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She Wants a Fair Policy on Migrants

Teresa is her name. She owns a small business in Fullerton and she sent me an e-mail to rail against the evils of illegal immigration.

Carlos is his name. The illegal immigrant lives in Whittier and he e-mailed me to defend his cause. I think it might have been my first e-mail from an illegal.

I talked to Teresa and Carlos by phone and found that each of them defies common stereotypes. Teresa is a pro-union Republican married to the son of Mexican immigrants. Carlos watches C-SPAN, files tax returns and gets irritated with immigrants who don’t learn English.

Today, in the first of two parts, here’s the story of Teresa Shuff Trujillo, owner of a small printing and publishing company that does about a quarter of a million dollars a year in business:

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There’s an open-border wing of the Republican Party, which argues that cheap labor is essential to the American economy, or at least to its profit margins. Teresa Trujillo, the strawberry blond granddaughter of Irish and German immigrants, is not in that wing.

“Many other small businesses that I know say that they cannot compete without illegal immigration,” Trujillo had written to me.

“My business provides union wages and benefits, yet we have found a way to compete with those who do not. In fact, many businesses in my field have outsourced much of their pre-production work to overseas firms. I will not do the same.”

Trujillo and her husband, Joe, were working in her shop when I arrived. They wore shirts that said Mighty Designs, Bright Ideas Start Here.

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Trujillo grew up in a union household. As a small-business owner, she found that the best healthcare plan available to her and employees -- three full-timers and two part-timers, all but one of them family members -- was through the Graphic Communication Industry Union.

“I believe there’s a place for unions,” Trujillo said, telling me that a living wage and health care are things any self-respecting employer should provide, though she’s against legislating such things. Her pay scale ranges from $9.40 to $25 an hour.

But other employers are happily taking advantage of a Southern California labor pool flooded with illegal immigrants, she said, sometimes violating labor laws with the knowledge that illegals won’t complain about it. In the process, she says, wages and work standards are driven down for everyone.

Trujillo says companies that do so are unfair to legal immigrants and others. Illegal immigration confounds the notion of civil society, she says, and it overwhelms every branch of government at a time when budgets are stretched thin.

“I don’t believe you pay people a low wage just because you can. Yes, you could hire someone off the street for $6.75 an hour, but that just shifts the burden for that employee to social services.” I told Trujillo about studies indicating that illegal immigration affects wages only for unskilled legal citizens with little or no education.

“I don’t think that’s true,” she said, arguing that everyone pays a price for illegal immigration, even after factoring in higher profits for employers and lower consumer costs for everything from a bag of produce to a carwash.

As I see it, it’s way too easy to blame every social ill on illegal immigration, which accounts for a small percentage of the U.S. population. But Trujillo doesn’t speak nonsense.

The day I visited her, a study claimed 53% of Los Angeles County residents can’t read a simple bus schedule or fill out a job application, and one obvious reason is the immigration flood of the last couple of decades.

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Joe Trujillo, who speaks fluent Spanish and says his grandfather was one of Pancho Villa’s lieutenants, complained that his son’s public middle school is crippled by the fact that 70% of the students are not proficient in English.

He said his son, who speaks only English, comes home with administrative notes written in Spanish. His wife adds, “They conduct parent meetings in Spanish and translate in English, instead of the other way around.”

Teresa Trujillo wants employers fined, landlords turned in and illegal immigrants bused home. After that, she wants a guest worker program that better serves all parties.

“Legal immigration is good,” she said. “Unchecked illegal immigration is bad.”

Next up, Carlos asks a fair question: If political and business interests didn’t want him in the United States, wouldn’t he have been kicked out by now?

Steve Lopez writes Sunday, Wednesday and Friday. Reach him at steve.lopez@latimes.com


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