Jesus for Revolutionaries: A Blog About Race, Social Justice, and Christianity

Friday, February 22, 2013

“A Day Without A Mexican”: The Essential Economic Contributions of Undocumented Immigrants

What if my wife woke up this morning and found me missing—together with my two kids and the more than 14 million other Latinos in California?

That’s the premise of the 2004 film, “A Day Without A Mexican.”  As a means of advocating for compassionate immigration reform, the film shows that the state would come to a standstill without the vital economic contributions made by Latinos—both documented and undocumented. 

According to the film (conceived in part by Raul Hinojosa, one of my departmental colleagues at UCLA), Latinos contribute 100 billion dollars to the California economy each year, while only drawing 3 billion dollars in social services.   We comprise 60% of all construction workers in the state, and the agricultural industry—the most lucrative industry in California—is entirely dependent upon us.  We raise the children of the wealthy, wash their cars, paint their houses, and serve them food and libations in their favorite restaurants. 

A lot of us are teachers, doctors, professors, lawyers, and dentists, too.

We (including our undocumented brothers and sisters), pay millions of dollars in taxes which help keep our state afloat in desperate economic times. 

And oh, we’re not all “Mexican.”  Though some of us are proudly Mexican, we also come from 21 other beautiful and distinct countries in Latin America—Guatemala, El Salvador, Argentina, Cuba, Costa Rica, Colombia, Panama, just to name a few…

And so, If we Latinos were to suddenly disappear, California would lose out on this wonderful diversity—and also grind to an economic halt.  This is the main point of “A Day Without A Mexican.”   

It’s also the main point of compassionate, comprehensive immigration reform.  

 The 11 million undocumented immigrants of the United States contribute in essential ways to the economy.  Recent statistics reveal that undocumented immigrants contribute more than 2 trillion dollars a year to the GDP (Gross Domestic Product) of the United States!  Without these vital economic contributions, our nation would plunge into economic despair. 

Undocumented immigrants do the jobs no one else wants to do—for low wages that no one else wants to get paid.  Their low wages ensure big profits for large corporations and small businesses alike, and for the 401(k) retirement plans of millions of Americans.  Their low wages also make it possible for 99 cent Big Mac specials, $4.99/lb strawberries, $39.99 Forever 21 jeans, $99 travel specials, and a wide assortment of Angie’s List specials.   

Undocumented immigrants account for 4.3% of the U.S. labor force—about 6.3 million workers out of 146 million.

They are clustered in construction, agriculture, service sector, and domestic work.  Undocumented workers make up: 

27% of drywall/ceiling tile installers
21% roofers
20% construction laborers
26% grounds maintenance workers
25% butchers/meat and poultry workers
18% cooks
23% misc. agricultural workers
22% maids and housekeepers
18% sewing machine operators

Note that these are national statistics.  In places like California, Texas, New York, and Florida, the percentages are much higher. 

To fill our ravenous need for cheap labor, 300,000 to 500,000 undocumented immigrants came to the U.S. in the early 2000’s.  It is estimated that 11 million undocumented immigrants currently live in the United States.   

If 6.3 million undocumented workers and their families contribute more than $2 trillion per year to the U.S. economy, guess how many unskilled labor visas the U.S. granted to immigrants throughout the world in 2010?:  4,762.  In fact, the maximum number of annual unskilled labor visas granted by the U.S. government is capped at only 10,000. 

Can you see the grave injustice here?  The U.S. benefits from the cheap and arduous labor of 6.3 million undocumented workers—to the tune of $2 trillion annually--but it is only willing to grant 10,000 (or less) low-skill worker visas per year!  6.3 million workers vs. 10,000 unskilled labor visas.  That’s INJUSTICE! 

The United States benefits immensely from the cheap labor of 6.3 million undocumented workers, but it is not willing to officially recognize these vital economic contributions by granting legalized status and a pathway to citizenship.  That’s not right! 

To fail to grant legalized status to these 6.3 million workers and their families constitutes biblical oppression.   The Bible is clear:

“You shall not pervert justice due the stranger (immigrant) or the fatherless, nor take a widow’s garment as a pledge.” Deut 24: 17.

 “Cursed is the one who perverts the justice due the stranger, the fatherless, and widow.”  Deut 27: 19.

“Do not oppress an alien; you yourselves know how it feels to be aliens, because you were aliens in Egypt.  Exodus 23: 9

Each day we fail to pass compassionate comprehensive immigration reform in this country, we perpetrate biblical oppression and pervert justice.  We oppress undocumented immigrants when we allow ourselves to benefit from their essential economic contributions, but deny them the concomitant rights of political citizenship.  

As followers of Jesus, let’s do all we can to advocate for compassionate and comprehensive immigration reform. And let’s ask God to carry out His justice for undocumented immigrants.   Here’s a good way to start:

In hope,

Robert Chao Romero


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