Student for and of life
- May 11, 2007
- United Nations
The voicemail came from a Korean War veteran, a man who claimed to know why Americans were losing jobs.
"It's this illegal-immigration thing," he said in a message left for a Sentinel reporter. "It seems like our laws have gone out the window."
The OrlandoSentinel.com post from "Winner" of Fort Myers was more caustic: "Kick [out] all the Mexicans, Cubans and all the other aliens that do not belong here and real Americans could have real jobs!"
With layoffs becoming a weekly event, the debate over immigration is erupting again in Florida and across the nation. Activists say foreign workers -- legal and otherwise -- are taking American jobs at the worst possible time.
Beck's organization and a coalition of partners launched a national ad campaign this month highlighting the practice of hiring foreign workers. It features an elevator crowded with men and women who have been laid off. Each holds a box containing personal items from his or her desk.
"Another American has lost his job," a voice says. "Another breadwinner going home with the bad news."
Yet the government, the announcer says, allows 1.5 million foreign workers a year to enter the country "to take American jobs. Could your job be next?"
The Federation for American Immigration Reform is pressing the same issue. In a recent column, President Dan Stein says 2.5 million Americans lost their jobs in 2008 and concludes, "It is time to put the interests of U.S. workers first."
Beck calls that math -- 2.5 million lost jobs, 1.5 million foreign workers -- "explosive," but it needs some explanation. The 1.5 million figure represents about 850,000 people who obtained working papers and another 745,000 who got a green card. But many of those green-card recipients may have been living and working legally in the United States for years.
'It is scary'
Jose Luis Cruz, 46, of Apopka has been in the United States since 1979, doing construction and field work. Cruz, who has a green card, said he has come to expect sideways looks and comments about how he's taking American jobs. It always ratchets up, he said, when times are tough.
"At times," he said, "it is scary."
Florida lost more than 21,000 jobs in December alone, pushing the state's unemployment rate to 8.1 percent, the highest in 16 years. The national rate stands at 7.6 percent, and more than 163,000 jobs have been cut since the first of the year.
In that climate, it's little wonder that border-security groups have an audience.
"In hard economic times, there's going to be some blame going on," said Terri Fine, a University of Central Florida political-science professor. "That's not new."
In the mid-1800s, Americans focused on the Irish immigrants. In the early 20th century, it was Italians and eastern European Jews. No less an American than Benjamin Franklin worried that Germans would never assimilate.
Those who would stop the flow of foreigners insist today is different because of the sheer number of people involved. There are now about 11 million to 12 million illegal immigrants in the U.S.
That's a "huge issue" with so many people out of work, said David Caulkett, vice president of Floridians for Immigration Enforcement. Caulkett said his organization and others should use it to push for new border-security legislation.
They lobbied for that in 2006 when lawmakers last considered immigration reform. But Congress was unable to craft a deal, and the issue was soon overshadowed by the 2008 presidential race. Caulkett said the time is right to revisit it.
His Pompano-based Web site for reporting illegal workers, he said, has seen an uptick in activity as jobs have dwindled. Meanwhile, Bill Landes, Florida director of the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps, said people contact him every day asking how to get involved. They're particularly interested, he said, in making sure that stimulus-package money goes only to companies who guarantee "they'll hire Americans." And Congress voted last week to restrict the hiring of foreign workers by banks getting bailout money.
Landes is part of a group urging local governments to adopt E-Verify, a federal system that helps employers determine whether a new employee is authorized to work in the U.S.
"We've got too much cheap labor out there knocking Americans out of jobs," said Landes, who sometimes heads west to patrol the border with other Minutemen. "People are mad."
Wenski, an outspoken immigration advocate, said, "I just hope that there's a bit more intestinal fortitude in this Congress not to be swayed by their histrionics."
So does Sister Ann Kendrick.
For more than 35 years, she has worked with migrants at the Office for Farmworker Ministry in Apopka. She has seen them blamed for many problems in America, but the past few years, she said, have been particularly "vitriolic."
Kendrick worries the rising unemployment rate will only make matters worse.
"There's a climate of fear," she said. "And we show our worst face when we're afraid, when we're threatened."
I have to admit that it irks me a little to think that there are illegal immigrants out there employed or that businesses are importing labor from other nations to fill vacancies while thousands are being laid off but in all fairness Americans probably do the same thing to other peoples when they move to foreign lands to work. At one time our ancestors were all probably immigrants in some form or another.
This stuff has been going on since the beginning of the nation state so should we allow ourselves to get swept up suddenly just now about these issues when we didn't care so much about them before? All of a sudden it's fashionable to be outraged about immigration.