The Role of 7.2 Million Undocumented Workers
Mitt Romney Fired His Landscapers, but What About Your Waiter, Maid and Contractor?
By SUSAN DONALDSON JAMESDec. 11, 2007
The dirt under Mike Mendenko's nails reveals more than his 52 years at Village Nurseries in Hightstown, N.J., where he has worked since he was a teenager. As owner of a seven-acre tree farm and landscaping company, he's facing the toughest job of his life — finding workers. And if Mendenko challenged the fragile documentation of the workers he's got, he might have no business at all.
Immigration advocates say he is not alone. If all small-business owners did the same, whole industries — landscaping, restaurants and construction — might collapse. For Mendenko, it's hard to compete against big-box retailers, and, it's even harder to find labor, especially as the debate over the role of immigrants has escalated in the presidential nomination campaign.
"Very few American folks are willing to do this kind of work anymore," said Mendenko, whose son left the nursery to study white-collar science at Cornell University. "We're desperate for the help." Mendenko has stopped trying to find teenagers to do the backbreaking physical work. These days, he says he relies on a legal — "if you believe what people tell you" — immigrant work force.