The Ethics for Business Owners in Hiring Illegal Immigrants
There is a great deal of debate concerning the hiring of illegal immigrants by United States businesses. Those against the hiring of illegal immigrants argue that these immigrants are taking jobs away from American workers. In this country, there are actually strong penalties for hiring undocumented or illegal workers because the hiring of illegal immigrants violates both federal and state law. Although it is illegal to hire illegal immigrants, there are these that consider it in terms of an ethical issue for businesses.
So, what is ethics? “There is a difference between ethics and law. The law summarizes what legislatures believe at a certain point in time in a certain place, which may or may not represent the beliefs of citizens.Ethics is about what is right and wrong, where law is about a majority opinion at a certain place at a certain time. Hopefully, there is a great deal of overlap between the law and ethics, but there may be times where what is legal may not be seen as ethical [and vice versa]” (Ruddell, 2012, p. 300).
There are a number of reasons why one can argue that it is unethical for businesses to hire illegal immigrants. The first reason is that it is illegal or a violation of the law. Additionally, it allows businesses that hire illegal immigrants to gain an unfair advantage over businesses that do not in terms of saving money. Moreover, the fact that these workers do not pay taxes causes the state and federal government to lose revenue that it could use for the public at large. Furthermore, illegal immigrants are often taken advantage of by the business and business owners who hire them in the form of abusive treatment, failure to provide adequate health and safety equipment, and denial of wages if they complain. Throughout this paper I will discuss the ethical issue of businesses hiring illegal immigrants to work in the United States.
The Ethical Case Against Hiring Illegal Immigrants
According to the law, it is illegal for most people who are not citizens and do not have a work visa to be employed in the United States. “Although seldom acknowledged as doing so, immigration policy serves as the nation’s most basic labor law. It establishes who is legally eligible to be a member of America’s labor force” (Briggs, 2010). The right to work is granted to citizens, non-citizens with permanent status, those with refugee status, and citizens of other countries with non-immigration status and permits to work in the United States. Many immigrants are undocumented, however, and thus do not have a legal right to work within the United States. Additionally, there are criminal and civil penalties to employers who hire these workers. “Following suit in 1986, Congress passed the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA), creating a number of criminal and civil sanctions for employers who hired illegal immigrants. The law reflected a compromise between labor and business interests. For labor groups seeking to reduce the number of foreigners in the workforce, it became illegal for an employer to hire or employ an “unauthorized alien.” But for employers, nervous about civil and criminal liability, good faith was a complete defense” (Crouse, 2009, p. 594).
One of the ethical arguments against the hiring of illegal immigrants is that a company is breaking the law in the hopes of gaining an unfair advantage in business. In “Cracking Down on Employers Hiring Undocumented Workers,” which appeared on the whitehouse.com, it states, “Our businesses should only employ people legally authorized to work in the United States. Businesses that knowingly employ undocumented workers are exploiting the system to gain an advantage over businesses that play by the rules” (Cracking Down, 2013). The reasoning behind this is that employers often pay undocumented workers ‘under-the-table’; additionally, these workers are not subjected to taxes on their wages in the same way that citizens and documented workers are. According to an Oregon State senator and an Oregon State Representative, “Employers who pay an employee under the table or misclassify an employee as an independent contractor, do not pay their allotted taxes and avoid other payroll obligations. This results in billions of dollars of lost revenue to state governments that would be used to provide essential public services. The underground economy also puts law-abiding businesses at a disadvantage in the marketplace. Tax cheats gain an unfair advantage by not paying their share of taxes and fees. This can result in legitimate businesses shutting down” (Prozanski, 2009).
Additionally, it is argued that illegal immigrants impact the economy by creating lower wage standards for certain jobs, thus causing American workers who would seek these jobs to take lower pay or not find work. In his article appearing in the New York Times, Adam Davidson states that, “Illegal immigration does have some undeniable negative economic effects. Similarly skilled native-born workers are faced with a choice of either accepting lower pay or not working in the field at all. Labor economists have concluded that undocumented workers have lowered the wages of U.S. adults without a high-school diploma – 25 million of them- by anywhere between 0.4 to 7.4 percent” (Davidson, 2013). Therefore, for those employed in lower paying jobs, the hiring of illegal immigrants has allowed businesses to lower the wages for all workers.
Another problem that exists with the hiring of undocumented workers is that many employers feel that they can subject these workers to substandard treatment. In “Ethics on the Corner,” author Carolyn Pinedo Turnovsky states, “On the Corner: Day Labor in the United States”, a national study conducted by researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles, the University of Illinois, Chicago, and the New School University in New York, found abuse pervasive in the treatment of the more than 100,000 workers seeking or performing day labor every day in the U.S., more than three-quarters of whom are undocumented migrants. The authors found that employers routinely take advantage of these workers, subjecting them to physical or verbal abuse and hazardous working conditions” (Turnovsky, 2006). These workers may be subjected to such treatment as violence by the employer and denial of wages for work performed. Additionally, they may be forced to work in conditions where there is a greater likelihood that they will sustain injury.
In fact the exploitation of illegal immigrants is a huge ethical dilemma that is encountered when discussing businesses’ hiring of illegal immigrants. In the article “Protecting Undocumented Workers,” by Harold Meyerson, the author discusses how a team of day laborers were picked up and taking to a residential neighborhood in Texas that had been hit by a hurricane. At the site there were American laborers who were given protective health and safety equipment for the cleanup. When the illegal immigrants asked for the same type of safety equipment, their pay was cut in half prompting the undocumented workers to go on strike. For this action, the undocumented workers were picked up by the local police as well as immigration officers and taken to the local jail before being transferred to federal immigration jail. The article goes on to point out that because of their status as illegal immigrants, businesses that want to save money by usurping the protection of labor laws such as the Fair Labor Standards Act and the National Labor Relations Act for their workers will often hire these workers. “This de factor exemption of undocumented immigrants from the protection of workplace laws actually encourages employers to hire more undocumented workers. It is easy for management to ignore labor laws when employees can’t complain” (Meyerson, 2011).
Some states have sought to remedy the problem of illegal immigrants being taken advantage of by granting them the same rights against employers who violate labor laws as documented workers have. “In 2009, an Illinois Appellate Court ruled that the Illinois Workers Compensation Act applied to injured employees, regardless of their immigration status.” This means that even illegal immigrants are eligible to receive workers compensation in the state of Illinois if they are injured on the job.
Is it Easy for Businesses to Remain Ethical with Regard to Illegal Immigrants?
One of the arguments concerning the hiring of illegal immigrants, is that it is often difficult for an employer to verify that a potential employee is an illegal immigrant. President Obama proposed some solutions geared toward helping employers verify that the people they hire are eligible to work in the United States. One solution that the president proposed is mandatory, phase-in electronic employment verification (Cracking Down, 2013). This will allow employers to use federal government databases to verify that the people that they hire are not in fact illegal immigrants. Additionally, the president proposed that use of fraud and tamper resistant Social Security cards and documents to combat fraud and identity theft. Furthermore, the president proposed increased monitoring and accountability for employers (Cracking Down, 2013). Lastly, the president proposed expanding the use of E-Verify, or an electronic verification system to ensure that potential hires are eligible to work in the United States.
Ethical Solutions to the Hiring of Illegal Immigrants
In her article “Immigration: Where Do We Go From Here?,” Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano suggests a sort of middle ground when dealing with illegal immigrants. With regard to the estimated 12 – 13 million illegal immigrants in this country, she states, “In my view, the country needs to have a process that requires those who are here illegally to register, to pay a fine, to learn English, to pay their taxes, and to get in a queue to earn citizenship” (Napolitano). This suggests that she believes that illegal immigrants who are already here should be granted the right to work so long as they pay their taxes and abide by the law.
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