A Riff Inspired by Seeing One Too Many Mexican Flags

My friend Alvaro is a Brazilian immigrant who entered the United States legally about eight years ago and has played by the rules ever since. He got his green card, started a house-cleaning business and pays his taxes. When he had an expensive medical procedure, he paid all of his bills, inflated though they were for anyone who, like him, had no insurance. Alvaro was keen to establish good credit. It was almost comical how, in a country awash in credit cards, he applied for one after another… after another… and got nothing but rejections. Finally, when a bank did extend him credit, it was one of the proudest moments of his life. He didn’t need the credit, he just wanted the affirmation that he was credit-worthy. Because he works like a demon and has no wife or children, Alvaro paid cash for his car, saved enough money to pay the down payment on a house, and manages to remit money back to his mother and father in Brazil.

Many of my perceptions about the wave of Latin American immigrants to the United States are colored by what Alvaro tells me. Many are decent, hard-working people like him who aspire to the same things all Americans do. I welcome them to America, and I will do anything to help them build a better life. But important distinctions must be made between immigrants like Alvaro who reside here legally and those who do not. Alvaro certainly makes that distinction. Sometimes, he feels like a chump for playing by the rules.

There is a remarkably large Brazilian community in Richmond — some 2,000 immigrants or more, according to a Brazilian priest I encountered while standing in line at the Post Office. (Richmond even has a Brazilian restaurant now!) When Alvaro speaks of other immigrants, he’s referring mainly to the Brazilians of his acquaintance, although he sometimes alludes to other Hispanics and Russians.

Most of the illegals, Alvaro says, “don’t care.” They don’t care that they’re here illegally. They don’t care that they send their children to local schools but pay no taxes to support the schools. They don’t care that they are given medical treatment at local hospitals and that they can get away with never paying the bills. Why should they care? Compared to where they come from, life is good.

Hundreds of thousands of immigrants live in Virginia illegally. Most of them are part of the subterranean economy; they don’t pay taxes. But they demand a lot in the way of services. Now, I don’t need to be reminded how much legal immigrants contribute to this country. I know they do. But I’ve got a real big problem when illegals get a free ride… I don’t like it when Americans get a free ride, and I don’t like it any better when illegal immigrants get a free ride. And it gets be downright angry when many illegals appear to feel entitled to the benefits extended to citizens.

Plus, I’ve got to say, it really frosts me to see millions of illegals exercising their freedom of assembly in this country and waving the Mexican flag. You like Mexico so much? Then why are you here? Ethnic pride is fine — no one’s asking you to disown your ethnic identity. But let me give you a hint: When you come to this country illegally and start demanding the same rights as the natives, but don’t talk about taking on the same obligations — such as, oh, paying taxes!! — it’s not a good idea to gather by the millions and flaunt your loyalty to the old country. That really ticks people off.

Now, I admit that the illegals are not entirely to blame for the current state of affairs. There are plenty of Americans who like having them here. Many Americans who are affluent enough to employ domestic labor — maids, housekeepers, nannies, landscapers — enjoy the fact that illegals are willing to work for so little. But let’s get one thing straight: Illegals aren’t cheap because they’re exploited — they’re cheap because they don’t pay no stinkin’ taxes!

Alvaro and his helper come to my house two hours, once a week. My wife and I insist that he pay taxes, and we report his income to the IRS, and we pay more than the prevailing rate. So, I’ve got to say, it really frosts me knowing that many of my contemporaries are paying less for house cleaners because they’re paying the help under the table….

Here’s who else really frosts me — liberals. Many of them are all too happy to expand the entitlements of U.S. citizens to illegal immigrants. Health care, public schools, college tuitions, you name it. There’s nothing that makes a liberal’s day like expanding entitlements. I don’t doubt that they’re motivated by compassion towards the less fortunate, but there’s an element of political opportunism in what they do. Let’s put it this way: If 90 percent of the immigrants were anti-Castro, Republican-leaning Cubans, I bet the liberals would be singing a different tune!

Here’s who I can’t understand — African Americans. A disproportionate number of them are trapped at the bottom of the economic ladder in Virginia, working in many of the same kinds of domestic and manual labor jobs the illegals are taking over. If the country weren’t awash with abundant, illegal labor, the wages for domestic and manual labor would well be double what they are today. Why is income inequality increasing in this country? Why can’t janitors and housekeepers make a living wage? It’s not because of big, greedy corporations — it’s because of supply and demand…. It’s the influx of illegal labor that drives wages down.

It’s a crazy world. My friend Alvaro may not speak the best English, but he’s one of the few people I talk to who makes any sense.

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15 responses to “A Riff Inspired by Seeing One Too Many Mexican Flags”

  1. RedBull Avatar

    Excellent post, Jim.

    I saw a stat yesterday on CNN that compared inflation adjusted wages in the construction industry and construction workers are actually making less per hour today than they were in 1964! So, in essence the construction boom of the last 10 years or so has been built on the backs of cheap, illegal labor – go figure.

    However, I wouldn’t be so quick to jump on the liberals. Yes, they love their entitlements but the Republicans control congress and they failed to pass meaningful immigration reform – why?

    Follow the money. Many of the big, pro-business donors/lobbyists take full advantage of the cheap, illegal labor that is available to them and they don’t want it changed. It cuts into their bottom line. To me, that’s also an entitlement.

    Maybe when congress reconvenes some meaningful legislation will be passed. If not, expect this to be a HUGE issue in the mid-term elections as well as the Presidential election.

  2. Ray Hyde Avatar

    Illegals pay sales taxes like anyone else. If they rent they pay real estate tax through their landlord. Many pay income taxes illegally through forged, borrowed, or stolen social security numbers. Some immigrants get paid illegally, under the table, and so do many other Americans. The grey market is not restricted only to illegal aliens. People who run all cash businesses like arcades have ample opportunity to gain income without reporting it, and do. If we are going to complain about people who don’t pay taxes, lets not restrict it to foreign illegals, we have domestic illegals, too.

    I’d wager that given the real opportunity to work legally, most illegals would gladly pay the taxes. Can we make a legal way for an illegal to pay taxes? Why not? We can keep the issue of legal residency and taxes separate. Just don’t screw up, because if we catch you, you re illegal and will be deported. I’ll bet you would get 100% compliance.

    I tried to sponsor a Mexican to come here legally, and temporarily, and it was a black hole. There is no legal way to make a foreigner legal that works. I can get a license for explosives easier than I can get permission for an agricultural laborer for twelve weeks a year.

    And that is if an American makes a request form his own government. This isn’t working. After three years I finally got a response from the “Backlog Elimination Office” telling me they needed two original copies of my application.

    Nowhere did it say that in the instructions, and what is the point? Why do they need two complete original copies of the same information? Isn’t that what we have copiers for? This system is broken.

    Would we rather have 12 million low paid workers working here for us, or working overseas competing with us? How about if we could actually and magically raise Mexico, India, and China up to our standard of living, so they wouldn’t have the incentive to come here? Anybody in favor of that addition to global warming? Income inequality isn’t just happening in this country, and that is one of the driving forces that sends them here.

    Jesus is illterate in two languages, but he points to mexico and says there are many with nada, ni zapatas, and others with everything. What good is the money he asks if it doesn’t go round in a circle? I earn as much money here in a day as in a week back home, but meat costs the same.

    I wish he was here now, and I wish I could pay him legally. I’d be glad to pay him full price.

  3. Jim Bacon Avatar
    Jim Bacon

    Red Bull, I agree with you: Some of the biggest supporters of the status quo are industries that benefit from employing illegals — the construction industry, I would guess, being foremost among them, along with the low-tech, labor-intensive manufacturing sector. There’s plenty of blame and hypocrisy to go around.

    Ray, you’re right, illegals aren’t the only ones not paying taxes. There are plenty of native-born Americans dodging their income taxes, too. That’s why I think the United States (and Virgninia) should shift increasingly to consumption-oriented taxes that participants in the black market cannot evade.

  4. Will Vehrs Avatar
    Will Vehrs

    The most amazing thing to me about this whole immigrant demonstration movement is the power of its organizers and leaders.

    After early demonstrations with huge number of Mexican flags brought bitter criticism, recent demonstrations have been American flag-only affairs. The demonstrators got the word.

    Compare that to anti-war, pro gay, or other protestors who continue to lose support because more radical elements refuse to adjust their message to majority sensibilities.

  5. Anonymous Avatar

    Ray beat me to the punch on answering the incredibly stupid claim that illegals don’t pay taxes. We’d better all be thankful for the FICA taxes they pay and will never, never claim. I’m sure there are employers who pay in cash or don’t withhold, but they are probably less common than you think considering the very real penalties they face (except for the truly day labor market maybe.) A hundred years ago the issue was building trade barriers to keep out goods, and now everyone wants to keep out cheap labor — that’s fine, but if it happens, don’t whine about the higher costs.

  6. Jim Bacon Avatar
    Jim Bacon

    Anonymous 4:48, I should have been more specific with my statement about illegals not paying taxes. Those who work in the underground economy do not pay income taxes or FICA. But those two types of taxes, which are deducted from peoples’ paychecks, account for a significant majority of all taxes collected.

  7. Ray Hyde Avatar

    Maybe if people don’t pay their full allocated costs, they should still be able to benefit to the extent they do pay.

    I don’t think illegals should be here illegally, but there is something hypocritical about having no workable way for them to become legal and winking at the problem in the meantime. If I’m willing to sponsor Jesus and post a bond to guarantee him a job and that he goes home in September, that should be ten minutes worth of paperwork, not four years of BS.

  8. SouthoftheJames.com Avatar

    “Here’s who I can’t understand — African Americans. A disproportionate number of them are trapped at the bottom of the economic ladder in Virginia, working in many of the same kinds of domestic and manual labor jobs the illegals are taking over.”

    Jim: What don’t you understand? From what I’ve seen, there aren’t a ton of poor black laborers lining up simpatico with the immigrant protesters. On the contrary, there are plenty of black folk (the US black employment and non-poverty rates are arond 90%, contrary to victimization mythology) who can’t stand illegal immigration (and some legal ones for that matter). The problem is that the so-called “leadership” is in the hip pocket of the Left so they have to get in line and downplay the black-brown tension that illegal immigration typifies. And, if you’re wondering why those poor black folks aren’t out there counterprotesting, it’s because they are elsewhere…at work!

    I’m still waiting for the FBI/INS sting operation out here in the suburbs. Maybe if a couple of “normal” American families and businesspeople have to take a perp walk for fueling the illegal economy, things will change.

  9. Jim Bacon Avatar
    Jim Bacon

    Conaway, thank you for your admonishment. I should have said that I don’t understand the African-American leadership — or, more specifically, those leaders of the African-American community who are deemed quote-worthy by the press and whose views thus appear to reflect those of the African-American population at large.

  10. Jim Wamsley Avatar
    Jim Wamsley

    Conaway Haskins has an unusual take of the left position.

    “The problem is that the so-called “leadership” is in the hip pocket of the Left so they have to get in line and downplay the black-brown tension that illegal immigration typifies. And, if you’re wondering why those poor black folks aren’t out there counterprotesting, it’s because they are elsewhere…at work!”

    The another version is that all jobs should pay a living wage. The current drift to the bottom, fueled by illegal immigration, should be prevented by enforcing work place rules. Improving employment conditions combined with an INS that works, instead of the one described by Ray Hyde, would do much to minimize the immigration problem.

  11. Charles Avatar

    Business only puts aside social security and Medicare taxes for employees, not for contractors. Most illegals, and many legals, are hired as contractors, and simply paid a wage and expected to handle their own taxes.

    If they are illegal, they may not ever pay a dime to social security, or income taxes. All they will pay is sales tax, and property tax. The sales tax is being eliminated for food, they often live with multiple workers in a single small house or townhouse, so they pay a small share of property taxes.

    So while it is true that an illegal immigrant will pay SOME taxes, it is fair to claim that they essentially are not “paying their fair share of taxes”.

  12. Anonymous Avatar

    If you think that millions of illegal immigrants will not see Social Security benefits, think again.

    Presidents Bush and Fox have signed a totalization agreement that will allow Mexican workers to dip into Social Security funds. It will even allow illegal immigrants working with fraudulent documents to claim benefits from money that they paid – or say that they paid – into SS funds using fraudulent SS numbers.

    This agreement has not yet been presented to Congress, and I suspect that it will not be until some form of amnesty bill has been passed. When it is presented to Congress, either house can vote not to implement the agreement within a certain period of time; but if neither does, it becomes the law of the land. In short, a massive raid on SS into the billions of dollars can take place without US citizens even being aware of it.

    Fraud has been the constant companion of illegal immigration and this would be no different. This is just one of those little items that the MSM likes to keep below the horizon while amnesty is being considered.

    Go to cis.org and search on totalization. Lots of good information.

  13. Again, you want to put a serious dent in illegal immigration, go after the corporations that employ them. But our government refuses, both on state and national level…..

    from urbansurvival.com (go to site for news links):

    Another “front” if I can call it that, in the religionists is sometimes visible in the US’s immigration debate. The Fort Wayne (Indiana) News Register notes in an op-ed piece this weekend that:

    “There may be no Cesar Chavez or the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. emerging from this movement, but across the country, in cities large and small, immigrant and Latino organizations and Catholic and evangelical churches have not only mobilized 2 million people, they’ve also educated them, raised their awareness and empowered them to get involved. Now that’s powerful. ”

    But, the immigration debate is a delicate balance for the Catholic Church, as evidenced by Cardinal Roger Mahoney of Los Angeles, asking migrants to skip the planned Latino work stoppage on May 1st. Some reports suggest George Bush and his wealthy friends are the cause of the immigration problem. But we see it as corporate vs. humans.

    It seems that a reasonable way to “Big Picture” contemporary events is to see the broad outline of religious/humanist groups as standing up to corporatism. In some cases, such as the militant Islamists, standing up involves direct and violent confrontation. In others, as in the case of Cardinal Mahoney’s moderate view, the effort is aimed working out a peaceful coexistence of humans and corporate objectives.

    But the corporate personas (the anti-humans if you will) continue to gain strength. Not that you see it clearly all the time, but consider just a few headlines and you’ll see how corporation rights are more important to the continuation of corpgov, r what Eisenhower called the military-industrial [and we’d add pharmaceutical] complex.

    People in Oregon are finding putting tax burdens on corporations to be slippery business.

    Tax credits in Oklahoma let corporations and very rich people (many of whom run them) to skate on state taxes for 10-years.

    True, people in Canada are trying to toughen up rules for Crown Corporations.

    But that’s nothing, a literal pittance when you consider that we haven’t seen anything new on (corporate/special interest group) lobbying since the Washington Post editorial last Thursday.

    The “powers of corporations” issue has been swept under the rug quite effectively. Yet, when we sit back and consider many of the movements afoot in the world, including those were there is direct conflict (Iran vs. Israel, migrants vs. government, people tax vs. corporate tax), it’s amazing to us that people don’t see the big picture more clearly. We just saw Jack Abramoff convicted for his lobbying activities, and yet most folks just go on about life, not bothering to be upset that our beloved Freedoms and Constitution have been hijacked by corporations to the point where you are nothing but corporate chattel any more.

  14. Let’s be sure that we get all the facts straight… people who are hear illegally can and do pay federal income taxes. Since 1996, the IRS has issued special tax ID numbers to persons who don’t have social security numbers. Many illegal immigrants across the country pay income taxes, in part, because they think doing so might advantage them when/if a program is adopted that would allow them to regularized their status. See story at http://www.signonsandiego.com/uniontrib/20040415/news_1n15taxes.html.

    The Tax Foundation recently reported that 1.4 million people paid taxes using ID numbers last year….a 40% increase over the previous year. More at http://www.taxfoundation.org/blog/show/1424.html.

    So, when we’re flogging the immigrant issue let’s be sure that we’re giving credit where credit may be due.

    As The Tax Foundation blog says:

    “While some argue that illegal immigrants do not pay their fair share of taxes compared to the value of government services they receive, this is partially a normative question that needs to be accompanied by more empirical evidence to support or refute. But to answer the question, “Do illegal immigrants pay any taxes?” the answer is clearly yes.”

  15. James Atticus Bowden Avatar
    James Atticus Bowden

    Actually the answer for illegal immigrants is the same as for some citizens. Do they pay taxes?

    Yes, sorta, more or less, maybe.

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