Tuesday, May 02, 2006

The Universe of the Illegal Alien


The Universe of the Illegal Alien
By Victor Davis Hanson, Center for Immigration Studies, June, 2003

...One thing this alien knows in his heart: There is a simple reason why Americans do not do farm work, one that transcends even the absence of real money and any status. It is physically hard to pick peaches all day. The dilemma of farm work was never that it was necessarily low-paid, but rather that it offered good wages on the condition that one was young, healthy, and able to move on to something better before old age and infirmity set it in.

The trabajador lives and works in a world of young men. They survive for the most part as small teams, under conditions of illegality, apart from their families, and in extremis are prone to settle disagreements with knives and worse. We should never forget that as a rule, most illegal aliens come as single young males (solos) � and in the history of civilization it is single, transient young men who build bridges and roads, but also bring societies their crime and violence....

Despite the dangers and drudgery, however, the wage for menial labor in America is far better than anything earned in Mexico. An unskilled laborer from the Sierra Madre is lucky to make $25 a week; in California he can easily earn nearly $10 an hour and often more. To the worker, the initial realization that there is such an El Dorado is dazzling, quite unbelievable. Young males under 30 years of age in their first tour of duty in America seem starved for work. They toil 10 hours a day � amazed that they have more money in their wallets in a week than they once had in an entire year.

I sometimes think that only the vast contrast with Mexico keeps the illegal alien in America alive; only the memory of the former harshness of real hunger, dirt floors, untreated illnesses, and outdoor privies in Mexico steels him for what he must face in America....

To talk with these young men is to hear of extravagant dreams � all culminating in a grand and permanent return to their village in central or southern Mexico: a ranchero, a new block house, two Chevy pickups, alligator boots, black felt hat, jewelry � all the Mexican signs of material success in America. Of course, the university activists who see themselves as illegals� advocates ridicule such notions of instant wealth as impossible to garner through unskilled labor. But they err in two ways: Much of the wages for yard work, cement, roofing, and farming is paid on a cash basis, without the deductions for Social Security, Medicare, workman�s compensation, state and federal taxes � the miasma of debits that easily can shrink an American�s paycheck by a third to a half.

Our young professors at California State University, Fresno, some with Ph.D.s from Berkeley and Stanford, will be lucky to take home $2,000 a month after deductions � appearing on the pay stub in some 10 categories including state, federal, Social Security and Medicare taxes, health, dental and vision insurance fees, state retirement, parking, and union dues. S

ome undocumented workers in construction can put in 200 hours of work per month, and at $10 cash per hour they match the English professor � without the tie, the decade�s worth of degrees, the need to master the lingo of postmodernism, and the entire drain of life insurance, lawn care, and braces for the kids.

Second, there is the much-remarked-upon gulf between the cost of living in California and the cost of surviving in rural Mexico. Everything from tortillas to changing a tire is a fraction of the price south of the border. If the campesino can go south with a van full of consumer goods unavailable cheaply in Mexico � stereos, cell phones, televisions, washers and dryers � the daily tab to eat, sleep, and relax in his home pueblo is otherwise rather low. The dream of the young worker, then, is that he might earn money as a Mexican in America and then go home to live like an American in Mexico....

Yet most Mexicans in America never return home permanently, and the dream of Pepe Madrigal remains mostly a fantasy; Mexico, after all, is still a class-bound society where an Indian with ample capital can never quite make it. Oh, they may go back and forth yearly, but few choose to stay south. And here we collide again with the dilemma of illegal immigration. For all the brutality of America, the immigrant senses a weird sort of kindness here. Or at least he senses the presence of a select and liberal group of Americans in health care, law, education, and government who feel it is their duty to help him, of all people � the lowly immigrant! And their efforts are not paltry.

The well-intentioned Americans can deliver to the illegal immigrant housing, medicine, and food at a level beyond almost anything found even among the well-off in Mexico City....

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