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Jewish World Review Oct. 28, 2003 / 2 Mar-Cheshvan, 5764

Debra J. Saunders

Debra J. Saunders
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Consumer Reports

Behind Wal-Mart's happy face

http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | Who says the feds have no sense of humor? Last week, when U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement arrested some 250 illegal immigrant workers at Wal-Mart stores — all but 10 of whom worked for independent janitorial contractors — and searched a Wal-Mart executive's office, it named the raid "Operation Rollback." That's a cheeky allusion to Wal-Mart's bouncy yellow smiley-face icon, featured in ads joyously rolling back prices on Wal-Mart wares.

If this was a righteous bust, American shoppers may learn that Wal-Mart was able to "roll back" its prices in part by repeatedly cutting corners and hiring contractors that skirt the law. Let them put a bouncy yellow smiley face on that.

From Mexico City, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., criticized the raids for terrorizing illegal workers. As the Associated Press reported, Pelosi called on business leaders to pressure Washington to ease immigration law because, as employers, they depend "on some people who may not be completely where they need to be legally."

There was a time when Democrats would push for the government to put less of an emphasis on deporting illegal immigrants so, they argued, more emphasis would go toward prosecuting corporations that employ illegal immigrants. Now that the feds are doing just that, you see the pro-illegal immigration corner's real agenda: no enforcement.

"The magnet that draws illegal immigrants to the United States is jobs," noted Mark Krikorian of the Center for Immigration Studies in Washington, D.C. "Until we can turn off the magnet of jobs, all of the border enforcement in the world isn't going to work."

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Apparently, Pelosi wants the magnet left on, despite abuses. The New York Times reports that some workers cleaned stores seven days a week; they received no benefits and no overtime.

As Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesman Garrison Courtney noted, hiring illegal workers is exploitation: "They're hiring people to do work cheaper than everybody else. That's not a fair practice or ethical."

So while Pelosi worries about workers who are, um, legally challenged, she ought to think about law-abiding entrepreneurs who have to compete with big outfits that abuse the law and exploit low-skilled workers. Ditto for California taxpayers, who can choose where they shop but not whether they subsidize the considerable cost of educating and providing health care to the families of illegal workers.

Do I think illegal immigrants are bad people? Of course not. Most are good people and hard workers who want the same opportunity that fate cheaply granted to those of us lucky enough to be born in America.

But they've fostered an unhealthy disrespect for the rule of law. Consider Victor Zavala Jr., one of the Wal-Mart detainees. He told The New York Times his family is "not happy" at the prospect of being deported after he paid a "coyote" $2,000 to smuggle them into the United States.

In essence, Zavala bet $2,000 that the federal government wouldn't enforce federal law. His bad luck: He lost.

A Wal-Mart spokesman said of the raids: "We were very surprised. We had no idea they were coming." Wal-Mart is investigating.

While the spokesman said he was personally "unaware" of this, The New York Times reported that immigration officials raided Wal-Mart in 1998 and 2001.

This latest foray suggests that somebody — a Wal-Mart executive or contractor — looked at the fines of up to $10,000 per illegal worker, considered the possibility of being prosecuted for conspiracy to break the law, and figured it was a safe bet to break the law anyway.

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© 2003, Creators Syndicate