current rules and regulations that organizations like the World Trade Organization (WTO) have promoted, the governments have been incapable in their ability to promote jobs for their citizens.”

An auto school instructor in Brazil, Lacuna was making $3 an hour and working an average of 75 hours a week. He thinks his current standard of living is about the same as when he left Brazil. From hearing his hardship and experiences in the U.S., all of his seven brothers and sisters abandoned the idea of migrating to this country. "My parents and a brother came once on vacation, but that's about it," he said.

The men take a break from the cold when a fellow jornalero arrives with a small cart containing homemade hot soup, at $1 per bowl. The others playfully tease and mock him but are thankful for the boost of warmth. They are glad, too, for the soup-maker's ingenuity. It offers him some kind of daily income, however low.

This work is in the public domain.
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Re: Living Wages: Immigrants and the State's Economy
18 May 2006
Waving foreign flags on US soil is not a good way to sway people to your cause. It has the counter effect.
Re: Living Wages: Immigrants and the State's Economy
18 May 2006
Do you get as offended when you see an Irish or Italian flag? Or is it just the Mexican flag that rubs you the wrong way? The US is a land made up of immigrants... It always has been.
Re: Living Wages: Immigrants and the State's Economy
18 May 2006
Yes I do. If you want to be Italian, then go to Italy. If you want to be Irish, go to Ireland. If you want to be Mexican, then go to Mexico. If you want to be American, then stay here, legally, and wave the Stars and Stripes with pride.

It really does frost my cookies when I saw the US flag being torn down on American soil and a Mexican flag raised in its place. That's call Sedition and such people should be rounded up and arrested.

Yes "yo" this country is made up of immigrants, but those immigrants wanted to be Americans and assimulate into American society and speak English.

There is nothing wrong with having pride in one's heritage, but be an American first. If you don't want to be an American, there's the door.
Re: Living Wages: Immigrants and the State's Economy
18 May 2006
Montcalm, you contradict yourself. "There is nothing wrong with having pride in one's heritage, but be an American first." How do you know that's not exactly what this is? It's not just the Mexican flag that they're waving but the US flag. In fact, I dare to say that a huge majority of immigrants are very proud of what they've accomplished in the US and they wave that flag proudly. I personally don't agree with flag waving at all (nationalism rubs me the wrong way), but I think you've just describe what is happening today.
Heart of Darkness
18 May 2006
Oh my my. Just another "soft" human interest story. The personal touch. Individualize the story. Then you have sympathy for the poor fellow who just wants to work. What's wrong with that?


Oh my. I'm in Roxbury, in Mattapan, in Chelsea. There's another fellow. He wants just to work to. Why can't he?

Oh my. We're in Brookline. At a restaurant. Two guys toasting each other. A great year for the construction business. Productivity up, profits up. A new invention?

Oh my. No No. Not a new invention. An old invention. Called exploitation. Called Racism. Called let's be Poltically Correct with the Flavor of the day (Mocha, Not Black).

My my. The illegal works. The descendent of slaves brought to America 400 years ago doesn't.

And some people think the mocha illegal should be sent back to El Salvador. The progressives who love humanity say: "my my, that's racist".

but i say: why, why? when are you going to train and hire the kid from Roxbury.

My my. You're not.

You are all so concerned.

18 May 2006
I'm poor. Struggle every week to pay my bills. I was born in the United States. Served in the Army. Some college.
Massachusetts is a very expensive state to live in. Our politicians don't care about people like me. I do vote. For what? I'm beginning to ponder that thought. Affordable housing is a joke. The taxes we pay go to everything, except us, the poor.
I noticed that there will be a Green Party canidate for Governor. She wants to tax the corporations, to help the poor. I will vote for her.
The Demos and Repubs are failing the poor and middle class miserably.
As far as the immigrants who are illegal? Legalize them. Unless YOU are an American Indian? You are an immigrant. And who knows if your ancestors were legal or not?
Re: Living Wages: Immigrants and the State's Economy
19 May 2006
i like how all you conservatives rally around the "common man" until they disagree with you, then they can fuck themselves. y'all are self-serving schmucks who couldn't care less about jobs among the working class. the reason you're against immigrants is because you are RACIST. you don't care about someone in roxbury who can't get a job. or anyone else who can't get a job, unless they support your cause, in which case you trumpet them as american heroes. the democrats are the same way.
Born Poor, Think Poor part 2
19 May 2006
"Unless YOU are an American Indian? You are an immigrant". So sorry to inform you that the American Indians are immigrants too. They came from Asia across the land bridge between Siberia and Alaska. The only true natives are the buffalo, deer, antelope, et al. Who is speaking up for them? Let's do it for the children!
Noah's Ark is For Every body (Who is An American)
19 May 2006
We are for immigrants. People who work thru the system and get visas and green cards. I don't like people who shove their way to the head of the line. Especially when the line contains not only legal immigrant applicants but African Americans who can do the constructiion and other work the illegals do. Education and jog training for people who were promised equal rights. Citizens of Mexico etc. have rights under their constitution; if they are deprived of those rights they can read Jefferson and Thomas Paine and do something about it. Being low wage but boys for sweat shops and nonunion contractors here doesn't cut it Mr. Radical.

Don't lecture me about either African Americans or labor. I have done more organizing than you would ever know and work with African American and Hispanic people far more than with white people.

I am against illegal immigration and its ill-effects on American, American workers. What is racist about that? Stuff your self-righteous little student attitude and serve the working people.

My family was orgnaizing workers in Boston when your grandparents were embryos.
21 May 2006
"The phrase "cheap labor" is a myth, a farce, and a lie. There is no such thing as "cheap labor." Take, for example, an illegal Mexican who sneaks in here with his wife and five children. He takes a job for five or six dollars an hour. At that wage with six dependents he pays no income tax, yet at the end of the year gets an "earned income credit" of up to $3,200 free. He qualifies for Section 8 housing and subsidized rent, food stamps, and free (no deductible, no co-pay) health care. His children get free breakfasts and lunches at school, and require bi-lingual teachers and books that taxpayers provide. He doesn't have to worry about car insurance, life insurance, or homeowners insurance. Taxpayers provide Spanish language signs, bulletins, and printed material. He cannot be fired, harassed, or sued. He and his family receive the equivalent of $20 to $30 an hour in benefits, while working Americans are lucky to have $5 or $6 an hour left after paying their bills and his, and paying for increased crime, graffiti, and trash cleanup. Cheap labor?
Cheap Labor?
21 May 2006
all good points about the implicit benefits illegals may receive. I don't know that every illegal takes advantage of federal benefits like sec. 8 or medicaid. Many don't. But millions of their kids are in schools causing higher than normal costs for ESOL and generally subpar performance that causes more teaching hrs, suspensions, etc.

The massive federal deficit will cause social benefits to be reduced. That is reality regardless of who wins future elections. These scarce dollars must be reserved for those who have lived in this nation legally and who love this nation, and not some other nation.

Kick the illegal kids out of the schools, throw the illegals out of the emergency rooms and hosptials, and off WIC and medicaid supported programs. I don't want to pay for people too ignorant or macho or misogynist to use birth control. Oh yes, liberals. You are all for abortion except when it comes to illegals who have babies at 16 on a regular basis (oh yes they do).

If they want to be here, let them pay their own expenses. they send billions out of the country. They do not reinvest in America. These habits hurt African American and other legal workers who are subject to US laws and obligations.
Re: Living Wages: Immigrants and the State's Economy
22 May 2006
(poser) how does an illegal immagrant get an earned income tax credit and section 8? Geez, you'd think the government is just handing money out to everyone who asks. Social services such as section 8 are surrounded by a sea of red tape. Half the time, American citizens exhibiting clear need can't get it. The Welfare State is a fucking myth created by hollow politicians to shift blame from the inflated military budget. Don't be duped. Poser.
28 May 2006
1. Only professionals or investors can immigrate to the country. No unskilled laborers will be allowed in. Investors must be able to invest at least 40,000 times the daily average wage. If they can't, they are not allowed in.

2. Immigrants may purchase property, but locations and availability will be limited. Ocean front property cannot be purchased by immigrants. It is exclusively for citizens born in the country.

3. Immigrants cannot vote nor can they be elected to any public office.

4. Immigrants cannot collect any type of government assistance.

5. Immigrants cannot protest the countries government, policies or president.

6. Immigrants cannot display a flag of a foreign country.

7. Immigrants who have illegally entered the country will be found and imprisoned. - - -Sound kind of harsh? Well, these are laws that are currently part of the Immigration Laws of, you guessed it, MEXICO
Re: Living Wages: Immigrants and the State's Economy
28 May 2006
I hate to repeat myself- but I'm going to.

with all due respect my conservative friends there... I'm sure you don't mean any harm... but have you honestly looked at history? I mean. Seriously, look at Latin America (where many of these people are immigrating from). Now ask yourself a question- why are these people poor?

How many democracies have been overthrown- how many dictatorships instituted? Sure you can disagree with the policies of these democracies all you want... thats not what I'm argueing about, I'm honestly asking how many times the United States has over thrown or had a hand in overthrowing democracies in Latin America. What has this political turmoil caused? It's caused a large stratification in classes. It's caused a majority of the population to be poor.
Futhermore, when your talking about issues of immigration you have to take into consideration that international institutions like the IMF and the WTO are actively skrewing these people every day with export processing zones created by CAFTA and NAFTA... This creates sweatshops-yeah look at the tag on your back- because many of the clothes that people in the States wear are made by 14 year old girls working 18 hour days.

Ultimately, what I am saying is that you guy are completely ignoring history and international economics... If you force people into poverty- intentionally or not, expect them to move.

Also, about those Mexican immigration laws- maybe we should adopt the same laws that Mexico has- they were pretty much written by U.S politicians anyway.

What you said about illegal immigrants taking black jobs is very interesting. I think it provides a very clear window to see the current states of race relations in this country.... I mean your saying that the jobs of migrant workers, maids, gas station attendants. ect.. all the jobs that white middle class won't generally touch should be given to blacks... Two things. One, these jobs cannot be looked at as opportunities- they are not. People from Mexico take these jobs because being poor here is better than being here- there is very little class mobility. Therefor, if you recognize this (honeslty look at the statistics and I think you will recognize this), then that means you're saying that these jobs should be assigned to black people. What opportunity is this? This is the opportunity to enter back into slavery- an opportunity to make a meger existance- if thats at all possible. There is not hope in place like this.

Lastly, the welfare state. What a joke. All I am going to say about this is: how much of your tax money goes to social services. Hardly any of it. You want to save on taxes? Progressive tax and stop killing people and stop toppling democratic governments... fuck it, I know your gonna tell me it's to fight "them god awful terrorists," so I'll just preemtively respond to that by saying- fine, if thats what you want to belive...then cut the military budget even by a third. Do you know how much it costs for one scud missle $14,000 thats enough to give a kid ride through state college. it's really quite simple my friend.

the end.

Re: Living Wages: Immigrants and the State's Economy
29 May 2006
Being this country legaly you can get what you deserve. If your illegal, then crime does not pay. Go back home. Criminals always want pitty.
08 Jun 2006
what does the word mean?

There are different standards of legallity.

How about the UN, the Geneva Conventions, the War Crimes Tribunal, the World Court... Theres a standard of legallity that is constantly ignored by the United States.

-perhaps we should legally get what WE deserve and be embargoed because we are a rouge state.