Monday, June 19, 2006

Day 2- Crossing the Border

Okay- today, I was able to access an entire article on the Kenosha News' "Crossing the Border" series.

Today's Kenosha News article was very upsetting to me. Read along and you will find out why. At the bottom of this article- I have posed several questions- feel free to jump into the debate.

Company depends on immigrants

Amid the de-mands of running a small manufacturing company, XTEN Industries Chief Executive Officer J. Matthew Davidson plans to learn a new skill he thinks will make his company more competitive - Spanish.

XTEN is a contract manufacturer and plastic injection molding company based in the Business Park of Kenosha. "Our work force is becoming increasingly Hispanic, probably about 70 percent Hispanic," said Davidson.

Davidson said that when the company was trying to rebuild its work force after having to cutback in 2002, XTEN had a tough time finding dependable workers. They turned to a temporary agency, which brought in temp workers who were largely Mexican immigrants, and the company began hiring its full-time production staff from that pool of temps.

Davidson said his company's changing work force is forcing some changes at the company, including his own efforts to learn Spanish. Company communications are now offered in both languages, there are more advancement opportunities for bilingual supervisors, and XTEN makes sure there are interpreters at company meetings.

The challenges of a dual-language work force are worth it, he said, if it means the company can fill its open production jobs with dependable employees.

"We are absolutely delighted with our Spanish-speaking workers," Davidson said. "They're wonderful, hard workers. They show up on time. They're happy to work overtime when we offer it."

In Kenosha County, Hispanic immigrants work in manufacturing plants and distribution centers in Kenosha and Pleasant Prairie, making up large percentages of the work force at companies like XTEN, Deluxe Media, CPI Plastics and Fair Oaks Farms.

"When you talk about manufacturing in Wisconsin, I'd be surprised (to find many companies) that did not have immigrant workers," said John Metcalf, director of human resource policy for the Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce.

In most cases, Metcalf said, that means Mexican immigrants. But in some areas of the state, he said, there are large concentrations of Hmong immigrants, eastern Europeans, or people from developing African nations working in production or meat packing plants.

Immigrants work in professions across the board, with heavy concentrations of immigrants working in agriculture, in the restaurant industry, in construction, in health care and service professions.

At most larger companies, employers make a serious effort to make sure the workers they hire are in the country legally, employers said. "Most reputable large companies check Social Security numbers," said one human resource manager for a Kenosha County-based company.

Companies check Social Security numbers and other documents as part of the hiring processes. Occasionally, representatives at several companies say, Social Security numbers turn out to be faulty, and those employees usually, once confronted, never return to work.

"We have not had any problems, we have a very rigorous screening process," said Ron Mitchell, president of Canada-based CPI Plastics. CPI has a production facility in Pleasant Prairie, with the majority of its workers Mexican immigrants. "That (illegal workers) is just not something we can run afoul of."

Employers looking for workers to fill jobs that are often physically tiring, low-paying and requiring low skill levels often turn to immigrants, and sometimes are not very picky about the paperwork.

One local restaurant owner said he always asks new hires for their documentation to cover his obligation as an employer - whether that documentation is real or not, he said, he does not really care.

According to the Pew Hispanic Center, about 30 percent of the 37 million foreign-born people living in the United States are undocumented migrants. That amounts to about 11.1 million people, about 56 percent of them from Mexico.

Of Mexican immigrants in the United States for less than 10 years, the Pew Hispanic Center estimates that 80 to 85 percent are unauthorized.

"I don't think anyone has any idea how many undocumented workers are in southeast Wisconsin," said Maria Monreal-Cameron, director of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Wisconsin.

According to Pew, there were approximately 7.2 million illegal immigrants in the civilian labor force as of March 2005, making up just under 5 percent of the total work force of the nation. Pew estimates that between 75,000 and 100,000 undocumented migrants live in Wisconsin in 2005. How many of those people live in Kenosha County is impossible to say, but best guess estimates put that number at 2,000 to 3,000.

Regardless of the overall numbers, undocumented workers are likely to make up a large part of the work force in certain occupations.

Nationally, illegal immigrants make up 24 percent of all employees in farming, 17 percent of cleaning and maintenance workers, 14 percent of construction workers, 12 percent of food preparation and food service workers, 9 percent of production workers and 7 percent of transportation and material movers.

Agriculture is one of the leading industries in Wisconsin, and immigrants make up about half of its work force of about 73,000. Most of them work in the dairy industry, said Tom Thieding, executive director of public relations for the Wisconsin Farm Bureau. It is likely, given national statistics, that many of those workers are undocumented.

Thieding said the Farm Bureau is lobbying for a long-term guest worker program for the United States. He said farmers have a tough time finding native employees to fill jobs as milkers and farm laborers.

"It is not a compensation issue, it's that people just don't want to milk cows," Thieding said. "It's been a trend of people not wanting to do this job … They're not displacing anybody, they're filling a void that's out there."

XTEN's Davidson said that while his company complies with immigration law in its hiring, he believes the border should be open to immigrants, and opposes political efforts pushing criminal penalties for the undocumented.

"I think a lot of this is really racially motivated, and that's something that shouldn't be tolerated," Davidson said.

He said that he favors a guest worker program, and avenues that would allow the undocumented to become citizens. Current pushes for increased criminal penalties and tougher border patrol are, he said, largely politically motivated, rather than based on economic need.

"Like it or not the American economy is completely dependent on what we're calling illegal immigrants," Davidson said. "These are people who contribute substantially to our economy."

Okay- today's questions-

Do you think that Mr. Davidson is right and that those that are demanding the borders be closed are racially motivated?

Do you believe that the borders should be left wide open and should the safety of Americans be considered when deciding this?

We know fake documents exist- how should we improve the system so employer's can know for sure if a immigrant is legal?


Republican teacher said...

Paul Ryan and The House has a plan to computerize and bar code Social Sceurity cards, it is possible to make these documents fraud proof. It needs to be more difficult to walk into the DMV and get a driver's license and the richest country in the world could surely make SS cards out of something more than colored cardstock!

Scott H said...

I'm sure that some demanding the borders closed are racially or culturally motivated, even if on a subconscious level. That's no reason to dismiss the valid arguments. Also, sometimes I feel some people make a big deal out of how tragic the westernization of other cultures is, but then turn around and say that any change to our culture enriches it.

With fake documents, I think that the system could move fairly quickly toward an validation component where you can scan the documents and upload them, or simply type in the information to an online database. The reality though is that counterfeiting is always going to be there if the demand is high enough.