Competing With Illegal Workers

The fight for American jobs


Standing on the sidewalk alongside Highway 87 in Payson, Gary Papineau holds a cardboard sign that reads, "I need work."

But unlike other roadside panhandlers you might see in larger municipalities, Papineau's sign includes his phone number.


As residents head for work Tuesday morning, Gary Papineau stands along Highway 87 looking for work. Papineau, who has experience in drywall work, blames part of his job-seeking woes on the increasing number of illegal immigrants crossing the U.S. border from Mexico.

"I need a job," Papineau said. "I've seen people do this in Phoenix, but they're just looking for money. I'm really looking for work. Finding a job in this town isn't easy."

Papineau, who has experience in drywall work, blames part of his job-seeking woes on the increasing number of illegal immigrants crossing the U.S. border from Mexico. And with the opening of The Home Depot in Payson, Papineau believes the problem will only get worse.

"It's bad because most the (day laborers) workers are all from Mexico," he said. "I've lived up here for 13 years and I can't get a job with any of these companies. They move all these Mexicans up here to take the jobs. But here I am, an American, and they won't hire me."

"Home Depot's official policy is that undocumented workers are not allowed on our property," Shane Monahan, store manager for Payson's Home Depot, said. "I know it runs rampant in the Valley, but they are working with the Phoenix P.D. and trespassing charges are being filed and will be filed. I won't tolerate it at this store. I understand the sensitive nature of this -- that they're trying to support their families, but I've got a business to run and I can't let them sit out there and antagonize my customers."

Papineau is living with relatives in Payson, but said he has had to go to Phoenix to find work.

"I would stay up here if I had a job," he said.

Papineau is not alone in his concern over the loss of jobs for Americans.

Last month, a group of citizens took the law into their own hands and formed the Minuteman Project. Volunteers of this grassroots movement based in southern Arizona, roam the borders looking for, and reporting, illegal crossers.

Just last weekend, the Minuteman Project held a rally at two Arizona border patrol locations to support the Department of Homeland Security, to encourage immigration law reform and to draw attention to protecting Arizona's accessible southern borders.

According to the Tucson Citizen newspaper, of the 1.1 million illegal immigrants arrested last year, 51 percent were caught crossing into Arizona.

Payson Police Chief Gordon Gartner estimates there are between 500 and 1,000 illegal immigrants from Mexico living and working in Payson. He is concerned about the predicament the United Sates has created.

"Some time in the late 1990s, I was attending a meeting in Prescott," Gartner said. "It was a meeting of the Law Enforcement Coordinating Council. It's actually sponsored by the Department of Justice."

At that meeting, Gartner said, one border patrol official was asked when employers who hire illegal immigrants would be held accountable.

The answer: because of pressure from the business community, and complaints about a shortage of minimum-wage workers, Immigration and Naturalization Service agents were instructed to back off their enforcement.

"In other words, the INS was not going to go out and write citations to businesses anymore for that violation," Gartner said.

That duplicity of policy, he said, has put the United States in a bad position.

"This means we have a dual policy that is in conflict with itself. We put a virtual army on the border, we've built fences, we have airplanes and helicopters -- all of these things to stop the illegal immigration into our country -- yet we entice these people up here by encouraging them with jobs and allowing them to work, even though it's illegal for them to be here," he said. "I think that, as a country, what we are doing is immoral."

Gartner said this also puts his department, the town and the county in a quandary.

"These people are here. They have kids that have been born here. They are part of our community and they are part of who we are. We just can't kick them out and throw them back ... There's something that just doesn't feel right about that," Gartner said.

One business manager, who asked not to be identified, explained why he might hire undocumented workers for Payson jobs.

"There are a number of reasons, but for one -- they show up. They are here each morning and they work until the end of the day," he said. "And they work hard. They do some of the hardest, dirtiest work without complaining. Many times it's because they are sending their wages back to family in Mexico. These are guys who are just trying to make a better life for their wives and their children."

Gartner said this puts local businesses in a dilemma.

"The truth is, when we bring illegal aliens across the border by encouraging them and offering them jobs, businesses can get away with paying them less, and that has to help their profit margin. It's been said by contractors, ‘I can't find an American to operate a shovel anymore.'"

Gartner said many of the illegal immigrants from Mexico are hard workers.

"A lot of them have really good families," he said. "They just want to do better, to be better."

But with them comes the criminal element, and that, Gartner said, causes challenges.

"They often victimize people from their own culture," he said. "And of course, the people they are victimizing also are here illegally, so they don't want to report crimes to the local police.

"The government needs to be willing to bite the bullet ... We need to have continued enforcement on the border. We need a legitimate guest-worker program of some type. And there needs to be enforcement action against businesses that knowingly employ illegal workers," he said. "And that's huge, because you'd really be taking on the businesses of America."

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