As the human resources manager for a Greensboro, North Carolina, company, Laura Garduño García has had to tell many job applicants that she cannot hired them if they are unauthorized to work in the United States. But there’s a twist: While she has lived in North Carolina for the past 20 years and is an HR manager for some 600 workers, Garduño García is herself an undocumented immigrant. “My story is the same as my parents’ story, and that of many other immigrants — you have to do what you have to do to find employment,” she says.
Garduño García’s parents brought her to the United States from Mexico when she was a 1-year-old. “My father wanted a better life for us. He was certain that if we learned English and had an education in English that we’d have a better future,” she says. Her father took a series of jobs in California — working in a video store, then later picking fruit — before eventually bringing the family to North Carolina, where he worked in cotton mills and poultry plants.
Garduño García, now 31, says she studied hard, and was fortunate to enter the workforce when people were not paying as much attention to immigration issues as they are today. After earning a bachelor’s degree in business administration and economics from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, she used a driver’s license, which the state then issued without requiring proof of legal immigration status, as the identification needed to receive a paycheck. That isn’t possible for current job seekers, Garduño García says, due to new, stricter ID policies, and rules that require employers to pay close attention to an employee’s immigration status.
That doesn’t mean jobs previously taken by immigrants are going to American workers, she says — it just means employers are finding it harder to fill vacancies. “Right now, our company has so many open positions, because conventional American workers are looking for better jobs,” she says. “These are very difficult positions because they’re part time, with low wages and hard work.”
We’re greatly impacted by policy changes that have limited the available workforce.
This labor shortage is taking a toll on local businesses, Garduño García says. Her company “grew the most and thrived and was the most profitable during the time that it could employ individuals who presented reasonable documentation,” she says. But in 2013, when North Carolina began requiring most small businesses to use E-Verify, an online federal screening program that identifies unauthorized workers, it became harder to hire immigrants and constrained the company’s growth. “We’re greatly impacted by policy changes that have limited the available workforce,” Garduño García says.
Some company managers have floated the idea of lobbying for an additional guest-worker program, similar to those used by farmers. It would be far easier, however, to hire people who are already in the country, Garduño García says. “The truth of the matter is that there are people in the area where we’re living who want to work,” she says. “And there’s a need for that labor, to do those jobs that Americans don’t want to perform.”
Garduño García says her own story demonstrates how valuable undocumented workers can be to companies. In 2013, after receiving Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which provides work authorization to qualifying undocumented immigrants brought to the country as children, she told the company president that she had previously been working illegally. He was shocked, but insisted she stay on. That’s how valuable an employee she was.
Garduño García is far happier now that she doesn’t have to hide her immigration status, and thanks to DACA she has also been able to get a bank loan to buy a house. Still, she says, more reforms are needed. “DACA is a start, but it isn’t by any means a solution. It’s a temporary patch to a very real and significant issue,” she says. Her thoughts have proven prescient: Six months after making that statement, in September 2017, President Donald Trump announced that the administration would phase out DACA by March 2018 unless Congress takes action. Garduño García says what’s needed is an immigration policy that recognizes the contributions that undocumented immigrants make in their communities, and that provides them with a path to permanent residency.
In Greensboro alone, immigrants hold $1.1 billion in spending power and pay $387.4 million in annual taxes. That’s something the city would sorely miss if people like her were deported, Garduño García says. “I’m paying taxes, I’m paying a home mortgage, I’m making contributions to the church I attend,” she says. “A lot of people would be worse off if I wasn’t here.”