Monday, October 4, 2010


Former Secretary of State Colin Powell made the news recently when he admitted that many of the workers who repaired the roof on his house were probably undocumented workers. He quickly clarified that assertion by stating that his contractor hired the workers, not him.

California Governor candidate Meg Whitman stirred up a hornets nest last week when she admitted that her housekeeper for some nine years was undocumented.

But I've got news for everyone: All of us at least indirectly hire undocumented workers, and many directly hire them. Normal life and business in Southern California would come to a screeching halt without undocumented workers doing all kinds of important work to sustain us all: planting and harvesting our food, caring for our children in homes or day care centers, mowing our lawns and maintaining our yards, cleaning rooms in our hotels and motels, washing our cars, doing our dry cleaning and laundry, and performing the laborer tasks on many construction jobs.

But undocumented workers are also doing far more important tasks as well: serving as cooks and chefs in our restaurants, operating outdoor machinery of all kinds, caring for our sick and elderly, assisting in many medical and dental offices, and working alongside engineers out in the field.

Recently I was at an Embassy Suites hotel here in Los Angeles, and I told the manager that it seemed like everyone on his hotel staff were immigrants. He looked at me with surprise, and told me: "Well of course, only immigrants come here and apply for jobs. Do you think ordinary 'Americans' are going to do any of this kind of work?"

The California State Employment Dept. regularly advertises all across the state for people to work in the harvest of peaches, plums, nectarines, grapes, and all kinds of fruits and vegetables. Guess how many 'Americans' show up for this type of employment--you're correct, practically no one.

And yet, immigrants--both documented and undocumented--are actually subsidizing our family food bills. These workers usually earn minimum wage, and work for staggered periods of time. That's why in this country we pay only 9.5% of our annual income for food--the lowest percentage in the world. Other countries and their percentage of income spent for food: United Kingdom, 11%; Japan, 17%; South Africa, 27%; India, 53%.

And why? Because immigrants are subsidizing our food production and processing with their low wages, few worker benefits, and unsteady employment.

This is just one more reason that we need to open our eyes and look around to see how vital immigrants are to the prosperity and well-being of our country. And why we need to enact federal law to help bring our immigrant brothers and sisters out from the shadows and help them become legal residents here.

Yes, ALL of us employ undocumented workers, both directly and indirectly. Let's appreciate them and work to respect their rights in our midst.