On Immigration and the Minimum Wage

I am fundamentally opposed to taking wages out of marketplace valuation; however, too many employers are willing to take extreme advantage of unskilled laborers, replacing long-term employees with teenagers or illegal immigrants who work for near nothing, causing harm to the individuals as well as the overall economy. My argument is that the United States needs to close its borders to illegal immigration and increase the number of visas available for unskilled labor. In making this argument, I will use two hypothetical examples: Carlita is a 42-year-old Mexican national who paid her way across the border, lives in California, and works in various live-in domestic positions, usually general housekeeping, which often childcare. Cory is a 28-year-old white male, born in Texas, who lives in and around his hometown and is a chronic pot smoker.

Carlita is very responsible and, despite being a lawbreaker through her illegal entry into the United States, absolutely trustworthy. She is paid between five and six dollars an hour for forty hours of work each week and most of that money is sent by Western Union back to her parents and teenaged children in Mexico City. Minimum wage in California is $8.00 an hour, but because she has no legal status, Calita is paid lower wages than required by law and is seldom paid for the overtime she works almost daily. Once raped by her employer, she was too afraid of deportation to go to the police and continued to work in the home until she found another position.

Carlita’s family is in no position to support itself and depends on income for survival. However, the situation is unfair to her as she can never build up any retirement, creating a situation wherein her children will eventually make their way across the border as well.

Cory works construction, farm, or fast food positions as he gets them, makes minimum wage or a little more. He is dependable for a few months of each job, but once he has a regular income, he begins to party on a regular basis, which in turn causes him to miss work and, eventually, get fired or quit because he is about to be fired. If no other options are available, several of his employers will hire him back after a period of time, knowing that while straight Cory is a hard worker who gets along well with others. Cory, because of his poor choices, will remain in poverty, but he still pays into the social security system, allowing him to create a retirement fund for himself.

While Carlita is clearly the better employee, she is taken advantage of because of her immigration status. Cory has a small pool of possible employers; however, this pool of temporary work could be expanded if illegal immigrates were not taking the low-rung positions for which he qualifies. Cory, as a citizen, has a right to the kinds of jobs being taken by undocumented workers even if his level of dependability is lower than that of someone like Carlita. Furthermore, Carlita deserves the respect, protection, and pay due a committed employee.

The problem with illegal immigration employment is that it creates a false bottom wage—employers can hire from the black-market labor pool (of which Carlita is a part), leaving the lowest rung of the citizenry, such as Cory, without employment options. If the United States will close its borders and increase the number of visas available to unskilled laborers, those coming to this country will be able to compete fairly for those jobs and receive the benefits employees in the U. S. deserve.

I don’t have all the answers, but I think these ideas need to be part of the conversation.

What do you think?




  1. I think we ought to raise the minimum wage to $120 so it will do me some good.

  2. Ha! If we did that you would only wait a day or two before complaining that it should be raised to $120.50. While we say this in humor, many proponents of minimum wage increases have an attitude of “more” no matter where the line might be drawn. This attitude is much like the desired tax on one-percenters wherein “fair share” is equivalent to “more,” an unending increase.

  3. Bob Cox · · Reply

    There is a process that law abiding people from other countries can follow to be able to live and work in the US . It is a shame that hard working dependable people have to live under the radar and sneak into the US to live and work. The US is still the land of opportunity for people living in other countries and there should be a way for them to bring their skills and talents to the table without having to endure being exploited or criminalized in order to live out their dream. The process of getting a “green card” could be streamlined to allow people to receive a work visa quickly and at a reasonable cost so they can work in the country legally.

  4. I think this is a really complicated issue, with shadings and layers that I, personally, am not qualified to figure out, much less comment on. That said, at the end of the day, it’s not the illegal workers or the shallow(er) pool of jobs for unskilled laborers that bothers me.

    What bothers me is certain concepts I find in American society at large – assumptions people make about work and working. You mentioned it yourself when you talked about how people view writing and writers as a job/career. I think a large part of our problem with our labor market is the way we, as Americans, view jobs. We look at some jobs as being ‘less’ than others, both in terms of importance, necessity and social value.

    I think that if we, as a society, the got the FUCK over ourselves when it came to issues of social importance and judging people based on their apparently social standing, we might start to pay attention to the importance – and level of skill and knowledge – that these ‘lesser’ jobs have.

    If we can grok the importance and skill of the janitor or the necessity and talent of the construction worker – and grant that person the pride and respect they are due for their profession – then it’s just possible there would be enough competition for those jobs from citizens that illegal immigrants might not have such an easy time getting those jobs.

    (No, that doesn’t answer the problem of unscrupulous employers being greedy jackasses, but if you have citizens who have legal protection applying for and vying for those jobs as often or more often than an illegal immigrant, then it’s that much harder to play games – more people will be watching and caring about what those unscrupulous employers are doing.)

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