My wife and I are building a new home. We are doing some of the work ourselves but the majority of the work is done by subcontractors, mostly hired through our general contractor. Working on a major project like this brings many current political and economic issues from the big-picture level down to the up-close and personal level.
Today, as our driveway was being installed, I had quite a discussion with the owner/operator of our concrete finishing company. Alex (not actual name) is a legal Mexican immigrant and has been doing business in the US for almost twenty years. He went through channels, got a green card, and studied English for two years. Alex pursued the American dream, and got it. He has handled several segments of our construction project, and does top quality work at a fair price. Working in the same space every day we got to know each other and today we spent some time discussing business and politics.
Alex’s business is doing well. In fact, there is much more demand for his work than he can fulfill. He would like to hire more employees and expand his business, but he can’t see a way to do it and still maintain quality. As a retired corporate manager and business owner, I offered some growth strategies and personnel practices that have worked for me. But his circumstances are quite different than mine were. You see, all of his employees are (probably) illegal Mexican immigrants.
In fact, almost all of the residential construction work in the Carolinas is being performed by illegal Mexican immigrants.
Why? Have Mexican immigrants taken all of the construction jobs because they will work for lower wages than American tradesmen? Are American men now too lazy or pampered to take on the difficult, physical work required in the construction trades? Have our schools convinced every American student that anyone who doesn’t pursue a college degree and a desk job is a failure? Did our government over-regulate our traditional construction businesses into extinction, so that only “under-the-radar” groups of illegal immigrants can function at a feasible cost?
Yes, yes, yes, and yes.
But there’s more to it than that. I talked with another general contractor today who was interested in hiring Alex and his crew for some of his projects, only to learn they are over-booked. “It’s a shame,” he said. “Most of the (American) subcontractors went broke during the housing bust five years ago, and they aren’t coming back.”
Alex and many entrepreneurial Mexicans like him are able to seize the market opportunities because they are connected to the available army of illegal Mexican immigrant workers. Alex can find them, hire them, manage them, communicate with them, and help them with the considerable personal challenges they face working in the shadows of American life. Still, his business growth is limited because he employs these men. “My business can’t grow,” he said. “None of my workers can advance to be managers because they don’t even try to learn to speak English.” He would employ English-speaking American construction workers, but there just aren’t any. It’s a very complex business model.
I had heard that Latinos are being barraged with liberal propaganda, painting conservatives, Republicans and especially Tea Party guys as hateful monsters to be avoided and feared. So I made it a point to tell my new Mexican friend Alex that I am a conservative. Tea Party, even.
Alex winced. “I’m not a monster,” I said. “I’m not a racist and a hater. You know me. You can’t believe the stuff you hear in the media.”
“Well, the conservatives don’t want to allow any immigration,” he said.
“Not true,” I countered. “We want LEGAL immigration for people who can bring value to our country. What we don’t want is dangerous, uncontrolled borders, or slackers coming here to take advantage of taxpayer-funded benefits. And we DO want our legal immigrants to assimilate – to become patriotic, law-abiding, productive Americans, not Mexicans who just happen to live in the US.”
Like you, Alex. Without you, and men like you, there would be no new homes under construction in my neighborhood right now.
Tom Balek – Rockin’ On the Right Side
Save me from this prison, Lord, help me get away
‘Cause only You can save me now from this misery
‘Cause I’ve been lost in my own place
And I’m getting’ weary, how far is Heaven?
And I know I need to change my ways of livin’
How far is Heaven?
My favorite Mexican band – Los Lonely Boys! (this song is also on my set list)