The photo above was taken in 1999 as part of a newspaper feature story of my growing suburban Philadelphia business.  The guys behind me in the truck, are most likely "illegal".

Author's note - I decided to post this article, because with Donald Trump presently running for President, there is a lot of talk about immigration and more specifically: illegal immigration.

I have years of personal experience in this area, and as a result, I've probably retold this story a dozen times.  Eventually, I wrote it down, and sent it to the local newspaper - where it was published in 2006.  That year, it won the Thomas Paine Award for citizen journalism.

This story I wrote is now almost 10 years old, and yet it holds up amazingly well today.  It's my own personal experience with illegal immigrants.  It's not inclusive of all situations and people, but it's my experience, and a side of the story that is not often told.  I hope it helps you visualize a more complete picture of this complex situation, next time someone tries to use emotional, half-truths in order to manipulate you to a certain kind of thinking and action.

The other side of immigration

As an employer for the past 20 years, I can no longer read, listen and watch silently as the debate over illegal immigrants continues to rage in the media.  It seems to me that politicians and “experts” have no real world experience with the topic and are merely hoping to cash in on the hysteria.  I would like to offer my real world experience as a balance to many of the “facts” being promoted by the media.

I am a landscaper.  I started in business in 1986 in the Philadelphia suburbs.  Landscaping is not far removed from agriculture and many Mexican workers seek jobs in America using the limited skills they bring from Mexico.  Landscaping is a good fit.

I hired my first Mexican worker around 1991.  He wandered into my shop and couldn’t speak a bit of English.  It took me about a half hour just to figure out what he wanted.  I decided to give him a try, because he was well dressed, polite and seemed energetic.  I paid him the same as any other new employee - $7.50/hr.

Within the first hour on the job, I could tell he was different than my American workers; he was very eager to please.  At one point, he put down his rake and ran across the yard.  I thought maybe he was quitting (many people did quit on the first day), however I was surprised to see that he was running to catch, and pocket, a piece of trash that was blowing through my client’s yard.  He quickly returned to his rake.  I had never seen anything like that before.

Within a year, half of my 40-person crew was Hispanic.

I was not an expert on documentation, so I could not be sure that every employee was of legal status.  I can tell you that everyone I hired had paperwork that said they were legal. 

As a double check, I hired an Employee Leasing Company (in short this company was the employer of record and had their own documentation requirements).  If applicants met their requirements, I was safe to hire them.  

All my workers had all applicable taxes deducted from their paychecks and sent to the proper state or federal agency.

Over the next ten years I was generally pleased with my crew.  They showed up for work on time, clean and ready.  I learned a lot about the Mexican culture during that time:

- I learned that most of the workers had families in Mexico and came to America alone to make money.  Most employees lived in groups, in small apartments to save rent money.  In 5 years, many of them would return to Mexico and their families and live a life with money they could have never earned working in Mexico.  This is contrary to the media’s claim of Mexican welfare families burdening America.

- I learned that they rarely got sick, and if they did, they never went to the doctor or hospital.  I believe this was due to the Mexican male machismo and the fear of deportation.  If someone on my crew got sick, they would always (sometimes emphatically) refuse medical treatment.  What I saw first hand is contrary to the claim by the media that these workers are bankrupting our medical system.

Although Americans like to blame Mexicans simply because it is easy, the actual problem is American employers hiring workers “under the table”.  

In an effort to pay reduced taxes and gain a strategic advantage, employers pay their Mexican help cash.  By doing this, they are almost forcing Mexican workers to sidestep our system.  If employers would collect taxes from their Mexican help, they would be paying into the system they are using.

If employers collect taxes, illegal immigrants become super-taxpayers!  Not only do they pay into our system (and they can’t use it due to fear of deportation) additionally, they do not file end of year tax returns (therefore leaving additional funds for our government to use that would have otherwise been returned to legal citizens).

I offer these first hand experiences so that others can more objectively decide their position on this subject.  Don’t be led by the media and politicians to predetermined conclusions that benefit only their creators.

David Decoteau