Article Published: Tuesday, August 31, 2004
Illegal or not, they make life work
By Cindy Rodriguez
Denver Post Columnist
The venomous hate mail pours in every time I write about anything related to immigration.
"If you don't like it here, why don't you go back to Mexico?" they write.
One man told me he would buy me a one-way Greyhound ticket back. I tell him, "Make it first- class by air, and I'll consider it."
Idiots. I was born in Manhattan.
They think we're the enemy. We are taking their jobs. No, wait - we're consuming public welfare.
Can you do both at the same time?
It doesn't matter. Whatever evil befalls them, whatever heartaches or troubles they have, blame us. Whatever makes them feel better.
But what if I could make the dreams of these people come true?
What if all of America's 39 million Latinos hopped on that Greyhound bus with me? Would America be a better, stronger, more prosperous place?
I thought about this as I left the movie theater Friday after watching the Denver premiere of "A Day Without a Mexican."
The mockumentary is based on a provocative premise: What if California's 13 million Latinos suddenly disappeared?
During the 100-minute movie, California life unraveled. Garbage piled up on the streets. Produce bins were barren. Restaurants shut down. Wealthy people had to - gasp! - do their own laundry, care for their own children.
The work of the invisible workforce would become visible.
These people assume anyone who is of Mexican descent is here illegally, though the majority of Latinos are American-born.
But what if we could whisk out the illegal immigrants living in America, the estimated 10 million people who make up less than 3 percent of the American population?
Who would clean the hotels, office buildings and streets? Who would cook the food at our favorite restaurants? Who would pick our produce and slaughter the poultry and cattle we eat?
The truth is, restaurants throughout the country would close. Fruit and vegetable crops would rot on the soil. The meat- and poultry-packing industries would shut down. Construction projects would come to a halt.
This is the muscle power of the illegal immigrant workforce, like it or not.
Of all the various ethnic groups, foreign-born Latinos - who include legal immigrants as well - have the highest labor participation rate and work the most hours, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
In 2000, about half of the nation's 2.5 million farm workers were illegal immigrants. The rest were mostly legal migrant workers, who don't make much more.
Want them gone? At what price for a head of lettuce?
Yes, their children attend public schools, but they pay taxes. Illegal immigrants produce fake Social Security numbers to get hired, and taxes get taken out of their paychecks - just like everyone else's.
They pay into the Social Security fund - money they likely will never get back. In 2003, the Social Security Administration was sitting on more than $350 billion in uncredited money - benefits not designated to a particular worker. Some belong to people whose names have changed, or who were not properly typed into the administration's computer system. But the majority was paid by illegal immigrants.
"A Day Without A Mexican"
Watch the movie trailer
They are hard-working people, like my father Ren�
Rodr�guez, who arrived illegally. I don't blame him for sneaking off a Cuban ship as it docked in Miami in the mid-1950s, walking away from his merchant marine job.
Lucky for him, America hated Communism, so years later the U.S. granted him asylum status - even though he arrived when Fulgencio Batista was in power.
He never became fluent in English, though he tried. (It's hard to learn a second language when you're not literate in your first. Dad quit school in the fourth grade to work.)
In his last job, he sold hot dogs from a cart. He may not have contributed much to the gross national product, but he could light up a room with his smile and his great stories.
He never took a dime of welfare. He'd rather clean toilets than take a handout.
Plus, he has a legacy: Three productive, college-educated children. Our first language is English. We're all in the higher tax brackets, and we all do volunteer work.
That's called economic assimilation. We may not shed our Spanish, or our customs, because there is no need to, especially in a global economy. Knowing two languages is better than one.
It takes a generation for Latinos to become middle class. In the meantime, it's our parents who are cleaning your offices, paving your roads, picking your fruit, painting your homes.
People should think about that next time they wish them gone. Unless they want to do that work themselves.
Cindy Rodr�guez's column appears Tuesdays and Thursdays in Scene. Contact her at 303-820-1211 or crodriguez@...
The news is to be reported not to sway opinion. No more melodrama of constant entertainment trivia on news time. The founding fathers knew that government is always corrupt, that is why they gave us civil liberties. The people must lead to survive corrupt governments. Read the constitution. (In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this includes information for research and educational purposes.) Al Soto (c) 2004
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