Workers' value not undocumented by the
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
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.