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"Enforce labor laws to raise wages for immigrants"

Journalist Pilar Marrero: Raising wages for undocumented workers will help other workers too

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Story Transcript

PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR: I talked to a radio talk show host from Rhode Island during this New Hampshire primary, and she talked about a factory in Rhode Island that was raided. The, quote-unquote, illegal immigrants were taken out of the factory, and she said within a matter of days American workers took the same jobs for more or less the same wages. I can’t verify the story, but I think it’s significant in the sense that if we’re heading into a very serious recession—and in the last few days business commentators are talking about a recession at the level of the early 1980s—and if we get into high unemployment, even double-digit unemployment, the issue of immigration, the issue of who’s got whose job, and the kind of more fervent position of telling people or forcing people to go home might really become, maybe, a central issue of the election now. How do you think this might play out?

PILAR MARRERO, METROPOLITAN NEWS EDITOR, LA OPINIÓN: You know, it happens every time there’s a recession: the immigration issue comes back. And politicians love to use this issue because it’s easy to get people stirred up. There are so many hidden feelings about it. It’s not just immigration; it’s like the fear of how America is changing, how other languages are being used, and that there’s signs in other languages. I mean, big cities were used to this, but, you know, in some other areas of the country where immigrants are now coming into, they’re not used to that. So, it’s going to play out big, I think, if there’s a big recession. But on the other hand, it could provoke a backlash, because, you know, this year, I just heard the new numbers of people who have signed up to naturalize. Most of them are Latinos. One million new citizens applied for citizenship this past year, and it’s a record number. And that record number comes from the anti-immigrant wave. I’ve talked to many people who have applied for naturalization, and they say, you know, I want to naturalize, I want to become a citizen, because I’m afraid just being a legal resident is not enough to protect me and my family from everything that’s happening, you know, these local immigration ordinances and all these things. I mean, the wave is already here. It may not be playing right now in the presidential race in the first couple of stages, at least not in the top-priority issues, but it’s under the surface, and it’s going to come up, especially during the general election. There’s a potential backlash from Latino voters.

JAY: By backlash you mean Latino voters are voting against candidates that are trying to be too hard on immigrants in the United States?

MARRERO: Yes. I think so. People have been coming to this country and integrating and becoming part of this country forever. And people from Mexico, from Central America and Latin America have been here for many, many years. Many of them are citizens. They have, you know, businesses; they have families. And it goes beyond just being legal and illegal. They like to, you know, use this distinction. I think some Latinos would play with that–, would accept that distinction and say, “Yeah, those illegals, they’re just illegals; and, you know, they’re just bad people. Put them in jail or send them back.” But most Latinos, know, that’s not that easy, because many of them have illegal family members. So because the immigration system is so broken, it’s so hard to immigrate legally. People don’t know this. People say, “Why don’t they go, you know, and immigrate legally?” They can’t. I mean, it’s really, really hard.

JAY: And then the other side of that is you have to answer the question, why are so many millions of people here? And clearly because the borders weren’t enforced, because employers wanted cheap labor here. More or less, people were induced to come here.

MARRERO: And I do agree the employers are to blame, I mean, because they want to pay less and less wages. They want to pay the minimum they can. But, if you don’t enforce your labor laws and you allow the companies to do whatever they like, this is the price for free market, free no-regulation capitalism; you allow corporations to do whatever they like in the race for profit, and what they do is lower wages. So, you know, it’s very strange to concentrate on the people who are doing these jobs—[which] by the way are not the best jobs or the best-paying, but for them are a step up from what they were doing in their country—and not really enforce the thing that would be really effective, which would be labor laws, you know, and telling these companies, “Hey, you have to pay the minimum wage, you have to give some benefits, you have to do the legal thing,” and punish them if they don’t. But they don’t really do that, and they’ve never done it. So, you know, I think that’s a key issue.

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Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.