Latin American Laborers’ Vulnerability and Border Issues

Latin American migrant worker about to illegally cross the border between Mexico and the United States.
A stretch of the U.S.-Mexico border in Arizona.
A weathered backpack left behind by a migrant in the border region between the U.S. and Mexico.
Mexico, shown in orange, bordering with the United States to the north.

As explained in the previous chapter, millions of Latin American migrants work outside of the law in the United States. Their presence, however, is not always appreciated by Americans, even though the foreign laborers often work hard and only struggle to get by.

As one of the arguments against migrant workers goes, migrants take American workers’ jobs, since greedy employers would rather hire black market Latinos for less than the minimum wage than Americans who always demand the full minimum wage. Undocumented workers, furthermore, don’t always pay income tax, giving people who believe in fair competition at least two compelling arguments to use against the migrants’ presence. Paradoxically though, at some level, even unemployed Americans can potentially benefit from less expensive goods and services that cheaper Latino labor may be able to provide.

Border issues

Considering the obvious fact that, barring people overstaying their visas, most illegally working Latinos come to the United States via Mexico, voices have been raised to tighten security along the U.S.–Mexico border. A tightened security, proponents claim, would impede illegal immigration, as well as thwart the widespread drug smuggling that is going on between Mexico and the United States. More border control would also address the issue of undocumented migrants often relying on drug cartel-linked smugglers to take them across the border, a practice that is both expensive and life-threatening.

To expound on the vulnerability of people entering the United States without legal permission, once in the American jobs market, migrants operating outside the legal system can easily be denied rights and be exploited. This gives U.S. authorities yet another reason to deal with their situation, and increasing the surveillance of the border, as well making it easier for Latinos immigrate legally, are two often-heard suggestions in the political debate on this topic.

Political opinions

To tackle the problems with cross-border human smuggling, unfair competition and black market exploitation — aside from ideas already mentioned — a sizable portion of the American population believe that people who are residing illegally in the United States should be granted amnesty and legal status. Their political opponents, on the other hand, hold that people who defy immigration laws should not be rewarded with citizenships, but be deported.