Migrants do needed work
Hundreds, if not thousands, of undocumented workers have flowed into storm-wrecked southwest Florida following Hurricane Ian, according to published reports, but Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, an ambitious Trumpist, has not rushed to eject them from his state. Why not? He made international headlines last month when he rounded up migrants in Texas and flew them to Massachusetts.
Perhaps DeSantis has hit the pause button on his latest ploy to score points with MAGA Republicans because his September stunt is the subject of a criminal investigation by Texas Sheriff Javier Salazar, who points out that the migrants were lured onto the flights with falsehoods. In addition, several of the Venezuelan migrants who were flown to Martha’s Vineyard have filed a class action lawsuit against DeSantis and other officials who arranged the flights.
But that may not be the only reason that DeSantis hasn’t hustled out to make headlines by rounding up the undocumented construction laborers who are demolishing destroyed houses, cleaning up trashed lots and roofing damaged homes. The simple fact is that Florida, like virtually every other state, has a labor shortage, and those workers are desperately needed.
As is true about every other political or cultural issue, the United States is not only divided on the subject of immigration but also deeply polarized. In other words, we don’t just disagree. We disagree sharply, bitterly, furiously.
In 2018, the non-profit group More in Common published a study called “Hidden Tribes: A Study of America’s Polarized Landscape.” The report showed that 51 percent of Americans believe that “immigration is good for America” while 49 percent believe it’s bad for the country. That’s in line with most polls.
Those who are convinced that undocumented immigrants cause more crime, leach off the social safety net and damage stable communities haven’t paid attention to economists or criminologists. Research shows that immigrants — both those here legally and those here illegally — commit fewer crimes than the native-born. They rebuild and revitalize declining communities. They pay taxes.
And in a labor shortage, they are clearly not taking jobs away from American citizens. According to Boundless, a pro-immigration non-profit, by the end of 2021 there were about 2 million fewer working-age immigrants living in the U.S. than there would have been if the pre-2020 immigration trend had continued unchanged. Industries that had a higher percentage of immigrant workers in 2019 had significantly higher rates of unfilled jobs in 2021.
Indeed, many economists believe that allowing more undocumented immigrants to get jobs would help to ease the inflation rate. After all, businesses are having to pay workers more to lure them and retain them. That results in higher costs for the goods or services that those businesses offer their customers.
But the hard-core anti-immigration voters aren’t listening to economists. They are listening to the xenophobes among Republican leaders, the racists on Fox News, the Trump-inspired cynics who know they can inspire fear and rage among their constituents to push them to the polls.
In Hurricane Ian’s aftermath, law enforcement authorities arrested at least 28 people for looting, but DeSantis blasted only three — the ones who were without papers.: “They’re illegally in our country. And not only that – they try to loot and ransack in the aftermath of a natural disaster. I mean, they should be prosecuted, but they need to be sent back to their home country. They should not be here at all,” he said.
And yet, DeSantis isn’t running off those undocumented workers who rushed to Florida for work after Ian. The governor is cynical, but he is not stupid. As a congressman, he voted against federal aid for the victims of Hurricane Sandy in 2013, he quickly put his hand out for federal aid after Ian, which may have caused $75 billion in damage.
Undocumented laborers have done much of America’s post-storm clean-up for decades. They poured into Houston in 2017, after Hurricane Harvey wreaked havoc there. And they went to New Orleans after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. In that city, residents had the decency to acknowledge their importance with a statue of a construction worker in a public park. It’s entitled, “Tribute to Latin American Workers.”
Don’t expect DeSantis to encourage any such tribute.