As the Trump administration shifts the emphasis in U.S. immigration policy to a harsh, unneeded deportation drive of undocumented workers, employers have an important role in what comes next. With undocumented workers more vulnerable than ever, there can be no tolerance for employers who cheat by skimming from deserved wages. No company that cheats workers should be kept on a project, welcomed in an industry association or entitled to the respect of others.
Nor should contracts be awarded to any company that fails to protect illegal immigrants from hazards or provide them with proper safety training and equipment. Those workers also must have the right to halt unsafe work. If you see a company that doesn’t do these things, say something. Employers that exploit fearful, undocumented workers unfairly compete with compliant, well-managed contractors.Employers continue to face the risks that confronted them under the Obama administration’s immigration policy, which focused on deportations near the border and enforcements against employers. Ever since the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, Congress has shifted some responsibility for enforcement to employers. Companies were prohibited from knowingly hiring undocumented workers but also required to “examine” documentation to verify workers’ legal status. And employers describe the Immigration and Customs Enforcement I-9 audits as bureaucratic, root-canal-like procedures.
Where undocumented workers are employed, they often have distinguished themselves through their skill or leadership, rising to jobsite management and becoming mainstays of the companies that employ them. Many of those who are arrested or detained or who leave the U.S. for good out of worry will be missed. U.S. citizens and legal immigrant workers soon will be able to step in to take their jobs. Since illegals usually will lower the wages of low-skilled workers by about 5%, the legal workers will have to be paid more. Will new applicants apply to fill all the roofing and demolition jobs that will be available? If they do, it will prove at least one argument for the deportations: that American citizens and legal residents were being deprived of work they needed. But that remains to be seen.
We need comprehensive immigration reform, something no Congress in recent years has had the courage to pass. To our thinking, it should include secure borders. We don’t believe a wall is justified, but if there has to be one, it ought to have big doors that swing wide open to admit more legal immigrants now, including those with low skill and educational levels. The best antidote to illegal immigration is more orderly legal immigration. Right now, immigration law is skewed heavily to admit the better-educated and wealthy and disgracefully discriminates against those who work with tools. Too bad there are few, if any, elected officials who are standing up against that injustice.