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Editorials

No Jobs but No Deportation

Obama’s plan for firing illegal immigrants is sensible

By Alix M. Olian

All of a sudden, American Apparel’s popular “Legalize LA” shirts have taken on a whole new significance. In the coming days, the company will fire 1,800 workers whose papers federal authorities deemed illegitimate. Though it is always a tragedy whenever anyone loses his or her job, the criticism over this new policy of firing is unwarranted.

Estimates show that from 11 to 12 million illegal immigrants currently reside in the United States. Though President Obama favors making all current immigrants legal, there still exists a need to stop further illegal immigration and create policies to deal with the illegal immigrants who are currently in the United States in the meantime. Holding all employers accountable for their employees’ legal status is a step in the right direction.

In August, 9.6 percent of the United States labor force was unemployed. If there is ever a good time to fire illegal immigrants, it is during a recession when citizens and documented immigrants are in need of jobs and able to fill any gaps left by undocumented immigrants. In this sense, the Obama administration’s plan will at least benefit Americans who are currently searching for work due to the recession. Although the expertise that many illegal immigrants have acquired during the tenure of their employment cannot immediately be transferred to their legal replacements, many of the jobs affected—such as those in the American Apparel factory—involve skills that can easily be taught.

Some argue that the government should target sweatshops instead of a company like American Apparel, which pays high wages and touts its humane working conditions. But, in July, Homeland Security released a list of 652 companies that it would be auditing. To make an exception for American Apparel would be to deliberately not enforce a law and would send the wrong message to the other firms on the list. Now, all companies throughout the United States understand that the government will hold them responsible for hiring workers with proper documentation, rather than illegal immigrants.

The Obama policy of focusing on firing, not raids that would result in deportation, is a notable improvement over the Bush administration’s approach. Though economically damaging, at least the firings allow illegal immigrants to stay in the United States rather than being sent home as they would have been under the old regime.

If Obama is truly in favor of controlling our borders and curbing illegal immigration, then it is necessary to make it less appealing to disregard the law and sneak into the United States. By sending the clear message that illegal immigrants will not be hired—as well as convincing employers that they cannot retain illegal employees—other measures such as border security will be more meaningful and effective.

Though it is natural to be sympathetic to the plight of illegal immigrants, one must remember that they are illegal, and hiring them is illegal as well. If the laws are on the books, they should be enforced. As a company that takes justifiable pride in all of its clothes being made in the USA, American Apparel should now be proud that all of its workers will be legal in the USA as well.

Alix M. Olian ’11, an associate Crimson editorial editor, is a social studies concentrator in Lowell House.

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