This article appeared in print as Trail By Fire
The undocumented employee, meanwhile, can probably walk across the street to another restaurant and start right where he left off. The fakes aren't hard to get. Jose said he easily bought bogus IDs for himself and his wife through referrals from friends. Roy said the coyotes gave him his fake ID. He invented his Social Security number when filling out his first job application. "I didn't know any better. I just filled out the numbers," he says.
Monty saw first-hand the sophistication of the document-forgery business. He and a colleague went undercover in 2007 posing as undocumented immigrants seeking IDs. "I saw document vendors simply ask immigrants where they wanted to work, and then issue, on-the-spot, authentic looking identification and Social Security numbers (SSN) for use on an I-9 form," he wrote in his 2011 book, The Gringo's Guide to Hispanics in the Workplace. He includes examples in the book of fake business cards from document vendors that purport to sell services such as "window painting."
It also doesn't hurt that many employers are willing to look the other way if job applicants can give them documents that seem authentic. Monty likes to show off his collection of fake Social Security cards and Texas driver's licenses, some sporting his own photo, that are indistinguishable from the real thing. E-Verify has made the profitable document-forgery business explode. A set of ID cards that once cost $200 now goes for $2,000 if it must pass through the electronic verification system. "It buys you very little peace of mind," he says.
Sometimes employers like their undocumented workers so much that they willingly flout the law on their behalf. Lizbeth Mateo, a California activist who is open about her immigration status and who has lived in the United States without papers since she was a teenager, helped run a small deli in California for eight years. She was up-front about her illegal status when she applied for the job. It didn't matter. Her bosses knew they could get audited by immigration authorities, but they said they would worry about that when it happened. It never did.
In another restaurant job, Mateo's manager went so far as to create a fake name and Social Security number for her after the Social Security Administration sent a "no-match letter" about the number they had on file for her. Six months later, another letter arrived. That's when Mateo decided to leave her job on her own. "I didn't want to lie," she says. "How long was it going to keep going?"
While activists in Texas such as Monty engage in regular outreach to the Latino community to encourage it to become more politically active, Bailey has taken the opposite approach, what he calls "gringo inreach." He coined the term in January while addressing the ultraconservative Texas Public Policy Foundation about the need for white people to get involved in immigration. He has had some success since he formed the Texas Immigration Solution, but it's a steep climb.
He helped the state GOP adopt a policy statement last year that called for renewable work visas for undocumented immigrants. It was jaw-dropping to see hard-core Republican activists endorsing legalization for illegal immigrants. Bailey has to constantly defend the idea. "This is not amnesty. Amnesty is what we did in 1986," he tells the Walker County Republicans in Huntsville. "This is if you want to be on a temporary-worker program, not a citizenship program. You gotta pay a fine and you gotta pay back taxes. No criminals, no felons, no bad guys."
It's a far cry from the friendly conversations that take place in Sudie's kitchen. No amount of reassurance can ease the Walker County Republicans' minds about legalizing the illegal population. They shift uncomfortably in their seats.
Bailey's parting line is a warning. "If we don't address this problem in five years, Texas will become a blue state. I guarantee you. We're going to go the way of the Whigs."
Few seem won over. A painful silence quits the question-and-answer session. The crowd breaks up quietly. As caterers start gathering plates, a few people approach Bailey. A woman confides, "I used to be one of "˜those.' "¦ A "˜no-way, kick 'em out' person. But this makes sense. We have to do something."
These are typical reactions, Bailey explains after the event. Those in his audience, even when they are willing to accept his premise, don't want to make their views known publicly. He finds himself saying the same things over and over again to white audiences packed with folded arms and frowns. His frustration is palpable. "When did business owners," he wonders, "become the bad guys of the Republican Party?"
Bailey's kitchen manager, Hernandez, appreciates Bailey's political efforts, but he is skeptical that Republicans can come around to another point of view. It was only recently that Hernandez started to believe that Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, the GOP's front man on immigration, was anything but another anti-immigrant politician. "They say really bad things. But right now, I see the news. He's changing," he says of Rubio.
Hernandez votes for Democrats, but he loves Bailey the Republican as much as Bailey loves him. Politics are far removed from the two men's daily restaurant life of icing catfish and later deep-frying it. Trust is forged in the fire of the kitchen. Outside, however, it remains harder to come by. P
Andy Shallal (above) and Brad Bailey could very likely come to blows over almost any issue besides immigration. They believe in immigrants not for idealistic or political reasons but because they work hard.