Skinning, gutting, and cutting up catfish is not easy or pleasant work. No one knows this better than Randy Rhodes, president of Harvest Select, which has a processing plant in impoverished Uniontown, Ala. For years, Rhodes has had trouble finding Americans willing to grab a knife and stand 10 or more hours a day in a cold, wet room for minimum wage and skimpy benefits.Of course there is one basic problem with that statement, it lacks any adherence to the long accepted economic principle that price is driven by supply and demand. Like the cost of milk and oil fluctuate on a near daily basis because they are subject to market driven prices, so to is the cost of labor driven by the supply of workers and demand for work. So when they say illegal immigrants are doing the jobs Americans won't do, what they really mean is that illegal immigrants are doing the jobs Americans won't do at that wage.
In the Harvest Select example above the answer to why the company can't find American workers is clear in the last statement. Harvest Select is having trouble finding people willing to "stand 10 or more hours a day in a cold, wet room" for "minimum wage".
The current minimum wage in Alabama is $7.25 an hour or about $15,000 per year, so it should come as no surprise to anyone that most Americans are unwilling to do the job, where the average annual pay for workers is $40,287 per year.
The answer to Harvest Select's employment problem is not throwing the door open to cheap, slave-like labor from illegal immigrants, labor in which the company avoids paying employment taxes and other associated costs like workers compensation and unemployment insurance. The answer is raising the wage the company pays for such work.
In 1960 the average wage for meatpacking, the industry Harvest Select operates, was 15% higher than manufacturing wages in the U.S. Today, manufacturing, and industry that has been decimated by so-called free trade, has wages 25% greater than those in the meatpacking. Even more revealing, between 1980 and 2007, the real meatpacking wages, wages adjusted for inflation, have fallen 45%. Again, is it any wonder Harvest Select is having trouble finding American workers to fill these jobs?
When you point out these simple facts to pro-illegal immigration supporters they will often give you one of two responses. Either they are going to say if you don't allow illegal immigrants in, crops will rot on the vines. Or they will tell you that increasing wages would drive the cost of food and other goods through the roof. Again, we find the truth is just the opposite.
Again, let's look towards Atlanta. When the state passed one of the nation's strictest illegal immigration laws opponents warned that the states agriculture industry would be hit hard and crops would be left rotting in the field. The truth, 2012 was one of the best crop yields in history for Alabama.
You can also forget about claims the increased labor costs associated with hiring legal workers would drive food price inflation. Philip Martin, labor economist at the University of California, estimates the increase cost of labor associated with hiring legal American workers versus illegal immigrants would result in the average American household paying just $15 per year more for fresh fruits and vegetables. Currently the average wage costs farmers incur is roughly 10% of the retail price of produce.
Example: If you were to buy a package of strawberries at your local grocer for $1, the farmer would receive 40 cents of that cost, with 10 cents going to labor. Now imagine the farmer had to increase his wage 40% to attract legal American workers. The price you pay for that same pack of strawberries would go up to $1.04.
Cesar Chavez, longtime labor union organizer, recognized the downward pressure illegal immigrants put on American workers. He also warned of other costs associated with illegal immigration, like decreased benefits and unsafe working conditions.
[W]hen the farm workers strike and their strike is successful, the employers go to Mexico and have unlimited, unrestricted use of illegal alien strikebreakers to break the strike. And, for over 30 years, the Immigration and Naturalization Service has looked the other way and assisted in the strikebreaking. I do not remember one single instance in 30 years where the Immigration service has removed strikebreakers. ... The employers use professional smugglers to recruit and transport human contraband across the Mexican border for the specific act of strikebreaking...Between 1965 and 1981, Chavez's United Farm Workers organization was successful in garnering significant wage and benefit increases for farm workers. In 1985, farm wages began to level off in large part due to the amnesty program signed into law by Ronald Reagan. Today those gains have been virtually wiped out. The number of union farms also dramatically fell after Reagan's amnesty. For example, in 1981, the UFW had contracts with 33 mushroom farms in California, by 1987 they were down to 7.
Democrats support amnesty for illegal immigrants because they believe doing so will increase their voter and union member roles. Unfortunately for those of differing political views, they'd be right. However, the increased number of union members would be fleeting.
Businesses that currently exploit illegal immigrant labor and the establishment Republicans that cater to them only support legalization when it comes in the form of "comprehensive immigration reform" that includes a guest worker program. They demand a guest worker program because they know legalizing illegal immigrant workers will require these businesses to pay higher wages and provide better benefits, exactly the same circumstance they face if they were forced to hire only legal workers. Therefore, they are demanding a steady and legal supply of immigrant labor that they can exploit that would not be subject to the same laws and protections afforded American citizens.
Once a guest worker program is put in place, those same businesses would be free to once again expel unions and drive down costs through cheap migrant labor. Those formerly illegal, now union workers would find themselves where many low skilled legal immigrant and minority workers find themselves today, on the unemployment line relying on more government handouts. On the other hand, should we start enforcing immigration laws and forcing employers to higher legal American workers, wages industries currently dominated by illegal labor would begin to climb again, positions once occupied by illegal workers would be opened for America's law skilled and teenage/young adult labor force, and America's economy would be once again growing.