Among the many items that the Senate’s "comprehensive" immigration reform bill, supported by President Bush, failed to address was whether local governments could continue to force taxpayers to subsidize illegal behavior.
That’s happening across the United States, and it is a growing trend.
Local governments are building or forcing the construction of hiring centers. These are meeting places for immigrants seeking work and employers seeking cheap labor. Often times these centers help match up skills of a day laborer and what the employer is seeking.
That’s despite a seldom enforced federal prohibition that says an employer can be prosecuted for shielding illegal immigrants and for violating federal tax laws.
In 1992 there were five such centers. In 2005 there were 140 nationwide, most supported at least in part by the local governments, according to a study in January by the University of California Los Angeles. Nationally, 84% of the nation’s 117,000 day laborers are here illegally, the study said.
The centers sometimes offer job training skills, English as a second language courses and advocacy for immigrants who aren’t being paid. The centers keep a record as to who is hiring the day workers.
But the centers are little more than a government reward to employers that don’t provide benefits or pay taxes on cheap labor, said John Vinson, president of the American Immigration Control Foundation in Washington.
"This is government using tax dollars to subsidize lawbreaking," Vinson said. "This situation is occurring more and more around the country. You set these centers up and they become a magnet for illegals. More are coming in. This undercuts the honest contractor who can’t compete with the contractor paying workers under the table."
The often-derided House immigration reform bill that passed late last year would have prohibited these centers.
The village of Brewster, N.Y., began construction in late April of a hiring station, where workers can register their job skills to be matched with an employers.
"This is for the safety of all residents," said Frank DelCampo, deputy executive of Putnam County, N.Y., which is funding the project. "Getting these people off the streets means safety for everybody, and the costs will be minimal because the workers will help build it."
In California, several municipal governments including Woodland Hills, Monrovia, Glendale and Burbank either pressured or required the local Home Depot stores to build and fund the operation of a labor center. The stores had already been one of the biggest gathering places for immigrant workers throughout the state, according to the National Council of La-Raza, a Washington-based Hispanic advocacy group.
If attracting workers is the goal, the hiring center in Mamaroneck, N.Y., has been a victim of it’s own success. Town officials there shut down the center in late January after determining it was a liability. The center became a “magnet” for immigrants from all neighboring towns, the village board there said.
Communities with these centers have argued it’s the employers’ responsibility to check the status of a worker. Opponents of the centers argue that an employer might have the right to assume it’s on the up and up since the local government is sanctioning the activity.
The greater metropolitan area of Washington, D.C., offers a stark contrast in how the public has reacted to the worker stations.
In Silver Spring, Md., the public has been mostly supportive with charity and church groups getting involved in the centers. However, in Herndon, Va., a citizen’s group began taking pictures of license plates of employers at the centers, and posting them on a website to call out those hiring illegal immigrants.
Communities should view hiring centers as a solution to the issue of immigrant workers, said Flavia Jimenez, immigration policy analyst for the National Council of La-Raza.
"Workers standing on corners will be picked up now," she continued. "This does not facilitate or assist illegal behavior. Illegal behavior is happening already. The reason it’s illegal is because the system is broken."
CORRECTION: This article incorrectly identified the village of Brewster, N.Y., as planning to build labor center for day workers and employers to meet. Brewster has actually scrapped plans to build the center, according to William Banks, a member of the Brewster Board of Trustees.