Had some yard work done that required cutting concrete. My gardener gave me a quote of $150 to do the job. I accepted his bid as fair and equitable and we agreed he’d do the work last Sunday.
He arrived promptly 8:30 Sunday morning and began cutting our concrete patio. He used a small electric saw with a 4-inch blade, which I thought odd, since the last guy I’d seen cut concrete had a major power saw that had to be held with both hands and came with a water supply to keep the blade cool.
Our gardener struggled to cut a mere 20 inches of concrete less than a half inch thick for over four hours. He left once, to buy new blades for his little saw. He did not take a lunch break. In fact, he took no breaks at all.
It was ninety-four degrees at mid-day when I brought him some ice water. Sweat dripped down his face and cut brown lines in the concrete chalk covering his skin. He gave me a crooked-tooth grin of thanks, took a long drink then wiped his forehead with the back of his hand. “Caliente!” (Hot!)
I nodded agreement and pointed to his little saw. Pequeño (Small), I said, closing the gap between my thumb and forefinger. Why so small? Harder to cut the concrete. I spoke in English, as my Spanish sucks, but he got it.
He laughed. You’re right. Yes! Si! Demasiado pequeño (too small). Herramienta incorrecta (wrong tool). He picked up his tiny cutter. Muy caro! Expensive! $100 for herramienta. $35 for blades. Aye yai yai!
I was paying him $150 for the job. He’d just spent over that buying equipment to do the work. I was mind boggled. I assumed he had all he needed to do the job when he gave me his bid. He went back to work and I went inside and got the receipt from the equipment rental place I’d visited the previous week. Only $24.99 to rent a jigsaw for 24 hours! At the time I rented the jigsaw, I inquired about renting a concrete cutter. $59.00 for 24 hours. Why hadn’t my gardener just rented the right equipment? He could have got the job done in half an hour and actually made money.
I took the receipt outside and showed it to him. Do you know of this place? Just down the road?
He took the receipt and studied the logo at the top of the paper. His expression brightened. Si! Yes! Alquiler de equipos. Rents. Yes?
Yes! Concrete saw is $59.00 bucks for all day. Thirty minutes, a half an hour, to do the job. That’s it. Why didn’t you rent a saw? Using hand signals and body gestures I somehow communicated.
Ah. No. No rent. Can’t. No license. No seguro (insurance). Not legal here.
Four years running our gardener’s been coming and he is easily the best gardener I’ve ever had. More than a gardener, he fixes our watering system, landscapes, trims trees, sets fences. He comes every Tuesday around 9:00am, rain or shine, and is on time, every time. He always smiles and waves when we cross paths. He is a stellar model of a dedicated hard worker for our children, and our community at large. I’ve recommended him to neighbors and soccer moms, as they have to their communities, allowing him to build a side business gardening and landscaping on weekends and evenings.
Yet, he can not get a Green Card.
His company won’t sponsor him. He has no legal relatives here. He is not a refugee. Even if he could get one, the process of applying and then waiting for the Card takes years. My gardener needs, and in fact, has work now. He can’t wait years to get government approval to work for a living.
Why doesn’t he leave his job for Americans and just go back to Mexico? Without him, and immigrants like him, our free market economy would get even more expensive for us in the middle. Capitalism requires competition to keep prices of labor and costs of goods moderated.
I had three other bids on the concrete work I needed. A neighborhood contractor quoted me $1,600 to do the job. A mason didn’t want the job because it was 20 miles from his location and not worth the trip. A local handyman quoted $800, but couldn’t start the job for over two months, and required half upfront to hold my time slot. All were licensed, bonded, U.S. Citizens. With the right cutting tool, which was rentable for $59, I knew the job should take 15 minutes, 30 on the outside. I originally considered doing it myself, but the saw seemed heavier than I could manage.
I had no idea my gardener was here illegally and driving without a license until our conversation last Sunday. The man looks in his mid-40s but he told me on Sunday that he’s only 32. He’ll die young from hard labor, lack of medical care, working with poor or improper equipment, like breathing toxic concrete dust without a mask, carcinogenic construction materials, garden poisons. If he is graced with children, and I hope he is, and will pass on his excellent work ethic to them, he still will not be granted U.S. Citizenship. He is always at risk of deportation, more or less depending on who is in the White House. Like many illegals lately, he could end up having to take his American children back to live in the Mexico he left for a ‘better life.’
Sunday alone, our gardener put over $150 into the U.S. economy, counting just his little saw and multiple blades. He will buy his food here, pay for his housing here, his utilities, his fuel costs. He lives here, and contributes to our economy with every dollar he spends. He probably pays taxes, as do many illegals working for large companies. My gardener is an employee of a huge gardening and landscaping corporation.
Next time you bite into that peach, remember it only costs $0.39 because illegals planting and picking the fruit are cheap labor. (Your iPhone is made in China for the same reason, yet Apple is rewarded with tax breaks instead of kicked out of the country.). Illegals contribute billions in tax dollars and consumer spending in the U.S. annually, yet they get none of the protections of citizenship. No medicare. No social security or unemployment benefits. No welfare or government handouts. Illegals are invisible here.
I am privileged by birthright for the lifestyle we live, and can provide for our kids. I haven’t a clue, and never want one, how it feels to be so far from home, without ‘inalienable rights.’ But I know one thing for sure—our gardener deserves the ‘better life’ he sought when moving here, the one [ostensibly] available to most citizens who work hard to prosper.