Sunday, May 14, 2006

Peter King in The New York Times

The New York Times
May 14, 2006
A Border-Tightening Congressman Has Immigrants in His Own Backyard

SEAFORD, N.Y. — A three-man crew of immigrant laborers had just finished the lawn work at the yellow house: grass trimmed, flower beds neatened, sidewalk edged and swept.

The workers said they did not know the homeowner personally, but the one driving the landscaping truck, Elmer Martinez, 34, said that he must be someone important because of the brass plaque on the front door.

"Congressman Peter T. King," the plaque reads, "3rd District, New York."

It is the modest home in Seaford of Representative King, a co-sponsor of legislation that would make felons of millions of illegal immigrants, tighten security and support the building of a wall along parts of the Mexican border. The bill, called the 2005 Border Protection, Anti-Terrorism and Illegal Immigration Control Act, has been passed by the House but not by the Senate.

Pushing a mower onto a nearby lawn, Mr. Martinez, who is from El Salvador, said he disagreed with such measures.

"I think if people come here and work hard, let them stay here," he said. Mr. Martinez has a green card and pays taxes on the $150 a day that he earns, he said. He and his wife, who is from Puerto Rico, have two sons, ages 3 and 5, who are American citizens.

"I came here because I can make better money than in my country," he said. "There, I make $5 for working a whole day."

Another worker in the crew, Alfredo Garcia, 27, said that he, too, had emigrated from El Salvador to have a chance to make more money. Mr. Garcia said he had paid a guide to smuggle him into the United States through a combination of cars and trucks. He later obtained a work permit and legal residency status, he said.

"I paid a lot of money to come here, and I've worked hard in this country," Mr. Garcia said.

He gestured around the neighborhood, a white enclave on the South Shore of Long Island where one can seldom walk a block or two without seeing Spanish-speaking work crews. On a recent Friday morning, a half-dozen crews of Hispanic workers were tending homes within several blocks of Mr. King's house.

Around the corner, a half-dozen workers from Ecuador and Honduras were fitting heavy stone onto a house facade. Nearby, two Guatemalan immigrants were nailing in roofing shingles, and another block down, a trio of Salvadoran immigrants, who said they had each paid several thousand dollars to be smuggled into the United States, were installing a brick driveway.

When Mr. King's children, who are now adults, were young a few decades ago, that type of work was done by white American citizens, usually first- or second-generation descendants of the Irish, Italian and German immigrants who still populate Mr. King's district, which sprawls across suburban neighborhoods of single-family homes in Nassau County and western Suffolk.

But today, Mr. Garcia said, "You'll never see a white guy cutting a lawn around here; Spanish people do all the work in this area."

The third man working for Mr. King's landscaper said he spoke no English and declined to be interviewed.

Their employer, Steven Sander, has long been a neighbor of Mr. King's, grew up with his children and has been cutting his lawn for years.

Mr. King does not make it his business to investigate the legal status of each landscaping employee cutting his lawn, Mr. Sander said, but rather trusts that Mr. Sander is employing legal immigrants. He said that his workers were all legal and that he demanded they have tax identification numbers.

"They pay taxes and pay into Social Security," Mr. Sander said. "I wouldn't hire anyone without seeing their papers and Social Security number. It's too risky as an employer."

In a telephone interview, Representative King, a Republican who was first elected in 1992, said that his stance was not intended to deprive well-intentioned immigrants of the right to work hard for a living. Mr. King voted to remove the felony provisions from his immigration bill, in an amendment that was defeated.

The priority for the country, he said, is the need to "gain control of the borders" for national security.

He stressed the need to "seal the borders and penalize employers who hire illegal immigrants" before adding mechanisms for illegal immigrants to become legal residents.

"I have no problem with increasing the amount of legal immigrants as guest workers, but we have to do it legally," he said. "After 9/11, we don't have the luxury of allowing unlimited illegal immigrants into this country."

Asked about his lawn, he said that Mr. Sander used to play Little League with his son, Sean, and had been doing a great job on his lawn for years. He said he trusted Mr. Sander to ensure that the workers were legal.

Patrick Santivasci, who lives nearby, said he was one of the few homeowners in the neighborhood to still cut their own lawns.

Illegal immigrants, he said, are "taking jobs away from people who really do need them."

"It's wrong that they come here without proper papers," Mr. Santivasci said. "I'm liberal, but you can't milk the system. Ninety percent of them are sneaking their way in. It's a free country, but it's too free."

Another neighbor, Richard A. Yodice, 58, who was walking his dog while Mr. King's landscapers were working at another house, disagreed.

"They're not taking the jobs we would work," Mr. Yodice said. "They're taking the nonskilled jobs. A white kid these days goes to college and gets into a white-collar job. They don't take the lower-end jobs anymore.

"I drive by the 7-Eleven and see hundreds of workers and see 60 or 70 guys swarming a contractor's truck," he said. "I don't care if they're illegal, as long as they're working. I just don't like to see them taking money out of the economy here and sending it home.

"I'm a Republican and I always vote for King and read his columns, but I think he comes down too hard on the immigrants," Mr. Yodice said. "I think he's trying to tie it in with the terrorism issue. You're here and working, maybe that's the answer — if they're legit and working, let them stay."

Down the block, one of the workers putting in the driveway, Jose Pineda, 31, said he had borrowed $6,000 back in El Salvador for a ride in a truck to Los Angeles, and then wired back the payments over a year's time. He paid an immigration lawyer to get a work permit, Mr. Pineda said.

He nodded toward his two workers, his nephew Moses Flores, 24, and his uncle Calixto Pineda, 39, and said they had both immigrated the same way but had paid almost $7,000 each.

Jose Pineda said he had learned masonry by working for Italian bricklayers and then had started his own business and had bought a house in Roosevelt.

"They want to kick all the illegal Spanish workers out, but I don't think Americans want to do these kind of jobs anymore," he said. "They all work in offices with their head, as lawyer or teachers or something. Of course, any illegal people who don't like to work should be sent back."


stretch limo said...

Sure you can earn more money in the US. But it costs a whole lot more to live. Duh!

AJArend said...

If it were only a matter of legalizing 50,000 people, I would have no problem with legalizing them. My problem is that we're talking about anywhere from 12 to 20 million! As it is currently worded, this bill will not only legalize most if not all of those people, it will up the quota of legal immigration which would ensure that the numbers of immigrants flooding into this country will reach 100 to 200 million in just 20 years. We are already in debt by trillions in this country. Our numbers are already a bloated 300 million. And we want to bring in another 100 to 200 million in 20 years?? We just can't do it. Again, if it were only a matter of upping numbers from 50,000 to 100,000, that wouldn't be a problem. 100 Million is a problem.

Being of Irish decent myself, I really wish I could support the current Immigration bill to help fellow Irishmen stay in the country, but I can't. Because every day, here in Southern California, I see the negative effects of illegal immigration. Our cities are overcrowded. Our freeways are overcrowded. We have severe overcrowding of schools. Kids who are having a hard time learning because they either can't speak English, or are in an entire class of non-English speakers. We're spending billions on Spanish language learning programs, and kids are still not able to pass a simple high school exit exam. Emergency rooms are closing because they can't continue to function when they're overcrowded with Illegal immigrants who cannot pay. We're giving away billions in welfare programs to illegal families. The small amount of taxes they some of these people pay do not pay for these programs, despite what Hispanic activists want everyone to believe. Many do not pay taxes at all, or make such a meager income, they qualify for earned income tax credits! Meanwhile, they send millions of dollars back to Mexico. Dollars that could have been used to pay for their medical bills, pay for their education bills...are one of Mexico's biggest sources of income.

Yes, I've seen many good Mexican workers doing jobs that I'm sure many American workers wouldn't do for the same pay. But that doesn't mean that American workers wouldn't do the job at all. Only that we require a decent wage and decent benefits, which is not being offered. Up until recently, American men and women wanted to do yardwork, wanted to do construction...many still do, but can not live on the wage they're being offered. Many are being told, "I can hire TWO Mexicans for the price you charge." Or, "I can't hire you because you don't speak Spanish." That's the reality of what's happening in the border states, and it's wrong.

I understand some jobs are vital to our economy. But I can't begin to tell you how many people I see doing jobs that are not "vital" to our economy. How many Mexican restaurants or corner markets do we need? How many people standing on street corners selling flowers or fruit do we need? How many day laborers do we need? I'm betting we don't need as many as we currently have, yet we're proposing to bring in even more.

And, as the numbers of Spanish speaking people grow, the less likely it's going to be to get them to learn English because right now, they simply don't have to. Right now, it is possible to live every day here in California without knowing one word of English. All government forms are offered in Spanish, including voting forms. Businesses all have "Press 2 for Spanish" options on their phone systems. Spanish language radio and television is exploding. Many businesses won't hire you unless you speak Spanish. (I witnessed this many times at my own place of business). The Bank of America chain of banks accomodate Spanish speakers so much so that the last time I was in our local branch, fully 90% of all business was being conducted in Spanish. Every sign, brochure, form...was in Spanish.

I truly believe we cannot be a United States unless we all speak a common language, and I really feel that is becoming less and less important to Spanish speakers as their numbers grow.

I would like to think that most if not all of the illegal Irish in this country are not like that. I would like to think that most already speak English, thereby not putting an undue burdon on schools. Most, I'd like to think, pay their medical bills. Most, I'd like to think, pay their taxes. Most have already assimilated into American culture.

However, we cannot play favorites in this debate. The fact is that passage of this bill will only encourage more illegal immigration, mostly from south of the border, and my state and other border states simply cannot handle any more.

Because of what happened when Regan passed his Amnesty bill...where he promised to secure the border, but never did...I have no faith that our current politicians will follow through with their pledge to secure the border.

If the "prove it to me" (or the enforcement first) amendment of this bill had passed, I may have been more in favor of it. We in California need to be shown that our government can actually do what they say and seal our borders before they start giving out amnesty. If we (those opposed to this bill) can be shown that this really will be the end of the illegal immigrant flood from south of the border, I have a feeling that more of us would be in favor of it. As it is, unfortunately, as in most things, there is one group of people who is ruining things for the others. Sorry to say that with what I have witnessed in my state, as much as I'd like to see Irish Immigrants legalized in this country, I just can't support illegal immigration. It sends the wrong message to those countries south of the border.

stretch limo said...

Great comments, and you frame the debate very nicely. The immigration bill out of the Senate (S 2611) would be a disaster for the country. I find it appalling that supposedly sympathetic Irish can not be so brazenly opposed to the interests of ordinary middle class Americans.
America does not need any more people. We are already the 3rd most populous nation at 300 million, after China and India. We have an annual population growth rate of 1.1%, which, as the highest population growth rate of the industrialized nations, is far greater than the more stabilized population growth rate of the EU at .1% (point one percent). Plus we acccept more immigrants than any other nation.
Solutions which worked in the past, do not necessarily apply to the future. We should be reducing immigration, rather than increasing it. Besides the amnesty and guestworker program, this Senate bill greatly increases the green card quota as well. This enchilada is just too big to swallow.

Anonymous said...

To ajarend:

If you give these people the chance to have a real stake in this country and not be worried about getting scooped up and shipped out, they will become proud Americans. If you treat them like criminals who belong in jail they will continue to hide and speak their native language and fail to contribute their all to our nation. I am Irish. I love this country. Please give me a chance to stay here and give my all to America. Support an earned path to legalization. Support the ILIR. Thank you.

sufferin gael said...

would you give your blood?