Workers' value not undocumented by the government
The Arizona Republic
Apr. 7, 2005

Yesterday was the day after the big march, and so naturally the topic of conversation all around town was not the big march. One big reason may be that the mostly Latino participants in Tuesday's Dignity Walk wound up at the wrong destination: the state Capitol.

If they wanted to make a point - and they did - they could have skipped the 25-mile trek between Mesa and Phoenix and simply strolled to the nearest bank, where their value as human beings and as taxpayers would have been made obvious even to the politicians who hold them in contempt.

For instance, state Rep. Russell Pearce. Like many at the Legislature, Pearce speaks as if day laborers and undocumented workers are valueless criminals. He said of the marchers, who included students, businesspeople and community activists, "I will not pander to people in this country illegally. Just like in hostage situations. You don't negotiate with the bad guys. You don't negotiate with illegals."

It is equally difficult to speak truth to ignorance, of course, but we must try.

Demonstrators like those who marched Tuesday want to get the general public on their side, if only to keep legislators like Pearce and others from proposing and passing laws designed to make life as miserable as possible for those who cut our grass, cook our food, build our houses and pick our vegetables.

Marching won't accomplish that goal, however, particularly if your big march isn't particularly big (only about 300 participants). If the Dignity Walk was meant to prove that undocumented people have well-documented value, the marchers would have been better off standing outside the nearest bank and handing out copies of Tuesday's New York Times.

In it was an article pointing out that undocumented immigrant workers in the United States provide the Social Security system with an estimated $7 billion a year that the immigrants themselves will never collect. Since the law was changed to punish employers who hire undocumented workers, many workers now obtain false Social Security cards. They contribute payroll taxes but don't qualify for benefits.

The Times reported that when the Social Security Administration makes projections about the money available in the system, it factors in the tax money contributed by undocumented workers.

And yet to legislators here (and many other places) such workers are common criminals. And as Rep. Pearce says, "You don't negotiate with the bad guys. You don't negotiate with illegals."

The federal government studies the tax forms of businesses that employ such people. The Times says that according to the Government Accountability Office, 17 percent of them work in restaurants, 10 percent are with construction companies and 7 percent are in farm operations.

University of Arizona economist Marshall Vest told The Republic earlier this year, "What has been driving the Arizona economy during the past year . . . is population growth and the flood of money into real estate."

In other words, housing construction and the jobs that go with it.

Also on the list of industries that drive Arizona's economy? Tourism. That means vacation resorts and the restaurants for which they are famous. And there still is plenty of agriculture here.

The men and women who marched to the state Capitol on Tuesday could have pointed all this out to our politicians. Realizing, of course, how difficult it is for those who are branded as lawbreakers to negotiate with the criminally clueless.

Reach Montini at or (602) 444-8978.