Episode 31 From Hubbard, Wisconsin: Jose Under Fire

Thanks to his acquaintance, Renaldo, Jose was able to hire some illegal Mexicans to work for his construction firm (See Sunday, June 4, 2006 “The Gonzales’ Dilemma”). This was a last resort for Jose and Angela, as they couldn’t find workers to complete the many projects that Gonzales Construction Company had backlogged over the summer of 2006. Since hiring these additional workers, Gonzales Construction Company has continued to grow and Jose has built a reputation of completing quality buildings on time and within budget.

For Jose, the hiring of the illegal workers was a gut-wrenching decision. On the one hand, the workers are illegal without proper documentation. On the other hand, if he hadn’t hired them his firm would probably have gone out of business for not completing pending construction contracts on time. All of the illegals he employs are making between $15 and $20 per hour; hardly an exploitive wage. Income taxes are withheld from their pay, along with social security taxes. Due to the fact that the workers have bogus identification papers they will never see an income tax refund and the money deducted from their wages that is sent into the Social Security System will never have to be paid out because the recipients don’t officially exist. Despite the fact that they won’t collect a dime of Social Security, Jose’s workers appreciate the work and send a large amount of their take home pay back to Mexico to assist their families.

One of Jose’s workers, Ernesto, is a supervisor of finish carpenters. These are the highest skilled of the carpentry trade, specializing in custom cutting of moldings, trim, and cabinets. Ernesto is one of the finest workers that Jose has ever met, and he’s met a lot of skilled craftsmen in his day. In his mid 40’s Ernesto’s wife and three children live in Mexico. His goal is to work in the US for five years and take his savings back home to build a nice house for his family. This is a significant sacrifice due to the fact that Ernesto’s children are in their formative years and miss him dearly.

Like most illegal workers, Ernesto’s false documentation is good enough for his employer, but it won’t pass muster if presented at a bank to open a savings account. Therefore, Ernesto must hide his cash in his rented apartment. He’s chosen to put the cash, a little over $12,000, into a small metal box, which he has placed above a suspended ceiling in his bedroom. This is his stash, savings from almost two year’s work. It’s the stuff from which new houses are built!

Last Tuesday Ernesto was awakened in the middle of the night. Standing over him was a masked man with a pistol. He demanded that Earnesto give him money. Ernesto handed over his wallet with about forty bucks inside. The man was furious and said, “You fucking taco son of a bitch! Everyone knows that you bastards keep your savings in cash. You’ve been working in this town for over a year; give me the money, dammit, I know it’s here in the house! Ernesto hesitated and acted like he didn’t know what the robber was talking about. At this point he was repeatedly pistol-whipped until his eye sockets were black and blue and his face was bruised and bleeding. Finally, for fear of losing his life, Ernesto relented. The thug walked out with Ernesto’s metal box containing all $12,000 of his hard earned savings. His dream was over. He had gone without the love of his wife and children for nearly two years and had received nothing but heartache in return.

The next day Ernesto went into Jose’s office to tell him what had happened. Jose offered to replace all of Earnesto’s $12,000 and put it into his own bank account to make sure that this didn’t happen again. Ernesto left in tears, saying he’d think about it. Later that afternoon one of Jose’s workers saw Earnesto board the bus south to Chicago, from where he presumably returned to his family in Mexico. A week passed and Ernesto never returned. Jose and Angela figured that Earnesto had too much pride to accept charity from them. Because of the loss of this kind and gentle craftsman, who had become their employee and friend, both Jose and Angela shed tears at the dinner table for several days.

Two weeks after Ernesto departed, agents visited Gonzales Construction Company from the US Immigration Service. Reacting to an “anonymous phone tip”, they demanded documentation for all of Jose’s workers. After their investigation 28 of Jose’s workers were arrested and deported back to Mexico. Jose and Angela faced fines of over $150,000. The possibility that the “anonymous tip” was phoned in by the same worthless creep that beat Ernesto infuriates Jose. Like Ernesto, for the first time in their lives, Jose and Angela now have second thoughts about their American Dream.

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