By <I>Juergen Kneifel</I>
Immigrant entrepreneurs are all around us. They’re working here legally, operating legitimate businesses.
Their dream of a better life has materialized, yet all the while, many will still send financial support to extended family residing in their native country. Migrant workers also have a dream; yet theirs is often far more elusive.
If you’ve ever traveled to Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua or parts of Mexico outside of the typical tourist zones, you may have a sense of empathy for the hardships these people face.
Thousands of migrant workers cross our borders illegally because they dream of a better life.
They lack jobs and opportunity in their homeland, yet have a strong desire to work and provide for loved ones as best they can. And for many, working on farms, in restaurants, as domestic workers and in the construction trades will provide hope — and a little money — to support themselves and their families back home.
Capitalism is a strong economic engine that draws participants far and wide.
Frankly, the nature of supply and demand will create opportunity for those willing to do work that others are simply not interested in, or unwilling to perform.
On this Labor Day, wouldn’t it be great for us to rekindle the respect and appreciation that migrant workers and immigrant entrepreneurs have for our land of opportunity and their commitment to hard work and innovation that leads to greater prosperity. I fully appreciate the viewpoint by detractors who argue that migrant workers represent a drag on the economy.
I read of the recent human tragedy unfolding in southern Mexico as a freight train, referred to as “The Beast,” derailed. It was carrying over 250 hitchhiking Central American migrant workers closer to the U.S. border; most were riding on the train’s rooftops while others found space to squeeze in between the rail cars.
They were hoping to find an illegal passage across the U.S.-Mexico border for work of any kind.
Sadly, several passengers were killed and dozens were injured.
I’m saddened by the news of those who lost their lives and others who were injured as they tried to make their way into the U.S.
Some would argue that these workers are also entrepreneurs. Others may not share that opinion.
They risk more than a little money for a business startup. The risks they encounter are downright frightening.
Many of the hitchhikers on this particular route come from Guatemala and Honduras. They travel in large packs, hoping they’ll find safety in numbers. But according to several media reports, the Mexican rail lines are apparently often controlled by armed gangs who routinely subject riders to robbery, kidnap, extortion and rape.
Once they reach the U.S. border, they will encounter a more robust and fortified border patrol that often detains and deports those who are captured. And still they come.
It is clear that to many foreigners, the U.S. is still viewed as a land of great opportunity. As these illegal migrant workers scatter around the country, they do often find work. Typically these are jobs that pay on a cash basis and often are performed in the shadows.
On any given day there are migrant workers amongst other legal workers seeking day jobs in close proximity to area hardware stores.
No doubt there are serious political and economic problems in recognizing this population. But they’re truly in a desperate place, and from a humanitarian viewpoint, they aren’t looking for a handout. They just want to work.
I cannot fault illegal migrant workers for their desire to find work and provide for their loved ones. I applaud their passion and strong work ethic.
Immigration reform requires critical conversation. I believe there should be opportunity to allow these workers to contribute to our tax base, just like the rest of us. But the measure of our compassion — who’s in and who’s out — has become far too political.
If anything, migrant workers provide a sobering reminder that there are thousands of people willing to take on great risk and sacrifice for a taste of what most Americans simply take for granted.
Juergen Kneifel is a senior associate faculty member in the Everett Community College business program. Please send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.