Strong economy attracting more illegal workers

MINNEAPOLIS (AP)– Minnesota’s robust economy and low unemployment are attracting workers, but not all of them have their papers in order.
Undocumented workers are believed to be coming to Minnesota in higher numbers as local employers find it harder to fill hourly, low income jobs, economists and employers say.
The situation was recently illustrated when agents from the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service raided St. Paul’s popular Cossetta Italian Market & Pizzeria and said nearly half of the employees there were working illegally.
“Right now, we’re all working harder and longer hours,” said Chris Jirovec, manager of the restaurant, adding that he had hired six new workers since the Tuesday raid. “It will be months before we recover.”
Jirovec maintained that the business has always obeyed the law. But he expressed frustration at how difficult it is to find workers.
“It’s too bad that people who want to work, can’t. You can’t find help for minimum-wage,” Jirovec said.
The problem moved even closer to home for the INS as agents started the paperwork to deport the illegal restaurant workers. The agents working on the papers also arrested three members of a crew contracted by a company to clean the office complex in Bloomington where the INS is located, said Dean Hove, deputy district director of the local INS office.
Economists say they are not surprised at the rising number of undocumented workers in Minnesota.
“It makes perfect demand-supply sense,” said Paul Anton, a Minneapolis economist. “The employment market is so tight, where there simply aren’t enough people to fill low-skilled, transient jobs, you’re going to get an inflow of people from elsewhere.”
Migration into Minnesota from other states and nations has been rising for more than a decade because of the strong economy. Undocumented workers can simply be seen as part of that, said State Demographer Tom Gillaspy.
“People hear about jobs here,” Gillaspy said. “People will come a very long way and go through a lot of hardship, pain and effort to find a job that many Minnesotans would not deem worthy of taking.”
Despite a quadrupling in arrests of illegal workers by the local INS office during the 1990s, it’s unlikely that the numbers here are any more than a fraction of undocumented workers that have been flooding into southwestern states.
INS spokesman Tim Counts said 768 undocumented people were arrested in Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota workplaces last year, compared with 406 in 1993, when the Bloomington-based INS office started keeping separate statistics for the three states. A great many of those detained were Mexican nationals.
And with large numbers of low-skill jobs to fill, the restaurant and lodging industries are prime targets for undocumented workers, INS and hospitality officials said.