Why does the NBC sitcom Superstore think breaking the law is okay when it comes to immigration? In previous episodes, store employees tried to help illegal immigrant Mateo (Nico Santos) escape immigration enforcement and bemoaned the fact that they were unable to have him successfully evade ICE officers.
Now Mateo is out of detention, but is still not legally approved to work in the United States. In the episode “Self-Care,” on October 24, he is nonetheless actively looking for work and his former co-workers are actually encouraging him. He decides to interview for a job under the table with the store’s optometrist.
Garrett (Colton Dunn): So you might be working with Dan the optometrist? Weird dude.
Mateo: I don’t even care. They can hire me because it’s run by a separate company. Kind of like with Dolly Parton and her husband, who live under the same roof but never talk to each other.
Garrett: Right, like that.
Mateo: But it doesn’t matter. These interviews all go the same way anyway. I slay with the q&a, it’s electric… Then they ask for my Social and I go, “I don’t have one.” Then they go, “Thanks, we’ll be in touch.” Guess if they’re ever in touch, Garrett.
Garrett: It’s pretty clear from the context.
Mateo: They’re not! They’re never in touch.
Employers he interviews with are not in touch because it is illegal to hire an “undocumented” worker. These employers would be breaking the law. The optometrist hires Mateo with a wink when the question of paperwork comes up. Mateo tells him, “You really are doing a great thing for me.” Of course, as Mateo discovers, the optometrist is not doing a “great” thing for him. The employer is illegally hiring Mateo because he can take advantage of him. He has Mateo use lunch breaks to do clothes shopping for his wife and other tasks.
“I just– technically I don’t think it’s part of my job,” Mateo protests. The optometrist responds, “Well, technically… You probably shouldn’t even have the job, you know, ’cause the whole undocumented thing, so… We’re kind of off the map here, huh?”
At least the show acknowledges that employers do not just hire illegal immigrants out of the kindness of their hearts. They do it to exploit the immigrant and avoid paying taxes and fair wages to legal applicants. But why does nobody in Superstore say this? Why do none of the characters see this exploitation and illegality as a problem?
Mateo decides to keep the job despite the fact that he is asked to help his boss with tasks he was not hired for. “He’s [the optometrist] a giant weirdo, but the Vision Center’s not too busy and the wifi in that corner is super fast,” Mateo explains to his friends. The truth his boss is not just a “weirdo.” He is also a lawbreaker who should be fined or prosecuted. But in the world of network television, that little detail does not matter. No wonder the illegal immigration issue continues to galvanize the nation. The political left, of which Hollywood is a part, simply refuses to acknowledge that such illegality is even a crime.