Illegal Immigration Hurting Hispanics

Speakout: Illegal immigration hurting Hispanics
By Waldo Benavidez
October 2, 2006

I am a fifth-generation Hispanic and would like to express a viewpoint that has not been a major part of the debate about illegal immigration: the impact illegal immigration has on the working poor of this country and the political impotence it has injected into the Chicano community.

Hispanics see firsthand every day the drain illegal immigration has on institutions such as school systems, law enforcement, the criminal justice system, health care and jobs, and as a factor in the depression of wages. Our taxpayer-funded institutions are reeling from this migration into the United States, particularly those that are primarily supposed to be serving the low-income people of this country. In my neighborhood, low-income families are increasingly competing with an endless flow of illegals for limited funds, resources and basic survival necessities.

Those who defend illegal immigration argue that these people are not harming anyone, “all they want is work, they do not bother anyone” and “they only take jobs no one else wants.” This naive and simplistic rationale for illegal immigration fails to acknowledge the far-reaching and critical impact on low-income people. I see it every day and I live on the front lines of this invasion.

The competition for low-income housing is one example of how those who advocate for illegals ignore the working families who cannot compete for the high rents landlords are demanding.

A family of four with one breadwinner, for example, has a difficult time meeting the inflated rents being asked for often-substandard housing, not to mention the high costs of energy, food and clothing.

Immigrants, on the other hand, can pay whatever is asked by landlords because they often pack four or five times more working individuals into the unit and, by pooling their resources, manage the often inflated rent. Native Hispanics see their wages driven down and their prices and rents driven up by this abused form of labor.

Too many elitist Hispanic organizations, funded by liberal foundations, have become open-borders advocates, focusing their attention on immigration advocacy, but I fear it comes at the expense of the Latino U.S. citizen.

What about our own community? Education in this country is in a crisis, with statistics for Latinos at appalling levels in most cities while low achievment is spreading at an alarming rate. The graduation rate for Latinos is 20 percent or, in some cases, less.

Higher education is not even a consideration for many young Latinos yet the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund and others choose to take policy positions of increasing and packing more into the already overburdened school systems by encouraging more immigration from Mexico and other Third World countries. They do a disservice to this country by overloading the system to the point where the quality of education suffers and schools become mere warehouses. Overcrowded schools lead to more failure and the cycle continues.

Instead of holding Mexico accountable for its immigration policies, these groups pander to and collaborate with a country that uses the United States as a means of abdicating its responsibilities to its poorest citizens. At the same time, Mexico enhances its own economy with a considerable amount of money sent back each year by immigrants – anywhere between $15 billion to $30 billion. Is it any wonder that Mexico has positioned itself in a win-win situation?

The painful reality is that many illegal immigrants with fake Social Security cards are working in just about every kind of employment there is. They are not just picking and topping sugar beets and cleaning toilet bowls, they are in federal and state government employ, public school systems, the fast-food industry, construction, building trades, the restaurant and hotel industries, universities and factories . . . the list is endless.

These are jobs U.S. citizens don't want? Take McDonald's, the mega- hamburger corporation that employs thousands of people. Instead of employing so many immigrants, McDonald's could set up an after- school or summer training program for our youth in high school who in turn would receive valuable training and earn money teenagers badly need. Maybe some youths would take a greater interest in graduating if they had more support from the business community!

I work full time trying to help my community and Colorado, but illegal immigration is giving us supply-side poverty that makes it almost impossible to solve our problems. We need help, not so much in the form of government programs, but to stop the endless chain of poor (illegal) people who arrive in the United States every day, every week, every month and every year.

Longtime political activist Waldo Benavidez is a social service agency director and is co-chair of Defend Colorado Now. He is a resident of Denver.