Immigration and Printing — Accountability Matters
ASK ANY person on the street how they feel about the topic of immigration reform, and you’ll likely receive an answer powered by emotion. That’s understandable, as any future legislation could have potentially damaging consequences for the 11 million to 12 million people living in this country without proper documentation.
The basic arguments from the proponent and opponent camps are fairly universal, somewhat flawed and routinely debated. There are those who are incensed by the notion that millions of illegals are leveraging the public services afforded American taxpayers: benefits such as unemployment, welfare, public school education and free healthcare for the very poor, to name a few.
Those who favor a more paved path to citizenship note that our country was founded and built by people who abandoned other nations in search of a better life, intrigued by the ideal of the impossible being attainable. Why should we cap the amount of people who enter our country when we’re supposed to be the globe’s melting pot?, they argue.
There is subtle and not-so-subtle racism involved here, as when the subject of illegal immigration is brought up, thoughts almost universally turn to Mexico. They account for a majority of the half-million people who arrive here annually, according to Gannett News Service. And, after all, no U.S. president has ever suggested constructing a fence along the Canadian border or apprehending boat refugees from the Great Lakes.
Obviously, many undocumented Mexican immigrants come to this country to escape knee-buckling poverty, take menial jobs upon arrival and toil for the restaurant, garment, hospitality, food processing, agriculture and construction industries, to name a few. Add another to the list: the printing industry.
To what degree the graphic arts industry relies on documented or illegal aliens is uncertain, as no statistics are available. The assumption is made that the figures are higher in the states bordering Mexico, and anecdotal evidence suggests that Hispanics account for anywhere between 50 and 70 percent of some workforces within those states. Certainly, the bulk of those people are already U.S. citizens.
At the risk of generalizing, a large percentage of those printing industry workers who are in the country illegally would most likely be bindery workers or in positions that require fewer skill sets or lesser training. A reason for this, some suggest, is that the very poor have no access to the level of training needed to operate presses and equipment of a technical nature.
“The industry is so craft- and high-tech-oriented today...with illegal workers, you’re not going to find the skill sets, even close to being skilled, to be able to impact the issue either way,” notes Joe Polanco, president of the Printing and Imaging Association of MidAmerica, and himself a Hispanic.
“(The bindery) is the only place where you’re going to need inexpensive help, like day laborers. You can bring them in, show them what to do, and then they’re gone. Most cases, printers use temp services for that kind of work. If you need kitting and fulfilling for three days, you hire a temp service to do it.
“But in the day-to-day bindery, very few folks are going to be illegals.”
Polanco estimates that perhaps as much as five percent of industry workers are living in this country illegally. That relatively small percentage, and the difficulty of finding skilled illegals willing to work under minimum wage, makes it unlikely that printing companies and binderies could achieve a definitive price advantage over their regional or national competitors.
The one aspect that has the potential to drag the entire industry into the immigration question is the issue of liability and the degree to which employers could or should be held accountable for the veracity and authentication of documents that establish identity and employment eligibility. Or, to make a long story short, is the applicant really the person on the ID card, and is this person in this country legally?
At present, the process begins and ends with the Employment Eligibility Verification form, commonly known as the I-9. This federal form lists three categories of acceptable documents for proving both identity and eligibility. But what if future legislation dictates that employers are more responsible for identifying bogus documents, with harsh penalties awaiting those who are found to have hired immigrants who entered the country illegally?
“I don’t have any sympathy for employers who are trying to take advantage of illegal immigrants. and paying lower than market wages,” notes Jerry Williamson, chairman and CEO of Dallas-based Williamson Printing, pointing to the raid of Swift Packing. “If you hold businesses to a reasonable standard of exercising due diligence, that’s all that should be expected. We are not qualified to try to catch forged documents. We are not in a position to hire investigators to do complete background checks.
“It is asking too much to demand such a high standard of perfection from small, private businesses because we are not in the verification business. In my opinion, reasonable due diligence consists of making a conscientious effort to make sure the people are here legally before we hire them. We do not pay anyone in our company below the going market rate for the position to which they would be hired.”
Bob Lindgren, president of the Printing Industries Association of Southern California, blames U.S. immigration policy for perpetuating the cycle that leads to impoverished Mexicans fleeing to their best hope for earning a living wage—and survival.
Lindgren believes there is a “decent percentage” of illegals working in the printing industry. The document route most take to satisfying the I-9 obligation—a social security card and driver’s license—is extremely simple to fudge.
“The people who get jobs here, in a factory environment, have that form of identification,” Lindgren says. “Frequently, frankly, it’s fraudulent. The employer is not homeland security. Their obligation is to see it, write down the numbers and hand it back to the employee. Clip the I-9 to their file and that’s the end of it.”
Noting that even a name/social security match solution would breed opportunities to exploit the system, Lindgren believes the best tactic is to formulate a system that provides an easier path to citizenship. “I’m hopeful for a reasonable approach to immigration reform,” he says.
For some, however, the question of illegal immigrants is a non-issue. Guynes Printing of El Paso, TX, is roughly three miles from its Mexican neighbor, Juarez. The last thing the old West Texas town of El Paso would want is any kind of restriction of the flow between the two cities.
“We do find that certain individuals get their training in Mexico, then they get their paperwork and come to the United States to improve their financial positions,” states Dave Tidball, vice president of sales and marketing at Guynes. “From an illegal immigration standpoint, we hardly hear anything about that within our industry.
“El Paso is predominantly Hispanic. It’s very important that we have strong relationships with our clients to the south. In our opinion, without Juarez, El Paso would be dirt roads.”
In fact, Guynes Printing sends its sales force into Mexico on a daily basis, in addition to immigrants from that country crossing the border to work at Guynes. Thus, the relationship between the countries is a two-way street, both figuratively and literally.
“I can’t stress enough that Mexico is extremely important to the El Paso community,” Tidball remarks. “In some cases, this whole immigration issue has been blown out of proportion.” PI