Minnesota Undocumented Latino Workers
According to research done by HACER in 2000, there are between 18,000 and 48,000 undocumented migrants working in Minnesota, most of whom are Mexican. Analyses of current undocumented migration to the United States suggest that this number is now much higher.
Undocumented workers in the United States are most commonly found in the following industries: seasonal agricultural work, textiles, manufacturing, personal service, janitorial services, hotel and restaurants, food service, and construction. Undocumented Latinos in Minnesota work in significant numbers in all of these industries, save in textiles. In addition, undocumented Latinos in Minnesota are present in the rural industry, more specifically in food processing.
At the same time that hostility toward undocumented Latinos is growing in the United States, so too is the economic demand for their labor. This paradox also exists in Minnesota. A study of the economic impact of undocumented workers in Minnesota concluded that undocumented labor in the industries cited above contribute between $1.5 billion and $4 billion in added value to Minnesota’s economy each year.13 Similarly, if undocumented workers were removed from Minnesota’s economy, economic growth would be reduced by 40 percent. Finally,
it was estimated that the presence of undocumented labor in Minnesota resulted in the generation of approximately $1 billion in tax revenue. Thus, contrary to popular belief, undocumented migrants in Minnesota provide a net gain, not a net loss, to tax payers.
Despite their contribution to Minnesota’s economy, undocumented migrants in the state are vulnerable to discrimination and deportation. On December 12,
2006, Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE) agents raided Swift and Company meat processing factories in six states, including the one in Worthington, Minnesota. Some 230 migrants, documented and undocumented, were arrested. Most of them were from Mexico; others were from Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Peru. Many of the workers were separated from their children because of subsequent deportation.
For obvious reasons, following the Swift and Company raid, fear permeated Minnesota’s rural Latino communities. The Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law reported that the raids sent many Latinos in the region into hiding. The raids also affected business. Swift and Company was forced to suspend operations in the days following the raids, which is yet another indicator of the centrality of undocumented Latinos to the economy.
Many of Minnesota’s political and religious leaders, along with local residents, condemned the raids and subsequent detention of the Swift workers. Perhaps the most vocal in their opposition to the raids were seven Minnesota Catholic bishops representing Winona, St. Cloud, Crookston, New Ulm, Duluth, St. Paul, and Minneapolis. They issued the following statement:
As the Catholic Bishops of the State of Minnesota, we are distressed and disheartened by the workplace raids that took place in Worthington, Minnesota, and other communities this past week The raids did nothing to advance needed reform. Instead, the raids heartlessly divided families, disrupted the whole community of Worthington, and undermined progress that that city had made toward bridging racial and cultural differences.14
Despite support from many segments of society, Latinos in Minnesota, especially those who are undocumented migrants, will likely continue to struggle for acceptance and social justice. Yet, all Latinos residents, citizens, and migrants alike have contributed a great deal to the economy and to the political and social landscape of the state of Minnesota.