Americans are helping eight million people break this bad law

April 26, 2016
Migrants attend a workshop for legal advice held by the Familia Latina Unida and Centro Sin Fronteras at Lincoln United Methodist Church in south Chicago, Illinois, January 10, 2016.  Campaigns are going on in cities from Boston to Richmond, California as activists, legal aid organizations and immigrant groups react to the United States government's recent announcement it would step up deportations of Central Americans families that arrived since May 2014 when there was a surge of women and minors arriving from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, many fleeing drug gang violence. Picture taken January 10, 2016.  REUTERS/Joshua Lott - RTX26JUC

Migrants attend a workshop for legal advice held by the Familia Latina Unida and Centro Sin Fronteras at Lincoln United Methodist Church in south Chicago, Illinois, January 10, 2016. REUTERS/Joshua Lott

Last week immigrants, their families, and legal advocates rallied outside the U.S. Supreme Court as eight justices heard oral arguments in United States v. Texas, an immigration case concerning the Obama Administration’s Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) program, which would have offered deferred action status and work authorization to nearly 4 million unauthorized immigrants.

Based on the photos and news coverage of the demonstrators, the working parents, restaurant owners, and other small business and household employers who break U.S. immigration laws by hiring unauthorized immigrants were, as usual, noticeably absent.

Too often immigration is seen as a problem for immigrants and their families. But if you hire someone to care for a family member at home, buy produce at the grocery store, eat out at a restaurant, or have your house cleaned, the fight to legalize the status of unauthorized workers is your fight, too.

According to the most recent data gathered in 2012, 8.1 million of the estimated 11.3 million unauthorized immigrants were employed. They represented 5.1 percent of the United States workforce. Some of the industries with the highest numbers of unauthorized immigrant workers include landscaping services, private households, crop production, dry cleaning services, construction, and eating and drinking establishments. Thus, many Americans benefit from the work of unauthorized immigrants either because they employ these immigrants illegally or because the goods and services they consume are made cheaper by the use of unauthorized immigrant labor.

Unauthorized immigration and the hiring of unauthorized immigrants is a kind of workaround against immigration laws that do not reflect labor demands. As Americans have become older and more educated, the demand for lower-skilled workers, namely workers in occupations that do not require a high school diploma, has been met by immigrants. Yet lower-skilled workers only qualify for a handful of visas that would allow them to work lawfully in the United States, in part because U.S. immigration laws favor family immigration and higher-skilled temporary workers.

The lack of sufficient channels of lawful entry for lower-skilled workers makes it difficult for them to stand in line and wait their turn for legal entry and difficult for employers who need lower-skilled workers to find workers authorized to work, which results in rule breaking by both parties.

If so many people are breaking the law — both immigrants and United States natives — it begs the question: are bad laws happening to good people? Yes, and everyone implicated by these laws should be fighting to fix them.

Household employers, small business owners, and consumers should push to legalize the status of those workers already in the United States, advocating for the creation of new visa categories for lower-skilled work, as well as easier ways for employers to verify that employees are authorized to work.

Opponents of legalization and visas for lower-skilled workers often argue that such measures would cause U.S. workers to be displaced. But this is not true. First, arguments about displacement are a red herring in the debate about whether to provide a path to legal status for the more than 11 million unauthorized immigrants already in the United States, since more than 8 million of them already have jobs in the United States.

Second, most economists agree that immigrants and native U.S. workers do not generally compete for the same work and when they compete, they have different skills, language and education, which positions each group differently in the job market. When immigrants enter the workforce they often cause U.S. workers to specialize or they engage in work that complements the work of U.S. workers. In the restaurant industry, for example, native-born workers move to communication-intensive work in the front of the house and immigrants focus on manual labor in the back of the house.

Any residual concerns about displacement could be addressed by tying any new immigration to employment and labor conditions in the United States.

Fixing immigration laws to provide legal status to individuals already working in the United States could also result in higher wages and more rights for people who are currently unauthorized to work. And yes, even those who support immigration might worry that higher wages could make it more expensive to go out to eat or tackle projects like remodeling a kitchen.

But not fixing our laws because of wage concerns would mean a tacit endorsement of black market wages and the hiring of cheap immigrant labor over more expensive U.S. workers.

Finally, a focus solely on enforcement, which some candidates have called for, will not effectively disrupt the demand for immigrant labor or deter rule breaking. We simply do not have the financial resources or personnel — nor does it make sense — to deport 11.3 million people, build a wall across a nearly 2,000-mile border with Mexico, or go after restaurant owners, working parents, cooks, nannies or roofers.

This is not an indictment of people who hire unauthorized workers. Instead, it is a call to action. It’s time to broaden the coalition and demand that politicians offer solutions that fix our immigration laws so good people — immigrants and citizens alike — do not feel compelled to break them.


We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see

Our press has been coerced to drop the term “wetback” for millions and millions of illegal aliens that have disregarded our laws and our southern border, jumping our fences to come here and squat. They now must be “politically correct” and refer to these squatters as “undocumented immigrants”. That’s about as logical as referring to the local drug sealer as an unlicensed pharmacist. Please.

By and large these people are not wanted here. Most come with no money, no skills, no education, no job, and no English. They are an endless burden on our society of successive generations. They put forth no effort to assimilate because we no longer insist that they do so. As a direct result, we must provide bilingual education, endless forms and facilitators.

Their children get free food at school, and many sre successful in circumventing our restrictions on welfare for non-citizens by means of fake or stolen identities. By using our Emergency Rooms as their personal health care system and baby mills (and paying nothing) they are why communities that cannot afford such expenses over the long term to close. America would be a far better and less expensive place without them

Posted by OneOfTheSheep | Report as abusive

Laws are made to protect the rich from the poor.

Posted by brotherkenny4 | Report as abusive

Most of the illegals are good people that we should want here permanently as citizens.

Posted by brotherkenny4 | Report as abusive

Americans are too soft and spoiled to see the realities of the world anymore. They are brainwashed by TV, I suspect.

Posted by brotherkenny4 | Report as abusive


In advanced civil societies laws protect the civil from the uncivil. That usually translates to protecting the productive from the unproductive, citizen or not.

Any society that evolves into one where more is taken than contributed is failing. It’s just a matter of time before the fall.

Posted by OneOfTheSheep | Report as abusive

brotherkenny4 says: “Most of the illegals are good people that we should want here permanently as citizens.”

OK, you’re not asking for 100%. let’s compromise.

I’ll support accepting the good looking ones that with education commensurate with their age that demonstrate assimilation to the point of being fluent in English. I’ll even volunteer to help chose them.

Posted by OneOfTheSheep | Report as abusive

Uh oh.

The Reuters censors have awakened.

Posted by OneOfTheSheep | Report as abusive

Redneck America looks to crack down on immigrants working illegally in the United States. Trump Hotels stare at own feet and change subject to Benghazi. Again.

Posted by Solidar | Report as abusive

Americans DEMAND comprehensive immigration enforcement. Those laws and policies were painstakingly crafted to ensure orderly immigration. They have been trampled by millions of ME-FIRST illegals who openly flaunt US law with no fear of consequences.

Obama even allowed an illegal to shout him down at an address.

Our immigration laws are fine, our leaders are unwilling to enforce any of them.

No Amnesty, No DACA, No DAPA

Posted by GetReel | Report as abusive

I’d rather we export some bigots and racists.

Posted by Whipsplash | Report as abusive

@whipsplash – excellent idea!

Posted by euro-yank | Report as abusive