November 23, 2007

Enbracing illegals: Anything for a buck

Posted by D.A. King at 6:28 pm - Email the author   Print This Post Print This Post  

Embracing Illegals
Companies are getting hooked on the buying power of 11 million undocumented immigrants

Inez and Antonio Valenzuela are a marketer’s dream. Young, upwardly mobile, and ready to spend on their growing family, the Los Angeles couple in many ways reflects the 42 million Hispanics in the U.S. Age 30 and 29, respectively, with two daughters, Esmeralda, 8, and Maria Luisa, 2 months, the duo puts in long hours, working 4 p.m. to 2 a.m., six days a week, at their bustling streetside taco trailer. From a small sidewalk stand less than two years ago, they built the business into a hot destination for hungry commuters. The Valenzuelas (not their real name) bring in revenue well above the U.S. household average of $43,000, making them a solidly middle-class family that any U.S. consumer-products company would love to reach.

But Inez and Antonio aren’t your typical American consumers. They’re undocumented immigrants who live and work in the U.S. illegally. When the couple, along with Esmeralda, crossed the Mexican border five years ago, they had little money, no jobs, and lacked basic documents such as Social Security numbers. Guided by friends and family, the couple soon discovered how to navigate the increasingly above-ground world of illegal residency. At the local Mexican consulate, the Valenzuelas each signed up for an identification card known as a matrícula consular, for which more than half the applicants are undocumented immigrants, according to the Pew Hispanic center, a Washington think tank. Scores of financial institutions now accept it for bank accounts, credit cards, and car loans. Next, they applied to the Internal Revenue Service for individual tax identification numbers (ITINS), allowing them to pay taxes like any U.S. citizen — and thereby to eventually get a home mortgage.

Big U.S. companies’ embrace of undocumenteds as consumers has intensified as it has become clear in recent years that — no matter how loudly the anti-immigration lobby complains — the U.S. isn’t about to deport illegals en masse. The 1986 law forbidding their employment may still be on the books, but the feds have almost completely given up enforcing it. Instead, since September 11 they have focused on nabbing potential terrorists who might slip into the country illegally, according to a June report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO). Last year, the U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement agency brought just three actions against companies for employing illegals, down from 417 in 1999, according to the GAO. And only 2,300 of the country’s 5.6 million employers used a computer system in 2004 to check employee Social Security numbers.

This is from Business Week more than two years ago…READ IT HERE.