Thursday, July 12, 2007

Immigration is not the Problem... it is the Solution to the Problem

My company, InterWorking Labs (www.iwl.com) moved its corporate headquarters about three weeks ago. When we organized the move, Locatelli Movers, the best and most reliable, local moving company was not available. So we did what most small businesses do when we have a logistics/physical/operations type problem -- we contacted our general purpose contractor - handyman, Mac.

Mac said "Sure no problem." On the day of the move, Mac showed up with six guys and a truck to facilitate the move of our corporate headquarters. Mac had to leave for two hours that day due to a medical emergency and he forgot to designate one of the six muscle men to be the crew leader.

So there was a little chaos. I tried to check in from time to time, but I had a few emergencies myself. I was able to give the move my full attention during Mac's two hour absence.

I noticed that the hardest working, most cheerful, most focussed of the six men doing the move was Pedro. From his accent and appearance, Pedro is obviously from Mexico. The other five were white guys. The white guys took more breaks, had more excuses, and generally dicked around and wasted more time than Pedro.

Whether he is legal or illegal, it is clear to me that Pedro is an immigrant who is on a mission. He wants to do a job well; he wants to be recognized; he wants to get paid fair wages; he wants to achieve a lot in the United States. Pedro is the best thing that can possibly happen to a small business like mine and I also believe he is the best thing that can happen to America.

Now, I hope that Pedro is legally working in the United States. I do not know Pedro's immigration status; he is Mac's employee and not mine, and I don't know what kind of arrangement Mac has with him.

However, when Mac got back, I told Mac, in front of Pedro (and not the others), that in my opinion, Pedro was Mac's best guy by a long shot. Mac said, in front of Pedro (and not the others) that Mac knew Pedro was his best guy and he really appreciated Pedro, his work ethic and his can-do attitude. I hope that made Pedro's day and I hope that Mac gave him a bonus.

All of us need encouragement, support, and motivation. Sometimes motivation comes from competition. Immigrants are competition. They are a reminder that we have it good here and that other people in other countries are in such dire circumstances that they will risk their lives for an opportunity to get to the United States. Immigrants are grateful for an opportunity to work. These are the people that small businesses want to hire, coach, support, develop, and promote.

Native born Americans graduating in the top 25% of their college class are also highly motivated and hard working, but they want to work for major corporations. Small businesses just cannot get them. The native born Americans who are available to small businesses tend to be the young people who graduated in the bottom 25% of their college class, who have an attitude of entitlement, a poor work ethic, and high expectations. (Several years ago, we hired one of these individuals. He was fired within 60 days. We then saw his resume posted online with his stated career goal: "I want a salary of $1 million and I want to work in a laid back, casual environment.") Of course, this is a completely ridiculous statement to make to a potential employer, particularly when the individual has no track record or marketable skills. I prefer to hire someone like Pedro.

The proponents for immigration reform complain that the illegal immigrants are a burden on our social services. The illegal immigrants use social services (for example, their children attend the public schools) without paying for them through taxes, because of course, they are working illegally and not paying taxes on their income. I agree that is a problem. However, in the list of challenges confronting the United States -- the war in Iraq, the relationship with Iran and with North Korea, the problems in Israel, the global health care issues -- I would put illegal immigration at maybe #80 or #90 on the list. This means it is a problem that will never be solved.

So, assuming Pedro is illegal (and we don't really know), what do we get in return for Pedro's presence? We get competition, we get motivation, we get lazy Americans to wake up and smell the coffee. In my opinion, this is extremely important and more than compensates for having their children in the public schools. I would conservatively guess that the presence of illegal workers from Mexico in the U.S. increases Gross Domestic Product by 25 - 35%. That's huge.

I have to conclude that the Pedros of the world are not the problem; they are the solution.

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