Posted on April 17, 2006

U.S. Employers Send for Immigrants

Julie Watson and Olga R. Rodriguez, AP, April 16, 2006

SASABE, Mexico — When Pedro Lopez Vazquez crossed illegally into the United States last week, he was not heading north to look for a job. He already had one.

His future employer even paid $1,000 for a smuggler to help Vazquez make his way from the central Mexican city of Puebla to Aspen, Colo.

“We’re going to Colorado to work in carpentry because we have a friend who was going to give us a job,” Vazquez said.

Vazquez, 41, was interviewed along the Arizona border after being deported twice by the U.S. Border Patrol. He said he would keep trying until he got to Aspen.

His story is not unusual. A growing number of U.S. employers and migrants are tapping into an underground employment network that matches one with the other, often before the migrants leave home.

“It continues to become clear who controls immigration. It’s not governments, but rather the market,” said Jorge Santibanez, director of the Tijuana-based think tank Colegio de la Frontera Norte.

As debate over immigration heats up in the United States, more U.S. companies in need of cheap labor are turning to undocumented employees to recruit friends and relatives back home, and to smugglers to find job seekers.

Darcy Tromanhauser, of the non-profit law project Nebraska Appleseed, said companies in need of workers rely on the networks to “pass along the information more effectively than billboards.”

“It started out more explicitly, where (meatpacking) companies used to have buses to transport people to come up, and they would advertise directly in Mexico,” she said. “Now I think that happens more informally.”

At the same time, it has become less risky for companies to recruit undocumented migrants. Since the Sept. 11 attacks, U.S. prosecution of employers who hire such workers has dwindled to a trickle as the government puts its resources toward national security.

The few cases that are prosecuted, however, highlight how lucrative a business recruiting undocumented workers has become. In one case, a single smuggler allegedly earned $900,000 over 15 months placing 6,000 migrants in jobs at Chinese restaurants across the upper Midwest.