We don’t have an illegal immigration problem. We have a systemic illegal employment problem.
Picture this. It’s June 16, 2015. Lazaro “Laz” Ayala is standing in his living room. The speaker on the television is saying “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”
Laz, a successful businessman in southern Oregon, feels the sting of those words. Laz arrived in the United States as a 14-year-old boy, driven from his home by civil war in El Salvador.
The words on the television are dehumanizing for all immigrants. This is an important concept. When a class of people are dehumanized, it excuses a host of behaviors, from separating families, to locking babies in cages.
The words weaponize race as a tool to divide Americans. They are a threat, not just to some Americans, but to our democracy.
Laz waits for the response to come. He waits for community leaders to act. He waits for celebrities to speak out. Someone has to do something.
Laz waited for a year. Then he realized that he is someone. He has to act.
He recognized that his business could suffer. With the state of the debate over undocumented workers, he even worried that he might lose his life. But he pushed ahead.
He wrote a book to tell his story. The book is Illegal: One immigrant’s life or death journey to the American dream. He made a documentary film, allowing other immigrants to tell the story from their perspectives.
And, realizing that it would take an engaged community to make a difference, he launched an organization, Illegal the Project.
An Illegal Employment Problem
There are an estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States today. The debate rages over policies to increase deportations of those with criminal histories. Laz Ayala worries that all immigrants are being vilified.
Meanwhile, there is little conversation about the root of this debate — why immigrants are coming into the US illegally in the first place.
According to Laz, “They come because many of our industries rely on cheap labor which is often met by undocumented immigrants. Why is it that workers are imprisoned, detained, criminalized and dehumanized while their employers face no consequences?”
Illegal the Project seeks to bring an end to luring desperate workers by a system of employment that not only puts lives at risk but also separates families here and abroad.
“I want to end a highly politicized system that is dividing this country along racial lines,” Laz explains. “We can end this divisive topic that has mushroomed into an issue of race and antisemitism.
“We must change and enforce our laws around employing immigrants. Doing so will dry up the demand for cheap and exploited labor. It will lead to legislation that establishes a legal process, under which employers can hire immigrant workers in a safe and legal manner.
“Why is it that we deported 226,000 immigrants, the vast majority of whom came to the US to work, while fewer than 2,000 employers were audited for hiring undocumented workers?
“We don’t have an illegal immigration problem as portrayed by the media and politicians. We have a systemic illegal employment problem. This system exploits Mexican and Latin American workers who have no rights, voice, or vote. They are dehumanized, criminalized, incarcerated and locked up in cages. This is modern day slavery.”
A Modest Proposal on Immigration
Laz realizes that the issues are complex. He does not propose to solve all facets of immigration at once. Instead, he recommends that we start with a common-sense proposal.
“We propose that Congress pass legislation that creates functional guest worker programs,” Laz says. “That would meet the needs of our industries. We also must have tough enforcement of a revamped E-Verify system that accurately verifies the legal status of employees.
“Why is this not a part of the national conversation? Why are the workers we lure into our country criminalized while the employers are not held accountable?
“We firmly believe that if legislation is passed to address these two points, we would not only significantly reduce undocumented immigration but also solve the national emergency debate surrounding the border. A win-win for all.
We believe that only then will this issue be resolved and allow us to move forward as one nation, under God, with liberty, and justice for all!”
Learn More About Laz Ayala and Illegal the Project:
- Illegal The Project: https://www.illegaltheproject.org
- Book: Illegal: One immigrant’s life or death journey to the American dream: https://amzn.to/32EzClz
- Film: https://www.illegaltheproject.org/illegal-documentary
- Report: Undocumented But In Demand: An Assessment of the Labor Crisis and Illegal Employment System in the US: https://02e23a5c-043f-4516-9f77-3f8c3fa3a144.filesusr.com/ugd/4a438a_98b44710f5c84231afafa4bd3e614c43.pdf