October 3, 2006


Illegal -- but Essential: Experts say undocumented immigrants are a driving force in the economy, despite a toll on public services and unskilled workers (David Streitfeld, October 1, 2006, LA Times)

Shortly after dawn, the day laborers began gathering beneath a San Diego Freeway overpass in West Los Angeles.

A house painter pulled up in a pickup, looking for an assistant. He offered $12 an hour. A worker jumped in.

Next to arrive was a white-haired woman driving a Honda. Her garden needed a makeover. She'd pay $11 an hour. She departed with a second worker.

On the freeway above, commuters were heading to offices in Century City and El Segundo. Down here, at the West L.A. Community Job Center, arrangements were being made to remodel their living rooms, landscape their yards, rebuild their decks.

The work is undertaken by men from Mexico and Central America. Most are in this country illegally. The jobs, which last only a day or two and pay cash, are all but invisible to the state and federal governments. No one has to fill out paperwork, follow safety regulations or pay taxes.

Yet what happens here is far from marginal. The jobs that flow out of this day-laborer hiring spot — and from thousands of others around the state, some as informal as a street corner — are a pillar of California's economic strength.

To see why, check out Adrian Lopez, 20, who is kicking around a soccer ball as he waits. Lopez, who came here from the Mexican state of Oaxaca, is carrying in his Everest backpack a Sony Walkman from the Best Buy across the street.

It's got a CD by the Argentine group Los Enanitos Verdes inside, bought at a Ritmo Latino store. He has a bottle of Kirkland Premium Drinking Water, purchased at Costco, and a spare Old Navy shirt. He likes the grilled steak at Baja Bud's. He wasn't impressed by "Monster House."

"Immigrants buy everything here," Lopez said in Spanish.

The presence in the United States of Lopez and 12 million other illegal immigrants is one of the most contentious issues of the era. Hundreds of thousands of immigrants have repeatedly demonstrated this year for legal recognition, sparking a backlash from many native-born Americans. Congress has been stalemated between legalization advocates and those pushing punitive measures.

Economists are less divided. In the main, they say the American engines of industry and commerce have always been fueled by a steady supply of new arrivals. Immigrants, they contend, contribute to consumer spending and, instead of replacing native workers, create jobs.

"Overall, immigration has been a net gain for American citizens, though a modest one in proportion to the size of our $13-trillion economy," 500 economists wrote in an open letter to Congress on June 19.

Of course, none of the 500, nor the 535 they addressed, are pure natives either.

Posted by Orrin Judd at October 3, 2006 12:02 AM

Let us not talk about our emotional reaction to what we think are the motives of those with whom we disagree, but rather about the economic realities of the underground economy.

"No one has to fill out paperwork, follow safety regulations and pay taxes."

There is is. If you lie and cheat, you save money. Thus the phony, hypocritical, make-believe anti-immigration system is not only steeped in economic sin, but in spiritual sin as well, presenting temptation and occcasion of sin dragging us down with enducement to become liars and cheats.

Posted by: Lou Gots at October 3, 2006 9:55 PM

No one cares about the money. Make it legal and more will come, not less.

Posted by: oj at October 3, 2006 11:10 PM