An Employer's View
"I have a hard time imagining where we would get our work force if we didn't have the Hispanic community. If they ship them all back, there will be a big void-at least in our state," said a Nebraska employer who asked to remain anonymous.* His company employs several hundred workers, both skilled and unskilled, and says Hispanic workers comprise 80 percent of his new hires. "I think they are a very viable part of our community, and if we just eliminated them, and sent the Hispanics back to wherever their roots might be, this community would suffer."
"I think they are a very viable part of our community, and if we just eliminated them, and sent the Hispanics back to wherever their roots might be, this community would suffer.
This employer's long experience in business and with the Hispanic work force gives perspective to the immigration issue. Nebraska is different from some states due to its small population, so there are fewer people to form the needed work force. There is competition for workers in his business, even with the influx of workers from other countries. He tries to keep the workers he has, while recruiting new people.
"The Hispanics are our best workers; the most loyal. They'll be there on time, do the hardest jobs with no complaints, and they appreciate everything you do for them," he said. And they are long-term employees-many have been with his company for two or three generations. "They are more reliable; they're always there; they follow directions; they don't cause trouble; they don't get into trouble. I don't see these terrorist things that people are talking about, and our people aren't into drugs like people are saying they are," he said.
This employer is concerned that some actions by the media may be negatively impacting public opinion concerning workers from other countries, creating a general disapproval of immigration nationwide and perhaps even encouraging the formation of new laws to regulate immigration or exclude immigrants.
"These talk shows quote things, and if you repeat them enough times, people accept them as facts. I hear that these workers are causing a drain on the health care system, but my guys never get sick. They don't want to miss a day; they're here to earn money. A lot of them send money back home, but they are still generating money for the economy," he said.
And what happens when new laws exclude immigrants? "Oklahoma has passed some laws that are tougher on the Hispanic community, and I understand that (after the law was passed) pickup after pickup was full of employees leaving the state, and now there are billboards up, people trying to hire workers," he said. People will try to steal employees from other companies, he said, offering workers more money to work for the other company. "Where does it stop?" he said. "We are petrified."
Homeland Security has directed employers to use a software program called E-Verify to determine legal status of employees. The employee provides his or her name and social security number, and if they are in the system and the name and number match, the employee is a legal worker and may be hired. "But it doesn't always work," this employer said. In the case of Hispanics, a person often keeps his or her mother's name, and maybe mother's maiden name, too. "They might have three or four names. Now, that can be a problem if you mix them up and don't remember what's on the card...so it doesn't match," he said. "We may try three or four times, and if we can't get it right, then we give them appropriate time to straighten it out and if they can't, then we have to release them."
He has heard stories about the difficulties encountered by people trying to go to the immigration office in Lincoln. "For someone to go through the process of trying to get their paperwork straightened out-they make it so difficult, they frustrate people so they don't do it. The government isn't user-friendly," he said.
Raids on job sites are also troubling, he said. "We had 12 employees on a job site, and ICE workers questioned them. It scared them to death. Think about it...do you have all your paperwork with you at all times, when you're out there working hard? How much identification do you have with you right now if someone asked you to prove you are legal?"
This employer described his recent trip to California, during which he happened to hear a radio show about the immigration situation, and that it is a big burden. "But on the other hand, I don't know what they'd do out there if they didn't have anyone to pick their lettuce, their strawberries, pick their grapes...they wouldn't be able to harvest their crops without some of the migrant workers," this employer said.
It would be interesting to challenge some of the statistics quoted in the media, he said, and see whether they have any validity to them. For example, whether a specific ethnicity really is a large portion of the country's or the state's concerns with criminal activity, or whether it's the influx of a large number of young people. The 18-34 age group, say some law enforcement personnel, statistically has more criminal activity than younger or older groups. Other statistics would be interesting to investigate, he said, such as whether these workers are really a drain on other areas of the country.
It's more than the issue of whether they're a burden on the U.S. economy. "I don't think they are," he said. My family's history is the same kind of thing...came from (another country)...didn't understand English, worked hard. They didn't have to live in the shadows, though, and that's a difference," he noted.
Living in the shadows makes some people wary of those they don't understand. Language, this employer said, is part of the problem. Some don't like to hear people speaking Spanish. "Why Spanish would bother people is beyond me," he said. "I don't understand that; it's just prejudice." People are going to have to understand, he said, that when you come from another country, you are going to flock to other people who came from that country, just like people did historically. "They talk the language they know, then they pick up a little English as they go. For the first generation, their English skills aren't very good, but by the second generation it's usually very good," he said.
"The Hispanic community is not an ignorant community," he said. "They came here because they needed to try to improve their standard of living from wherever they came from. A lot of them came over here illegally a long time ago, and they've settled in, they've raised families, they've had 2nd and 3rd generation people here. These are great citizens of our country," he said. "There is no reason to fear that they are going to be terrorists, or gangsters or anything like that. I think if they are given a chance and allowed to stay, we'll look back on this era and say 'hey, what were we worried about?'"
And if a wall is built on the Mexico-United States border, he said, has any thought been given to who will build the wall?
The identity of this employer is known to the coordinator of this project and to a member of the SDN advisory board. Both can vouch for his veracity.
Opportunities for Nebraska, Volume Three: Food Scarcity is the third annual publication of Strategic Discussions for Nebraska, exploring the importance of University of Nebraska research on the way we live- and on the way the world lives. Read more>>
Opportunities for Nebraska, Volume Two: Energy, Climate and Sustainability is the second annual publication of Strategic Discussions for Nebraska that explores the impact and relevance of University of Nebraska research.
Watch and listen as experts tell the stories of research and innovation at the University of Nebraska- one of the top research universities in the United States. Read more>>
Opportunities for Nebraska is the first magazine in a series that showcases University of Nebraska-Lincoln research. The world population is expected to grow to nine billion by 2050 and this research will result in producing twice as much food with the same amount of land and water. Watch and listen as UNL experts tell the stories of research and innovation at one of the top research universities in the country!
Read More >>
UNL student researchers along with SDN conducted a major research project to study the ways Ord residents communicate about what is happening in the community.
Read More >>
Published in June 2009, Nebraska's Economic Future includes a summary of findings; stories based on individual interviews; summaries of community conversations; and articles written specifically for this magazine. The articles represent varied geographical perspectives as well as perspectives on various parts of the state's economy.
Read More >>
SDN published research on Immigration in Nebraska for the project's initial study in May 2008. We selected Scottsbluff, Lexington, Crete and Omaha and looked at the impact immigration has had on those communities.
Read More >>