Lou Dobbs hires illegal immigrants

by Andrew Gelman on October 7, 2010 · 3 comments

in Immigration

This news story (from Isabel Macdonald; I followed the link from here) is pretty funny:

In Lou Dobbs’s heyday at CNN, when he commanded more than 800,000 viewers and a reported $6 million a year for “his fearless reporting and commentary,” in the words of former CNN president Jonathan Klein, the host became notorious for his angry rants against “illegal aliens.” But Dobbs reserved a special venom for the employers who hire them, railing against “the employer who is so shamelessly exploiting the illegal alien and so shamelessly flouting US law” and even proposing, on one April 2006 show, that “illegal employers who hire illegal aliens” should face felony charges. . . . Dobbs has continued to advocate an enforcement-first approach to immigration, emphasizing, as he did in a March 2010 interview on Univision, that “the illegal employer is the central issue in this entire mess!” . . .

Based on a yearlong investigation, including interviews with five immigrants who worked without papers on his properties, The Nation and the Investigative Fund at The Nation Institute have found that Dobbs has relied for years on undocumented labor for the upkeep of his multimillion-dollar estates and the horses he keeps for his 22-year-old daughter, Hillary, a champion show jumper. . . . Dobbs’s daughter keeps five European Warmbloods, a breed that often fetches close to $1 million apiece. . . . Every November, all five of The Dobbs Group’s show-jumping horses must be transported from their summer stables in Vermont to their winter stables in Wellington, Florida. The workers are transported to the tropics too, returning to New England with the horses in April. . . . For years, undocumented immigrants from Mexico have been relied upon to meet these labor demands.

Hey, if you make a few million dollars, why not spend it on a horse farm. . . .

And then there’s this:

During one of Dobbs’s many shows devoted to immigration, in April 2006, the host described $10 an hour as “a decent wage, not, in my opinion, an adequate wage, but a decent wage.” He then turned to his viewers with a pointed question: “How much more would you be willing to pay each year for fruits and vegetables if it would improve working conditions and raise wages for farmworkers?”

At the time Dobbs said that, an undocumented Guatemalan worker laboring in his own yard, Miguel Garcia, was being paid only $8 an hour. . . . On the morning of October 5, 2009, Miguel Garcia was arrested by undercover ICE agents while he was on his way to his work cleaning Miami office buildings. (After four years of landscaping at Dobbs’s and other properties, he’d quit because of the low pay.) . . .After a week in immigration detention, Miguel was deported to Guatemala.

The real question

Macdonald presents this as a case of hypocrisy, which indeed it is, but really this seems like a larger problem. The American economy is set up so that, for many things, it’s a lot of effort not to hire an illegal immigrant. Take Dobbs’s horse farm. It’s not like he could just pay $12/hour or whatever and get legal horse trainers. I doubt there’s a convenient supply of non-illegals to do this work. So to do it all legally, Dobbs couldn’t just pay more; he’d have to really change the system on his own. It could be done—find American horse workers and pay what’s necessary to keep them hired—but it’s not simply a matter of paying a bit more; it would probably take real effort.

I’m not trying to let Dobbs off the hook here—after all, nobody held a gun to his head and required him to say that employers of illegal immigrants should be prosecuted, and, for that matter, nobody told him he had to maintain show horses. He chose to fulminate against illegal immigration and he chose to engage in a pastime where it’s standard practice to hire illegal immigrants.

What I’m saying is that Dobbs’s situation illustrates the general entanglement of illegal immigrants in the economy. In addition to pointing out Dobbs’s hypocrisy, we could also turn it around and say: hey, hiring legal workers is so difficult that even Lou Dobbs—who presumably is motivated not to—still can’t avoid doing it.

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