Legalize LA

A recent post in the NY Times talks about a new tactic for dealing with illegal immigration: firing. (Of course, the irony that it is the New York Times talking about an incident taking place in Los Angeles, again, is not lost on me. Thanks to the internet, I can read news reports from across the country to find out what is going on in my own backyard.) The particular place of business discussed was the American Apparel factory in downtown LA.

American Apparel’s selling point is the fact that it is not a sweatshop, and not only does it pay its employees salaries above minimum wage, it creates T-shirts and other clothing here in the US. So to be the target of an investigation into hiring of illegals just seems the highest of ironies. Here is a company trying hard to keep jobs in the United States, and to give its workers a chance at being able to support their families, and it is a target of investigations by the Federal government. What sort of message is that sending? 

The American Apparel Factory in Downtown LA
The American Apparel Factory in Downtown LA

A couple years back, there were banners and posters and billboards plastering the city saying “Legalize LA,” referring to coming up with a policy that honors the fact that most illegal immigrants are decent, hardworking people, trying to make a new, better life for themselves and their families here in the US, just like every previous wave of immigrants that has made up our country.

Legalize LA

Legalize LA

The particular twist that ICE (Immigrations and Customs Enforcement) under Obama tried was to note any discrepancies between identifications provided to prove legal residency (and thus legality to be hired). It was actually American Apparel that decided to go ahead and fire the employees with the discrepancies that could not be cleared up. The company was not accused of knowingly hiring illegal immigrants. The chances that the documentation provided for hiring were fake is extremely likely. Thus, since it is illegal to hire those not legal to be in the country, and the descrepancies were brought to the attention of American Apparel, the only legal recource they had was to then ask the employees unable to clear up questions about their legal status to leave. They were fired for lack of certainty of their status.
Me personally, I am very divided on the illegal immigrant status issue. I know that on both sides of my family, my ancestors decided that conditions in their various parts of the world were unsatisfactory enough for an entire family to move to a country where they didn’t speak the language. And they stuck it out, worked hard, and advanced in society to leave decendants and eventually my family and I. I know the world is a very different place now, but the impulse is exactly the same: looking for a better life to provide for one’s family, wherever that may be.
American Apparel is firing 1,800 employees, nearly 1/4 of its workforce. With the flagging economy, chances were good that some amount of staff being fired will help the bottom line and was even perhaps needed, but I would guess this is not the manner in which management would have preferred to do it.
In my predominantly Spanish-speaking neighborhood, our parked cars on the streets are flyered on a constant basis. One day, I remember a flyer tucked under my windshield wiper was an ad in both English and Spanish asking if I needed a job and if I had sewing skills, to apply at American Apparel. I remember thinking it was interesting that my particular neighborhood was targeted for the flyers. Usually the flyers are for car insurance, local restaurants, delivery services and taxis. Not jobs.
Although American Apparel has been great at offering a non-sweatshop environment, providing above average wage jobs, health benefits and even some stock options, I have always been suspicious of their stepping into the fray on immigrant status issues. What do they have to gain from proposing clemency for current working illegals? If a quarter of their workforce had issues with their documentation, did they have any suspicions that some were not legal? Is that perhaps the true motivation for all the money spent on advertising Legalize LA?
Just passing thoughts and observations. It has struck me odd, and this latest legal interaction seems all the more strange. As the Chief Executive asks in the article, he wonders why his company was targeted. Could it perhaps have been the outspoken-ness asking for legalization that made this investigation a priority? Is freedom of speech in opposition to an immigration policy that actually works for everyone?

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