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Research group claims unskilled Mexican laborers adversly affect workers in U.S.

July 14, 2001|By ROBERT NOLAN, Medill News Service

WASHINGTON (MNS) — A conservative research group that seeks to limit immigration reported this week the growth of unskilled Mexican laborers seeking employment in the United States over the past 10 years has adversely affected workers and wages.

The report, which examined the Mexican-born population in the United States based on the Census Bureau's Current Population Survey for March 2001, said Mexican immigrants had not been able to achieve the same levels of education as their American peers, reducing wages for unskilled workers across the board.

The report states two-thirds of all Mexican immigrants lack high school education and 22 percent of high school dropouts in the U.S. work force are Mexican immigrants.

"People come from as far south as Yucatan looking for work, and this keeps wages down," said Imperial County Supervisor Joe Maruca. "These people's priority is to put food on the table — whether they are guest workers or not is secondary."

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The author of the report, Steven Camarota, director of research for the Center for Immigration Studies, said, "This cheap labor comes with a high cost. The increased supply of unskilled labor results in the reduced wages of unskilled, uneducated workers."

The report was issued Thursday as Mexican President Vicente Fox arrived in the United States to promote so-called guest worker programs and Congress debated the status and rights allowing migrants to work in the United States.

"Because the modern American economy offers very limited opportunities for workers with little education," Camarota said, "continued unskilled immigration cannot help but to significantly increase the size of the poor and uninsured populations, as well as the number of people using welfare."

While the report claimed there was no evidence to indicate a shortage of unskilled workers in the United States, members of the California Farm Bureau Federation said migrant workers are consistently in demand, particularly to harvest seasonal crops, jobs that native-born workers often refuse.

"Everyone has acknowledged the critical reliance on foreign workers to harvest crops," said Jack King, manager of national affairs for the California Farm Bureau Federation in Sacramento. "I don't believe that the market is flooded — at times there are even shortages due to location and season."

While the study cited California's double-digit unemployment rate as evidence of a large supply of domestic workers, King said many of the unemployed are discouraged from working in agriculture because jobs are often seasonal.

"Employment needs in California are much different," he said. "We give preference to domestic workers first, but most attempts have failed — people don't want temporary jobs."

King and the California Farm Bureau support legislation that would allow Mexican farm workers to cross the border legally for temporary work and would give residential status to workers who are needed for longer periods of time.

"If we're successful in enacting reform, we will have a formalized program in which workers would be allowed into the United States under set guidelines for a period of time," said Bob Krauter of the California Farm Bureau. "We just don't have a sufficient number of farm workers who are legal."

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