The Illegal but Essential Workers – 2018 Yucai Cup Essay

The Illegal but Essential Workers

by Sean Cai, Scripps Ranch High School


Under the table of massive Californian growth, within the perception of the Western Economic Powerhouse, is the mass of the undocumented, who are central to economic growth in the state and fill the jobs required to drive economic growth.  Indeed, in a time of questionable US foreign immigration policy, California legislators argue over this economic workforce paid under the table, responsible for much Californian prosperity.  There is an abundant need for boosting California’s economic growth, preventing undocumented worker abuses, and guaranteeing the safety of migrant children with the enactment of California Senate Bill SB-174.

California’s economic growth may be top in the US, but with high economy comes high maintenance.  According to the Center of Migration Studies, most immigrants (79%) coming to California are of working age and come with high levels of education- especially those from Asia, who make up 58% of all immigrants.  Despite lower incomes, about as many immigrants were in the work force compared to citizens, showing their serious resolve to settle down in the US.  However, California’s immigrant population has slowed from increases of 37% in the 1990s to 8%, likely due to the Trump Administration’s arbitrary use of ICE to drive down immigration, legal and illegal.  This is crucial as a report from Public Policy Institute of California reveals that California needs 1.1 million more workers with bachelor’s degrees by 2030 to keep up with economic demand.  By granting citizenship to children of transient aliens, California creates a desperately needed incentive to regain educated immigration levels to provide a long-term solution for the lack of educated workers.  Additionally, The Public Policy Institute of California posit that boosting graduation rates for those already in college will be the most effective tool to fill the gap but enrolling more students is also imperative.  This is especially worrying, as a study from UCLA researcher Patricia Gandara finds 70 percent of respondents said that the academic results of immigrant students dropped this year because of fear relating to undocumentation.  The challenges immigrant children face hampers their academic progress especially considering a national policy immigration disincentive.  California offers many higher education opportunities and a strong labor market for highly educated workers that need only be met by educated workers, and the long-term problem of sustaining educated workers comes with the challenge of creating more high-performing students undisturbed by imprudent immigration policy.

Undocumented migrant workers are a major force for filling labor but are often vulnerable to abusive employers, lacking authoritative voice.  According to Khouri of the Los Angeles Times, unpaid wage abuse towards undocumented immigrants has grown in the rise of governmental ICE policy.  Workers are at their employer’s mercy as they cannot report workplace violation without fear of legal punishment.  The result is an environment of workers paid very much under the state’s minimum wage and denied workplace rights.  As ICE ramps up its enforcement under new governmental policies, more worksite abuse and more undocumented fear will be perpetuated to the detriment of immigrant children important to occupy future educated jobs and to the harm of the immigrants working welfare.  Gandara of UCLA also extends that ninety percent of school principals said they’d observed psychological problems in their immigrant students, clear sign of the tremendous fear imposed on immigrant communities.  In response to this, the government of the state of California has already taken measures to improve labor standards for vulnerable immigrant workers present in the state with measures like such as AB 263 (2013) and SB 666 (2013).  These measures, enacted between 2013 and 2017, have been effective thus far, but the recent actions of anti-immigration national policy have proven them ineffective against employers who have been given more leverage by increased ICE activity to deprive undocumented immigrants of their basic human rights.  To counter this, California must enact this bill, which allows for undocumented workers to gain a governmental voice by lieu of election of civil office, eliminating the perpetual fear that the abusive employer wields all legal power, and thus giving the workers a voice from which they begin to bargain for their rights.  The savoir vivre demanded by working immigrants is answered by the current political climate with human rights abuses, of which only the voice of a leader unsuppressed by fear of outright arrest can resolve.

The situation is very much like Caesar Chavez’s renowned transformation of migrant worker rights, except that to produce leaders requires the populace to allow leaders like Chavez to rise above the fear of deportation.  In this case, however, the rising demand for a long-term solution of Californian educated workers slowly dwindling coupled with the untapped potential of an immigrant group steeped into poverty-level wages advocates for the enactment of this bill promoting the overall diversity and long-term prosperity of the State of California.


Sources Cited

Public Policy Institute of California, 16, (Trusted Research Institute in California), “Immigrants in California”, Public Policy Institute of California, 2016,, 8-29-2018

Johnson, Hans, 2017, (Researcher at Public Policy Institute of California), “Meeting California’s Need for College Graduates: A Regional Perspective”, Public Policy Institute of California, June 2017,, 8-29-2018

Khouri, Andrew, 18, (Writer for the LATimes), “More workers say their bosses are threatening to have them deported”, latimes, 1-2-2018,, 8-29-2018

Hamilton, Valerie, 17, (Writer for Public Radio International), “California’s undocumented workers help the economy grow – but may pay the cost”, Public Radio International, 3-6-2017,, 8-29-2018

Costa, David, 18, (Researcher at Economic Policy Institute), “California leads the way: A look at California laws that help protect labor standards for unauthorized immigrant workers”, Economic Policy Institute, 3-22-2018,, 8-29-2018 (SeanC)

Pablo, Juan, 18, (Citylab Writer), “Among the Children of Immigrants, an Educational Crisis”, CityLab, 3-1-2018,, 8-30-2018

Zhu, Phil (Professor at USD), Personal Interview, 8-20-18



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