Multi-American | How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

An exception for 'the help' in an anti-illegal immigration bill: good, bad, or ugly reality?

A detail from a mural in London, June 2006
A detail from a mural in London, June 2006
Photo by Bulent Yusef/Flickr (Creative Commons)

An anti-illegal immigration bill introduced recently in Texas proposing tough state sanctions against employers who hire unauthorized workers makes an exception: It's okay to hire an undocumented maid, gardener, or other employee "for the purpose of obtaining labor or other work to be performed exclusively or primarily at a single-family residence."

Since its introduction late last month, its sponsor state Rep. Debbie Riddle, who is known for having a particularly tough-on-immigration stance (and perhaps best for the term "terror babies"), has received a fair amount of criticism and perhaps an equal share of ridicule, while others have praised her for being realistic.

After all, as evidenced by the undocumented housekeeper scandal that helped derail the campaign of California gubernatorial hopeful Meg Whitman last fall, few Americans are immune from the underground economy. The proposed Texas law threatens to punish employers with up to two years in prison and a $10,000 fine, so including those who hire domestic help as offenders could mean a lot of Texans in hot water, no doubt a few politicos among them.

Several blogs have posted takes on Riddle's bill, HB 2012. The Latino Politics Blog hinted at a much-criticized "in their place" element that some detractors see in the bill:

So what does this tell you about the Longhorn State? Well, it tells me a few things: 1) it is recognized that undocumented people take some jobs that regular Americans, even unemployed Americans, won’t take and 2) Texas legislators expect those sin papeles to do the menial work while the state’s senators at the federal level rejected the passionate pleas of DREAM Act youth who could contribute above the manual labor wage level and pay into the system with better paying jobs and taxes.

The Latino news and culture blog Guanabee quipped:
Under HB 1202, the maximum fine for hiring an undocumented worker (again, except in your house), would be $10,000, and 180 days to two years in prison. But, luckily, your maid could come visit you every day and bring you some iced tea.

Ethics Alarms condemned Riddle's bill as hypocritical:
Her bill is cynical, posing as a tough measure but refusing to inconvenience anti-immigration hypocrites who can’t find maids, and ethically idiotic, enshrining “everybody does it, so it’s not wrong” logic for the Texans who are happy to employ scofflaws when they need their lawns mowed, while rejecting it for a business that needs someone to dig some holes.

Latina Lista weighed the rationale:
On the one hand, this bill makes a lot of sense in a state like Texas where the state demographer estimates about six percent of the state's population is undocumented.

No one asks if the painter, roofer, landscaper, maid, nanny, etc. have their papers. Because in all honesty, no one cares. What is cared about is can they do the job and in these economic times, getting the most value (translated cheap) for what you pay.

Yet, exempting regular homeowners sanitizes the problem and creates an uncomfortable situation that seems to say as long as undocumented workers are servants, they can work in Texas without fear of home raids -- and their employers can keep on doing it.

Riddle's chief of staff said in one recent interview that the idea was to avoid "stifling the economic engine" in the state.

Multi-American readers, your opinions are welcome.