Picture showing migrant workers working on a lettuce farm.
  Workers on a farm in California’s Central Valley. Photo Credit: Max Whittaker for The New York Times.

No Crackdown on Illegal Employers

Article in The New York Times
20 March, 2017

“The takeaway is clear. While it has become politically expedient to malign and scapegoat immigrants, Mr. Trump and Republican lawmakers across the country recognize that finding a way to excise them systematically from payrolls would have a crippling effect on several industries. The only long-term solution to this conundrum is returning to the bipartisan consensus that enabled the 1986 bill. This would require giving millions of undocumented immigrants the ability to earn citizenship, then developing a uniform system to verify employment eligibility, and more rigorously prosecuting employers who evade it.

Barring that form of comprehensive reform, American taxpayers will continue bankrolling an expensive, heartless crackdown on immigrants for years on end. Meanwhile, employers will continue to quietly reap the benefits of immigrant labor while looking the other way.”

Large underground labour markets were created over the last thirty years in order to increase the competitiveness of several sectors of our economies which cannot be delocalised (agriculture, construction, care, hospitality, fisheries, extraction, for the most part), through reducing labour costs by employing exploited undocumented migrant workers.

This is a major pull factor for undocumented migration, which compounds the push factors and drive migration movements to our societies. Migrants aren’t stupid: they go where there are jobs. And when hundreds of thousands of employers are clamouring for their work, they come. The obstacle set by politicians on their way – such as border controls, walls, detention, deportation… – only serve to ensure that this work force is in a such precarious legal and social situation that they accept whatever working conditions are offered to them and keep their grievances to themselves, even in the face of abject human rights violations.

Until we reduce such underground labour markets, undocumented migration will come to our countries in response to the job offers, no matter what the politicians say. Actually, without being cynical, one could argue that it is the political repression of undocumented migrant workers which silences them and makes their exploitation possible: repression is a precondition to exploitation. As long as we repress the migrant workers and protect the exploitative employers, undocumented migration will not go away.

Reducing such underground labour markets means initiating a conversation about how to transition them from the present situation to the regular labour market and how to support them so that they can thrive without labour exploitation. Empowering migrant workers to fight for their rights without fear of detection, detention and deportation, is part of the solution. Repressing exploitative employers through better equipped and adequately focused labour inspections is also part of the solution. Subsidising the transition in between and enlisting the business community to establish and monitor a more appropriate level-playing field will be key. All in all, it will be an uphill battle at political level.

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