MPR’s Dan Olson interviews Jose Trejo, director of the governor's Spanish Speaking Affairs Council; and Manuel Guerrero, St. Paul attorney and former chair of the Chicano Studies Department at the University of Minnesota, who discuss the plight of illegal aliens in the region.
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(00:00:00) Not long ago the wire Services carried a report from South Dakota about a vanload of 14 men from Mexico who had been abandoned in that state South Dakota authorities found the men inside a van parked along a state highway. They ranged in age from 14 to 54 years. They said that when the vehicle developed mechanical trouble the driver left it and was picked up by another vehicle. The men who had been abandoned were not citizens of this country, but they had been recruited in Mexico by us employers working through others who told the men they would be given jobs in Chicago if they agreed to pay a transportation fee and then a large percentage of the salary from their promised jobs in Chicago, the men had been told they would get the jobs work for a few months then returned to Mexico. Well the report from South Dakota was astonishing for two reasons. We thought first the men had been in the van for two days without water and with a small amount of food second. They were abandoned by the driver in a snowstorm and none of them had clothing necessary to withstand the harsh North Climate the men from Mexico stranded in the van are officially classified as illegal aliens, but they were destined to become part of the US Workforce in some way. And so they are what some have chosen to call undocumented workers today on midday will learn more about the problems created on both sides of the Border by the problem of undocumented workers or illegal aliens will be talking with two men Jose 30 is the executive director of the Spanish-speaking Affairs Council. That's an advocacy Agency for Minnesota's Hispanic population. And that Council by the way was created by the Minnesota Legislature last year. It recommends legislation and serves as a liaison between government and the Spanish-speaking community and Minnesota. Also joining us is Manuel Guerrero the former chairperson of the Chicano studies department at the University of Minnesota for three years. Mr. Guerrero still teaches classes in Chicano history and politics and he also practices law in st. Paul gentlemen, thanks for joining us and good afternoon to both of you a number of questions come to mind about the Of undocumented workers and I don't think there would probably be a better way to start the discussion then Jose if we began with you with some other examples of undocumented workers who have come to Minnesota. First of all, what do you think is the number of people involved here? (00:02:15) Well, the estimates range throughout the United States anywhere from five to seven million individuals. It is difficult to pinpoint the exact number of people involved simply because there's no records kept secondly most people assume that this is a problem that or an issue that only affects the southwestern States or the southern the border states. However, we have repeatedly no one of cases of individuals coming as far north as Minnesota in search of a job. And and also there is a pipeline to Chicago of undocumented workers for the industrial areas (00:02:54) been. Well, why are these people called undocumented workers by some and illegal aliens by? Government, what is the distinction? (00:03:02) I think that the the term illegal aliens has a pejorative term and there's sort of a negative impact when we use that term and those who are interested in this area seem to prefer the term undocumented workers primarily because I think it accurately describes the describes the situation and that is that most of these people whom you refer to as the undocumented worker are here for that reason and that is to work and a recent study issued by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology indicates in as a matter of fact that many if not, the majority of Mexican workers who migrated illegally to the United States are temporary rather than permanent with an intention and who actually do a return to Mexico. (00:03:56) Hosea I wanted to ask you about this issue of who recruits the people we have heard. Now this story of the vanload of 14 men found in South Dakota apparently recruited by somebody who said they were going to take them to Chicago. What are some instances you have heard of how does this connection between the undocumented workers who come from Mexico to the United States? Who do they contact or who contacts them I guess and what sort of jobs do they end up (00:04:19) in the recruitment process is a is a very large Word of Mouth type operation. The Northern parts of of Mexico Northern port cities. What happens is a person will come in from other parts of Mexico into the city into the northern cities or Frontier towns and wait to get across generally. They are they either are approached by someone or they approached someone whom they have for the can get them across fees for getting them across the border range tremendously some of them charge $250 other starts to certain portion of the earnings. So forth employers will work indirectly or directly with recruiters or with a circle and common in the country coyotes. In fact in the in the lingo of the of the documented workers the document the workers themselves are called Pollo sort or chickens in the sense that the coyote can go and pluck the chickens. So this is a this is a very vicious method of working with people who have basic human needs like food shelter and clothing and using this needs of the people have and they can vanish of them by bringing them Brigham across the once they have reached a certain type of verbal agreement to come across then they come across in variety of ways most of the time they come across on their own across the border and transportation is provided on the American side, and then they may be moved North into into the different areas in Hours Minnesota Last Summer the deputy sheriff stopped event. They had a daughter that was slightly ajar and they stopped the van to inform the driver that the door was ajar and the back and found out that they had 29 people packed in the van 14 of the 2010 were women and children so that it is not just the men that come across but also women and children that are brought brought over. So (00:06:21) what is the economic incentive gentleman for these (00:06:23) workers? They can come if I may respond the economic incentives is certainly the question of jobs. This Studies have shown that the vast majority of illegal aliens are undocumented workers who come to the United States do not in fact take jobs away from Americans the jobs that they do take our those jobs that are the least desirable in the United States labor market. They are the Dirty Jobs the hard jobs, which generally have were power working. Powers and poor working conditions and to bolster this or to show evidence of this Studies have been done on those jobs that have been vacated by undocumented workers in the west and efforts to fill those jobs have failed so that I think this is ample evidence to show that people come here for the reason of jobs. You know, I was I was coming down to the radio station today. I noticed that people here in St. Paul were buying it seem to be buying and spending with the frenzy and we take all of this for granted and it's a wonderful thing that that we're able to do this as a country, but I think what we're what we forget our people who are coming to me coming from Mexico to the United States simply to to fill the basic requirements of living that is to do to meet the most fundamental of basic human needs that is around the right to eat and right to live and And that's the reason most of the people come most of this money by the way always great portion of this money goes back returns to Mexico to bolster them Mexican economy (00:08:06) and to see some of it of course is siphoned Away by the agents in the others who take their cut of the the share sir Jose. I want to return to something that you were talking about and that is a bit more background to who these people are who are the agents who act as the go-betweens. You might say. No we heard in this one story one report from South Dakota that the men were headed for jobs in Chicago and yet I assume that a number of the jobs are agricultural jobs to that would apply to our region who are the people who are interested in hiring undocumented workers from from South of the Border. (00:08:41) Well, if you were to try and determine specifically which employers are interested that will be open and possible to ask most employers will tend to say they will hire anyone that applies, you know, it's a way of copying out in a way of And well, I really don't know secondly there is it is not a crime to hire any legal or an undocumented worker. It is a crime to be United States without documents, but it is not a crime for the employer. So at the present time the employer can hire any individual and for the most part they will most employers will say they'll hire whoever applies. The thing that happens is that there are certain areas agricultural been one of them textile industry been another one that and then the the very dirty type jobs in the lower jobs that are difficult to fill by the local population. Those are the types of jobs will tend to draw people who are willing to work and who want to work. The other thing that is happening is that in many instances undocumented workers do not create problems. Do not join unions. Do not become demanding of their Java status and so on and so therefore They're very good workers. They don't complain. They don't join a groups that may complain against management. I'd like to add another factor to what Jose saying relative to to the impact that Mexican workers have in this country. And that is that that these Mexican workers generally contribute far more to Social Security and to the tax revenues and the cost in the social services. So they pay taxes they pay social security and they don't they don't call upon those services in return which imposes a burden on the US economy. (00:10:34) We see a very unusual situation here because we have now covered the background indicating that the undocumented workers fill jobs that many other people in this country citizens of this country do not want and if the reports that you side are to be believed they indeed returned money. To the system or in some way contribute positively to the system rather than drawing on the Social Services of the United States and yet in our in the political sector of our culture in the United States, there are groups of people notably the Ku Klux Klan who have now mobilized to set up their own informal Patrol the border between Mexico and the United States to try to prohibit the crossing of Mexicans into this country. And we see a constant reminder. We her constant reminder from those groups that these workers are hurting the US economy. And this seems to me to be a powerful image that has been built in the minds of many Americans that the undocumented workers are hurting are hurting our economy and yet we see many employers apparently willing to hire them and Jose I was most curious about your your fact that it is not illegal for employers to hire undocumented workers. (00:11:45) There's been attempts have been made in the past the in Congress and to make it illegal to hire undocumented workers. However, this creates a lot of problems then who As an undocumented worker and will the will the Citizens United States? We are required to carry identification papers at all times. So there has been some civil liberties groups who have opposed the idea of of individuals, you know of penalties against an argument or simply for the fact that is the difficult difficult to enforce secondly is everywhere consider some going to be required to carry at all times with my birth certificate and thirdly if that is the law then have a how about those people who are of Hispanic heritage, they're born and raised in the United States. Are they going to then be set aside or put aside the basis of their Hispanic? And so therefore they may be legal so we don't want to hire them. So it does create problems. There's some very critical issues involved. And so therefore that the law is not does not exist to hire them one of the things that that I would like to see more is not so much whether an employer can hire or not hire but the United States should look at this guy. And agencies should look at this individuals that as having basic human rights that is for example, if they are higher than employed then for whatever whatever agreement with her verbal or otherwise, they should receive those wages instances. There have been many instances where the individual comes to work and then gets picked up by the immigration services and it gets trip to Mexico and never received a which they have earned the other things. We think that they have basic human rights, like adequate housing adequate Services if needed we have we have documented cases of individuals who have been denied medical treatment when medical treatment was needed because on the basis of their illegal status, we have cases of individuals basic legal rights, totally violated simply because of the fact that they had no legal standing and we have attempted to work and at the local level like to the human rights Department of the city, too. Went out to individuals that yes, even though they're here illegally and have no legal status. They do have some human rights that has (00:14:00) well as you point out the promise of some economic reward can very suddenly turn tragic for an undocumented worker crossing the border in this country. If as you say the employer turns over the person to immigration authorities. Let's talk for a minute about that process what happens to a person an undocumented worker when they are discovered essentially or the employer turns them in or the immigration officials discovered them. What is the process (00:14:26) what happens here in Minnesota? Is there immediately placed usually in detention facilities that the county jails and tell Arrangements can be made to for their transportation back to Mexico and I might add also during this period of detention many of these people are denied the basic civil rights, which are guaranteed under the Constitution the Constitution by the way applies. Not only to Citizens but it also applies to anybody found within the limits of the United States. These rights are never accorded to the undocumented worker. (00:15:03) What about a general amnesty? Well, what about the government just saying? All right, we agree that we have perhaps as many as seven million undocumented workers in this country. Let's not worry about it. Let's just allow them to show up at immigration offices the post office wherever they can file for landed immigrant status or whatever. We'll stop we'll stop worrying about this in applying our resources towards this problem. What is your reaction to that Jose first? (00:15:27) Well, I think that a a process could be developed in which individuals cool obtain or gain legal status in this in this country. I think that the court has a have an established for for Latin America in particular are unrealistic and the view that there are quotas from lot for other countries generated has been filled and haven't been filled for years. So that on the one hand we have quotas for immigration from South American Latin American countries that are booked up for years and into the future while we have some from European countries and Australia, for example, who you know that was quarters are not going to be filled. Look a very realistic. Look at the horde of the needs lie. Secondary realistic. Look at if President Carter is talking about human rights and human issues. And we need to look at right here is to critique what this could be done. Hi could be done to better set up a process or a system the impact of the economy many of these people may not even want to stay they want to work. So the impact on the economy is not going to be detrimental at all since they're already here. It's just a matter of allowing him to work a lot and to collect what money they have learned fortunately the kind of legal protection that every other citizen has and it didn't if the time comes when they this always to return, you know, they can return without being hunted on the thing. We have seen at the front of the present system is that if they are picked up by immigration officials. They do have a right to a hearing. However, this is a complicated process and it's a lengthy process and most of them do not cannot post bail and you can take you know from a couple of weeks to several months before they even get brought up to hearing so in some cases taking three or four months and so most of the people will opt to just to be deported and or we have known cases in which the individual gets picked up during work during the workday particularly. Like let's say a woman for example will get picked up during the workday and guess transported immediately to Chicago which is a processing center for the for the Midwest before even the in family is notified of what has happened to that person. So so she doesn't come home. No, she doesn't come home. Once they get picked up. They don't get a chance to go home at all. So they get (00:17:51) no telephone call no letter (00:17:53) it know. This is very sad. Afforded to them either they don't is neither is not explained that they can do that or simply the people just assume they have no legal rights. And therefore they don't have to worry about it (00:18:04) man. Well, what about the possibility of Simply declaring that those undocumented workers in the country now be allowed to remain no questions (00:18:11) asked I think that's an excellent idea and I as a matter of fact that's one of the answers being Advanced by some common some commentators that is that undocumented workers in this country. We simply being ordered to report to an immigration office given a six-month permit and so long as there are employed in the United States and so long as they returned after the expiration of that six months that that should take care of the situation and that there should be no limit on the amount of six-month permits imposed that is that it's sort of a push-pull situation and They will come and go as they please after all that border is 2,000 miles long and they can't build a wall or higher enough border patrols to stop that migration. And it seems to me the best thing to do is to recognize that and try to deal with it in a realistic (00:19:11) fashion. However, we've pointed out earlier in the discussion that many of the undocumented workers in this country right now have taken jobs that other American citizens have refused to take wouldn't it be a perpetuation of a more than a class difference a real racial difference that would be perpetuated if the situation will not only allowed to exist but perhaps even encouraged by offering people a work permit for a period of time allowing undocumented workers to stay wouldn't that be contributing to continuing racial (00:19:42) Prejudice? Yes. We also we already have both of those. We have a racial society and we have a class that Society in the United States and I think we ought to recognize that to I don't I don't think that The it would be a continuation or a permanent situation for most Mexicans after all Jose and I are both ancestors of Mexican people who were in fact migrants who came into this country looking for work much as the undocumented workers doing today, and we were able to rise and we end our ancestors were able to rise out of that class and it seems to me that that the undocumented workers if they choose to do that should also be given that opportunity (00:20:24) Jose as we have pointed out. There is very little available to undocumented workers in the way of Social Security benefits disability pension there another none of the advantages of having paid in taxes and then being able to participate in some of the social services that the government makes available what is available to the undocumented worker if they encounter problems but have to but have to because of their status in this country do it (00:20:46) discreetly. Well, it is not so much queries report is not available as far as the legal terminology is concerned because services are supposed to be provided. The basis of need quite quite a happens many times is that a governmental agencies like Welfare Offices or individuals within those agencies have a feeling that they are there to protect the tax dollar they're there to do certain things, you know, and so their sides we have cases in which the individuals have been turned in by the social service agencies for which they have gone to to ask for assistance. It's a result because if you have one or two case that is spreads like wildfire to the community and say I'm not going to go over there because I know if I go over there no matter how sick or no matter. What I need is policy the only get turned in and the fear developed very strong Fierce. And so people will rather be ill or whether or not you know, we go hungry then take the chance of getting turned in and yet this is new. This is what the agents are there for us to assist those that they need as far as the other thing that is happening and we think is a very bad thing. For us is that in some instances? For example in the Minneapolis enforcement law enforcement agencies have come into social service agencies that are Chicano social service agencies and have demanded list of clients and have demanded list of individuals and have demanded to know whether or not this agency is serving any legal illegal workers. So what happens is that on the one hand you have Chicano agencies that are you know, being harassed by law enforcement people for providing services to human beings and on the other hand you have the people we have been afraid to go to the governmental agencies because the government agency Representatives May turn him in so in a sense then even to the services technically legally may be available. People are afraid to take advantage of (00:22:42) them man. Well, do you agree with that assessment? I (00:22:44) certainly do I like to say something about that fear on the that Jose mentioned on a personal level and that is something you never really feel unless you actually Rancid and perhaps you never really think about it until you actually see the kind of fear that is instilled in the minds of people who are in this country without papers and I'm certain that I can I can just visualize the people that you mentioned at the beginning of the program in that van just called with fear not knowing what was going to happen to them. I don't know why it is that they have such a fear and distrust of what they call La Migra but is actually the immigration and naturalization service. But but the fear is there and it's a it's a very human thing that that many of the workers deal with and live with and as a result to that fear. They don't seek out the services or demand any of the rights that they're entitled to as as human beings. (00:23:42) Now, there is something that has been in my mind as we have been talking about this problem of undocumented workers in the United States and it is one that we should perhaps tackle as we conclude this discussion and that is a differentiation between Amended workers and migrant workers because I have a feeling that while we have tried to give some fairly detailed definition as to who undocumented workers are in this country. There are no doubt people in Minnesota. I'm sure since I was born and raised in a rural community who look at a person with a darker skin color and see them working in a sugar beet field and for the life of them. They may not know if that person is an undocumented worker so-called illegal alien or a migrant worker with a different status. What is the difference man Jose? (00:24:26) There is there is a definite difference is that in the fact that the migrant worker generally speaking will be a Citizens United States born and raised in the South Western States for the most part and who comes to Minnesota or the northern states to work for the summer time and then goes back to the home base in Texas for the winter months physically, of course, there's very little difference between one group or the other, you know, by looking at them. You really can't tell whether a person is still here legally or illegally and in some instances. This is the illegal workers will commingle with with the illegals and coming in groups to work and one of the things that you know within their own Community, you sell them asked if a person is here illegally or legally you just assume that everybody's legally so you just got go about your business, but that's the difference is that the migratory worker is an American citizen. (00:25:14) I'm curious too as we conclude this discussion about one more thing. What is the attitude that the two of you encounter from people taxpayers, but more importantly perhaps a business people in this country as they talk about the problem of undocumented workers. We started out by talking about the fact that a lot of people believe that the undocumented workers are taking away jobs from American citizens and yet we live with the fact that between 5 and 7 million undocumented workers hold jobs. Is it your feeling both of you men? Well that the undocumented workers situation is being tolerated because that's the only way the job is going to be done in this country. (00:25:49) Exactly. It seems to me that they are being exploited from the standpoint. Going to be being cheap labor constituting cheap later. And as a result, you don't have that Hue and cry among business people or industry for that matter. Generally, the the negative aspects that I receive are from the middle class people who who don't deal directly with undocumented (00:26:17) workers. Hosea's at your (00:26:19) experience. Yeah. This is I have basically the same feeling that you know, the employers for the most part have not taken a strong stance against undocumented workers and the the only groups that have in some instances taken a strong stance even like unions and some unions may have but for the most part it is a process that is tolerated. It is acceptable because it was a way of feeling employment or liver needs. (00:26:45) Finally gentlemen. What is the next session of Congress coming up in January going to do about this issue of undocumented workers if anything and what other legislative? He can you point to right (00:26:56) now. My guess is that President Carter's going to encounter some very strong resistance against any changes in the present Immigration and Naturalization laws and that therefore his his program to Grant amnesty to those who are without papers in the United States will not pass and I don't see the prospect is being to do optimistic Jose. I feel the same way the manila's in the sense that the pressure to not to provide amnesty is getting stronger. And also there's a there's a lot of fears that people have been led to believe as you say by the Klu Klux Klan and other groups a lot of these fears based on race the thing that I find interesting in a whole issue of migratory workers or undocumented workers. I should say is a fact that I don't know who was checking the papers the past for paper for the pilgrims when they landed at Plymouth Rock You know, it's just it's amazing that that Equal to that and the people, you know millions of Europeans came across there was no Hue and cry about them coming to this country while you have people from South America where there is, you know, as soon as soon as you mentioned that and technically or people are supposed to be here. Illegally, one of the most difficult things we face is Citizens those who are here as permanent permanent resident status or citizens of this country is a fact that the majority of population in some instances confuses, undocumented workers with with local residents and as such in in has a tendency to strongly label both groups as being here illegally, as you said, we need to explain the difference in a migrant worker and an (00:28:37) undocumented worker gentlemen, thanks to both of you for joining us today during mid-day. We've been listening to Jose Trejo executive director of the Spanish-speaking Affairs Council. That's an advocacy Agency for Minnesota's Hispanic population. Also with us men. Well Guerrero the former chairperson of the Chicano studies. Department at the University of Minnesota now a practicing attorney in st. Paul.