Hello, I'm Mark Pearson. Despite rapid economic growth in the first quarter of 2006, the latest assessment of the U.S. labor market reveals a slowdown. **According to the Labor Department, employers added just 138,000 people to their payrolls in April. That's the slowest pace of job growth in six months. **Over the past year, hourly wages grew by 3.8 percent, their largest 12-month gain in nearly five years. **And the nation's unemployment rate held steady at 4.7 percent. Low unemployment and favorable wages are two of the key factors making the U.S. the "Promised Land" for immigrants. But Congress is wrestling with sweeping changes to immigration policy. This week, scores of immigrants spoke out against the reforms. Hoping to demonstrate their value to the economy, they stayed home from work and staged rallies across the nation, dubbed a "National Day Without Immigrants."
Normal work days like this one in the farm fields ... and at the packing plants ... were anything but normal on Monday.
An estimated one million immigrant workers and their supporters took the day off to attend rallies and boycott shopping to demonstrate their economic value to the U.S. They also called attention to their concern over proposed legislation in Congress which would fortify the U.S.-Mexico border and criminalize an estimated 11 (M) million people who entered the U.S. illegally.
Senator Barack Obama, (D) Illinois "What started out as a march born of fear, has now become a movement of hope."
Some business owners agree.
Ruben Calderon, California Produce Merchant: "I think it's the right time to let them talk. They're hard working people so I think they need some sort of legal status to be here."
To show his support, the California produce merchant closed his market for the day. Many larger corporate businesses did the same. Heavily dependent upon an immigrant labor force, several packing plants – including ConAgra and Tyson Foods – closed many of their operations to allow employees to attend the rallies.
But not everyone agreed with the day off ... including some restaurant owners who are themselves immigrants.
Raul Sanchez, Washington DC restaurant owner: "Tell everybody, 'don't go to work', is not going to help. We're going to disrupt the economy and show what?"
It isn't yet known what effect if any, the nationwide rallies will have on the congress. Senate majority leader, Bill Frist, says he wants to resume the debate this month. President Bush has said he disapproved of the workers boycott.
Whatever the outcome, agriculture will be strongly affected. According to a U.S. Department of Labor survey conducted in 2001 and 2002, 78 percent of the nation's 1.8 (M) million crop workers were born outside the country. Most were from Mexico. More than half were not authorized to work in the U.S.