Exploitation? Let me count the ways


The immigrant who enters the United States without benefit of the required visa and lives and works here illegally exploits us all – breaking the law, flooding the courts, taking the job, taking the services, taking the benefits, but not contributing his share to life in America.

The employer who hires the illegal worker exploits him. It cannot possibly be otherwise. There is no way to construe the arrangement as anything other than exploitation, first of all, because it is illegal, which fundamentally taints the arrangement and whatever follows from it.

And then, because the employee’s illegal presence limits his freedom to assert his rights and receive the benefits accorded legal residents, the worker is further and daily exploited.

Employers, large and small, who hire illegal immigrants break the law and exploit their workers.

The politicians – whether local, state, regional, or federal – exploit the illegal workers and their families for political gain, for money in the form of campaign funds given by groups who support immigration, legal or not, and for money, allegiance, and votes from segments of their political bases who are sympathetic to the illegal residents or to minority residents in general, regardless of the law.

Sadly, once the illegal entry has been made, there can be no wholly successful outcomes. After that, it is all exploitation.

We haven’t yet the conclusive information one needs to decide whether the Edgartown couple whose legal fight with Brazilian workers over pay evaded employer responsibility. Nevertheless, the uncertainties, ambiguities, and contradictions in the record, which Steve Myrick reported in The Times last week, have not stanched the flow of anti-immigrant criticism following from the story. Those of us who care about such things long for a trail of facts and authoritative judgments we can count on. Others go with their animus.

But, a clarifying outcome – the four workers were illegally employed, or they were not; the homeowners paid out all that they owed, or did not; they paid what they owed to a third party, the immigrant contractor, who failed to pay what he then owed to the workers, or not – may elude us. Settlements in these matters, without ultimate adjudication, include agreements in which the litigants admit no wrong and promise to guard the terms of the settlement from disclosure.

We may never know how this shakes out, but, upon anecdotal evidence, we recognize the circumstances. We have reported over time an increase in the number of Brazilian immigrants charged by police with unlicensed operation of motor vehicles. This and other offenses, such as operating an uninsured and unregistered motor vehicle, have increasingly occupied Island law enforcement officers and Dukes County District Court personnel. The enormous growth in the need for Portuguese-speaking interpreters and the court’s aggregation of criminal matters involving Brazilians facing such charges on certain days of the week are of only limited use in quantifying and describing the problems and costs associated with the increase in the number of illegal aliens resident in the six Vineyard towns.

The same is true in mainland cities and towns, and some state action to challenge the underlying problems giving rise to this imposition may be imminent. But, as Gov. Deval Patrick exemplifies, there is a gulf between common sense action in this nationwide turmoil and political calculation, which hampers local efforts to do what is possible to improve the situation. For example, the governor’s reaction to a legislative effort to stiffen enforcement regimens, in reaction to two recent arrests of illegal immigrants facing criminal charges, one for manslaughter, the other for a sixth drunk driving arrest, has been to detach sensible law enforcement response from what he called “headline” notoriety.

But, it is not mere headlines, when one can be certain that a young motorcyclist would be alive today if the drunken illegal immigrant who killed him were not in the country, not employed here, and not driving. The immigration problem may be a vast one, but its consequences are narrowly heartbreaking. They demand rigorous attention, even from local and state officials, who’d rather not.

Nationally, immigration is in chaos, and we’ve not escaped the mess. But, our treatment of members of the Brazilian community, our neighbors in so many ways, is on us, and it is, without question, exploitative. They are illegal, so they cannot get valid identity documents, so they cannot get driving licenses or insurance. They must work so, unlicensed, they drive unregistered and uninsured automobiles, or automobiles registered and insured by their employers, breaking the law mile after mile. They hide from and fear law enforcement, even determinedly fair and limited law enforcement. Unable to sign leases or to maintain bank accounts, these neighbors often live in dormitory-style housing in ordinary Vineyard residential neighborhoods and wire cash to the home country. They are exploited by Vineyard employers when they work at jobs for which they may be paid decently but qualify for none of the security and benefits due legal workers or American citizens.

In all these ways, we take advantage of the harsh limits placed on some members of the Brazilian community because of their illegal residency. It’s ugly and corrosive, and by not acting to correct it, we condone it.