How do undocumented immigrants work "legal" jobs?
January 1, 2008 12:25 PM   Subscribe

How do illegal/undocumented immigrants work "legal" jobs?

In light of Arizona's new immigration law, how do employers hire and pay illegal immigrants? I can understand how this happens in cash-based transactions, farms, construction sites, etc. But how do big chains like McDonald's hire and pay these workers? My guess is that they hire them, pay them, take out taxes and that the workers don't file their personal income taxes?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (16 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
The undocumented workers buy fake ID and make up a social security number that may or may not belong to someone else. Someone used my social security number to hide their income and I've been audited twice because of it. It is very difficult to protect yourself if someone just makes up a number and it ends up being yours.
posted by 45moore45 at 12:44 PM on January 1, 2008

All you really need is fake credentials, as pointed out. These are readily available on the street in any major city - around 24th and Mission here in San Francisco. This article talks a abit about how the process works.

The majority though are involved in cash-only jobs such as yard, household work, etc.
posted by vacapinta at 12:55 PM on January 1, 2008

Incidentally, this is one reason to look at that statement that Social Security sends you on what they think your earnings were for the year.
posted by smackfu at 1:00 PM on January 1, 2008

Yep, typically bogus documents. Now while the common thinking is that the companies "know" something is up (and often they do), anyone who does hiring has to be extremely careful as to how they handle this. A hiring manager usually isn't trained in spotting fakes, and to accuse someone of using a false SSN or fake documents is a very serious accusation. If you make that accusation, and you end up being wrong, you're hosed.

That being said, the new law in Arizona is a not a good thing. Checking eligibilty in a more efficient and accurate manner (although by no means foolproof) is a good idea. Having companies stake their entire business on their HR department is a bad idea. If I'm looking for somewhere to start of relocate a business, Arizona suddenly looks like a dangerous bet. I wouldn't risk my business investment knowing that one mistake in HR means everything is gone.
posted by azpenguin at 1:27 PM on January 1, 2008

At my last job, there were many 'undocumented' workers working there. They got through the paperwork with good-enough looking documents. Since they just need bodies, they don't really look that hard into people's stuff.
posted by sperose at 1:32 PM on January 1, 2008

A hiring manager usually isn't trained in spotting fakes, and to accuse someone of using a false SSN or fake documents is a very serious accusation. If you make that accusation, and you end up being wrong, you're hosed.

Why not just use the Social Security Number Verification Service? I do this for every new hire where I work.
posted by hjo3 at 1:48 PM on January 1, 2008

Besides the above, also keep in mind that at a place like McDonalds, the employee turnover is extraordinarily high -- fast food averages something like 300-400 percent a year (meaning, they are hiring the equivalent of a completely new workforce 3-4 times per year). There are natural, weeks- or months-long delays in filing paperwork, during which time you can have someone working, and oftentimes these "creative paperwork delays" are facilitated by management in need of fresh bodies or jobs for their family members. If they cannot acquire appropriate paperwork, the person just quits and moves on to something else.

In restaurants I've worked in, family members often "share" paperwork -- e.g. there's one employee on the books, and he works 100+ hours a week. In reality, these are two people who simply split their paycheck, and management and the employee simply agree not to ask each other about overtime payments.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 2:07 PM on January 1, 2008

I understand that you can buy a SS# with an appropriate name on the black market so that it checks out through the verification service. This article suggests the same.

My guess is that they hire them, pay them, take out taxes and that the workers don't file their personal income taxes?

Some people file the tax returns too. There's an IRS program to enable illegal immigrants to pay taxes using Individual Tax Identification Numbers. By federal law, the filings cannot be used to identify and deport an immigrant and the information is not usually shared by IRS with other federal agencies. Last year, 1.4 million tax returns were filed under this provision--many with W-2s issued to another's social security number/name. Today's NPR story on the subject here.
posted by whimwit at 3:25 PM on January 1, 2008

There are a lot of businesses that rely on immigrant labor, so if they present documents that are passable then no questions are asked.
posted by electroboy at 4:08 PM on January 1, 2008

Lots of deceased individuals have social security numbers that they're no longer using. You might imagine that there is some money to be made from this fact. The number of Americans who have been dead for several decades but hold down jobs at major restaurant chains would be quite shocking if published.
posted by baphomet at 4:55 PM on January 1, 2008

I somehow doubt that illegal aliens who work these menial jobs can manage to find resources for these fakes. More importantly, they simply don't need to. The restaurant industry in NY depends too heavily on the labor to erect any sort of impediment to illegals. I have a hunch the higher ups know this. If they wanted to, the powers that be could easily round them up like that *snap* and end the whole thing resulting in implications which would be crippling for the industry in NY.

To say they have this huge underground network where they can obtain these fakes is a far cry, theres too many of them and they DON'T all know each other or necessarily support each other. The Mcdonalds that I've been to have been littered with teens and elders, it's too huge and too corporate, too visible to sustain or harbor aliens in any significant amount. I think the majority do real restaurants and menial construction (At least in NY).

I don't know them or their world or how they get hired or even how they get paid but I work with them everyday and I know for a FACT every single one of the managers absolutely know where, if, they have these guys. Be they racist or indifferent, empathetic, they know.

With all the hooplah about these guys it's easy to forget the women and other nationalities that scrape from the excess that has come to identify this city. There as you walk ,especially towards the downtown area, there are so many black women pushing white babies on strollers you'd think they started gene splicing already, Powermoms and high powered career climbers need dog walkers, housekeepers and sitters and the need keeps growing as the talented keep flooding in.

As for the ITIN # that is for the privileged few and the vast majority don't file. And Im sure you will agree that 1.4 million is indeed a fraction of total illegals in the US. Especially we are talking undocumented peoples which makes it hard to even agree on any suggested total. But when you talk ITIN youre not talking about these guys. Some of these guys don't speak a damned LICK of English let alone find a way to integrate themselves economically.

The answer to your question is as blunt as that. Illegals get knowledgeably hired. Once you meet them and have every prejudice shattered that you have been inculcated with, realize that they are human with whom you share many things, and especially the opportunity to spend as little as possible you can and the convenience, It's a no-brainer. You may take out taxes or other expense and no they are not usually able to file taxes (some of their money gets sent home--Also Money grams and other businesses profit HUGE from them) but with time they will get acculturated which is why that ITIN stat will continue to grow.
posted by Student of Man at 5:55 PM on January 1, 2008

To say they have this huge underground network where they can obtain these fakes is a far cry, theres too many of them and they DON'T all know each other or necessarily support each other.

What underground network? As I hinted above, I could get a fake id from these guys tomorrow. Here's how:

1) Walk to 24th and Mission here in San Francisco. I've noticed the best spot is the NW corner and heading a bit north in the direction of 23rd st.

2) Walk slowly and deliberately. Look Mexican and maybe a bit down on your luck.

3) A guy will walk by you and mumble "Micas. Micas" Follow him and tell him what you want.

There's full instructions. How does that qualify as "underground"? You admit you don't know the answer to this question, yet go on to answer it.
posted by vacapinta at 6:10 PM on January 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

I somehow doubt that illegal aliens who work these menial jobs can manage to find resources for these fakes.

While it is true that illegal immigrants are knowingly hired and work without legal documentation, you're just wrong about the above assumption. Anybody who has known and interacted with illegal immigrants knows that fake documents are a commonplace reality of that world. Businesses like independent restaurants may risk hiring totally undocumented workers and paying them cash under the table. Things like commercial chains can't. Of course, the fact that someone has a fake SS card and state ID doesn't mean the people who hire them don't suspect or know they're illegal.
posted by nanojath at 7:09 PM on January 1, 2008

I know of someone who went to get a job, but didn't have papers. So the employer asked him to see if he could borrow his girlfriend's social insurance number. And that's how the guy got a job. Of course, when he dumped the girlfriend and moved back home, the girlfriend got stuck with a whopper of an income tax bill.
posted by acoutu at 10:41 PM on January 1, 2008

I am an immigration attorney. Many of my clients obtained social security numbers while here legally, but then overstayed a visa and remain here illegally. They use their legally obtained SSNs, file and pay taxes, and are otherwise perfectly normal citizens. Except that they're here illegally.

Others obtained a SSN while in the country illegally. They did this several years ago, when it was considerably easier to get one. Again, they file and pay taxes, and otherwise live and work here as law abiding citizens. Except that they're here illegally.

A few do the other tricks listed here -- buy SSNs, share SSNs, make up SSNs. It's pretty easy to do all of this, costs a few hundred bucks. Many of these work even at places like J.C. Penney, Walmart, etc., not just restaurants and farms. The legitimately obtained SSNs work for decades past the time when the person named on them goes into undocumented status. The IRS and state coffers receive millions of dollars each year from otherwise undocumented workers.

The problems with the Arizona law are tremendous. It makes employers into DHS agents. It makes state prosecutors into DHS agents. Neither is appropriately trained.

It's a violation of the U.S. Constitution. (Immigration is within the exclusive provenance of the federal government.)

It is clearly going to lead to racial profiling, disruption of legal workers' lives, and other collateral effects. Who hasn't had a paperwork mix up at some point? Workers and businesses will be tremendously saddled by this new law. It's really unfortunate for everyone.

Also, the law targets the working aliens. Aren't they really not a problem? They're working. Most are paying income taxes, social security, property taxes (directly, or through rentals), sales taxes. Very few are legitimate problems for our economy or our social fabric. Working is not a crime. The vast majority of jobs held by undocumented workers are not taken from U.S. citizens. Many aliens are very creative entrepreneurs, as that's the best way to get ahead in this country if you're off the books. Most are incredibly hard workers, because they get paid so poorly and rarely complain if they're treated badly, because they don't want to be the subject of an investigation.

Working with these undocumented workers has given me great sympathy for them, and admiration of their contributions to this country. (I didn't go into this field for idealistic reasons; the job dropped in my lap, so I took it. Working it has given me this perspective, not the other way around.) I see all kinds, so I can't say that they're all angels; they're not. But I also do criminal defense, when assigned to by the courts, and most of the criminals I represent are full-blooded Americans. Both populations contain the full spectrum of good and bad.

I do hear a rather consistent query, "Why don't they just get papers and enter legally?" Realistically, this is not an option for the vast majority of people. There aren't many legal options for unskilled workers to enter and work in this country, and the few options that exist cost thousands of dollars to obtain. This is not possible for someone who could only earn $10 an hour in the U.S., and clearly earns much, much less in Mexico, or Central or South America. The paperwork is mind-bogglingly complex. The rules are seemingly arbitrary. Navigating the process requires an attorney. And it's all in English. Well, legalese, which isn't even a language. It's just nuts.

The U.S. government does this because as soon as someone is granted the right to live and work here, all sorts of other legal protections come with that. It's a major privilege to obtain a work permit or legal permanent residence. So it's not easy to come by. Most people can't meet the high standard necessary. So they come in illegally, or enter legally and stay beyond their visa expiration, and seek to earn the right to stay by assimilating, working, building a life. This makes sense to me. It makes sense that the gov't wouldn't just give away this right easily, and it also makes sense that people can earn their way to legal status. It's unfortunate that our legal structure doesn't make earning that status easy, or even feasible, for most immigrants. I hope we can see legal reform to allow that, eventually.

There's an assertion above that "some don't know a lick of English." Yep, that's true. There are U.S. citizens that don't either. There are undocumented aliens who are fluent in English, and often in several other languages as well. When I was growing up, one of my neighbors, a U.S. citizen from birth, spoke about ten words of English. She was almost 50. I don't know how she managed or why she was like this, but there she was. Speaking English isn't a requirement to live, work, or be a citizen in this country. Again, the full spectrum is present in both populations. Ditto cultural assimilation. (What exactly does that mean, anyway? The U.S. isn't uni-cultural. I don't know squat about Cajun culture. If I moved to Louisiana, would I be un-American?)
posted by Capri at 5:52 AM on January 2, 2008 [9 favorites]

It's a violation of the U.S. Constitution.

In your opinion, but not any court's.
posted by oaf at 8:51 AM on January 11, 2008

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