The thing is, we could stop the vast majority of illegal immigration. We wouldn’t even need any new border walls or chartered flights to Martha’s Vineyard to do it. I know there are a lot of voters worried about undocumented immigrants coming to America and stealing our jobs – I get a lot of emails from them for some reason – so I hope this comes as good news: We can totally prevent that. (Although as of August 2022, we currently have a national unemployment rate of 3.7 percent and a Maine state unemployment rate of 3.1 percent. Clearly most jobs have not been stolen.)

In order to remove the incentive for migrants to come to the United States and work under the table, we would have to do two relatively simple things.

The first would be to mandate the use of E-Verify at every employer in America. E-Verify is a simple government system that checks to make sure a person is legally allowed to work in America, using records from the Social Security Administration – to see if the employee has a legitimate Social Security number – and from the Department of Homeland Security. It gets results in under a minute. The second step would be to punish employers through steep fines and other consequences for failing to use e-Verify and for hiring undocumented labor.

So why aren’t we, as a country, using these two very simple steps to cut down on demand for undocumented labor? Because big businesses and politicians don’t actually want to do that.

Big businesses want to use undocumented labor because it’s cheaper – they don’t have to pay payroll taxes or the minimum wage if it’s all cash under the table – and because they want to be able to threaten their employees with deportation if they step out of line or report harsh working conditions. Most laborers aren’t going to report wage theft or sexual harassment to the proper authorities if it means getting kicked out of the country. (Would you?) While numbers are hard to come by, huge numbers of American agricultural workers – according to the USDA, the number is around 50 percent – are undocumented. The wages are terrible, and workers are often paid per pound of harvest they pick. For example, in 2021 in Maine, the “piece rate” for a pound of strawberries was $1 per pound. If your rent is $1,000, you need to pick 1,000 pounds of berries to pay it. What American citizen is willing to do that in the hot sun?

Politicians don’t actually want to fix the “problem” of undocumented immigration because then they would lose an important campaign ad subject. Have you ever noticed that candidates for office have been using “secure the border” and “solve immigration” to get money and votes for years, and yet nothing seems to change?

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Personally, I don’t really care if people are undocumented. If the only way I could feed my family was to sneak across the Canadian border and tap maple trees for a loonie a bucket that’s exactly what I’d do, eh?

Unless you’re a native American or descended from Africans (who were forcefully brought here, against their will), you probably owe your American citizenship and all the privilege it confers to your ancestor’s immigration. I sure do. And yeah, my ancestors came here “legally,” but that’s because the government of the time made it easy to immigrate because they wanted my Scottish ancestors to come to America. The reason we have so many “illegal” immigrants is because we make it very, very hard to move to America these days, particularly if you are dark of skin and poor of wallet.

Cracking down on the employers who use illegal hiring practices while making temporary, seasonal work visas more easily and widely available would go a long way toward fixing “the immigration crisis” while still making sure that our economy can function. But that wouldn’t benefit the wealthy and powerful. So we’re stuck with talking heads hollering about Joe Biden and the border, and the rest of us suffer.

Unless this is the very first column of mine you’ve read, you know I’m pro-immigration. Anyone who is concerned with Maine’s future should be. For the past few years we’ve had more deaths than births. I’m not a trained statistician, but even I know that’s not sustainable.

And as more and more baby boomers continue to retire, our workforce will shrink and shrink. You think the waiting period to see a health care provider is bad now? It will only get worse from here. So far, the only solution I can see is immigration.

I love Maine. I love living here. I want us to have a strong, healthy, thriving future. Immigrants, regardless of paperwork status, are good for our economy. They are good for our culture. They are good for our communities; it has been found that crime rates are lower among undocumented immigrants than among native-born Americans. And they are very, very good for our restaurant scene (a vital industry in Portland, in particular).

The next time you’re getting mad at all the “illegal immigrants,” please remember that they are a backbone of our country’s economic and food system. And next time you see the eleventy-trillionth political ad about stopping illegal immigration, ask yourself why it hasn’t been done when the solutions are right there and very simple.

Victoria Hugo-Vidal is a Maine millennial. She can be contacted at:
[email protected]
Twitter: @mainemillennial


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