Wednesday, June 21, 2006

What's the real story behind immigration?

I've been meaning to post a bit on this immigration flap that seems to have so entranced the nation lately. It's my intention to touch on political issues rarely, as I feel that political commentary requires a very nuanced and thorough approach, and many of my political positions are rather direct and simplistic. That being said, I do want to chime in on the issue of illegal immigration.

I think much of the public discourse on this topic does an end-run around a major dimension of this issue. To be sure, there are many who believe that a continual flow of border crossings from Mexico is going to change the cultural identity of the USA. But outside of several southwestern regions (and Florida), I don't think this is the main concern. Why does the US seem to have problems with the amount of illegal immigrants in-country? Is our land overpopulated? Do many of our citizens risk dying through lack of access to clean water and food? No, we have resources to support an expanding population. So what is the real threat? I believe that jobs are what people care about most. And unfortunately no one seem to suggest doing anything that truly addresses this concern.

Ever since white folks first came to the United States, all types of people have followed because they see the country as a beacon of economic opportunity. For as long as the USA has been a nation, immigration has been a source of strength. Immigrants have powered the growth of this country since before the American Revolution. Indeed many are still drawn by the perception of a place of infinite wealth. But today, the reality many face when they get here is a bit different.

Both large corporations and the upper-class seem to welcome illegal immigrants with open arms. We are told we need immigrants to clean our houses and pick our vegetables. As the president says, "Immigrants work the jobs that Americans don't want." Every time I hear someone say this I cringe and feel my temperature rise a degree. If the statement were true (an assumption that I doubt), it would only be so because the jobs in question fail to pay a living wage. And corporations will continue to expect the work to be done at an artificially low labor cost just as long as there is a pool of illegal immigrants to hire. Sure, corporations have been using the resource of illegal immigrants against working US citizens since the gilded age- but in the modern age we should know better than to merely accept this as a function of the "free market".

In an economy where corporations can hire illegal immigrants in order to devalue labor, there is NO "free market". Clearly the demand for underpaid labor far outstrips the American citizenry's willingness to supply this labor. So the cost of said labor should increase. But that won't happen as long as there is a ready supply of desperate workers just over the border, and living off the charts in the US itself.

There should be no mystery as to why there are so many illegal immigrants in our country. Just go out to the fields of California, to the nearby Walmart after-hours, to the hotels and motels at checkout times... hell, just look at the list of foreign nationals who die in Iraq trying to "earn" their citizenship. Would you want to work these jobs for pay that allows you to cram into a two-room apartment with three other families? Would you want to be at the mercy of harsh working conditions because you have no recourse to the protections that the twentieth century labor movement struggled so much to provide for you? No... you, in your privilege as an American citizen, would not accept the conditions nor the substandard pay.

Illegal immigration exists only because the corporations want it. If they didn't hire these people, then there would be no economic incentive for immigrants to come into the country illegally. The government should fine corporations (and individuals) exorbitantly for hiring illegal immigrants. Every American worker, both US citizen and legal immigrant, should enjoy the protections of our labor laws. And our corporate "citizens" should be made to pay a hefty price for breaking the law. To my mind, that is the only way to begin a remedy to this issue. Any talk about "temporary worker programs" or stricter border enforcement is simply smoke-and-mirrors. The point here is labor devaluation.


Blogger John Morris said...

I think American's Flatter themselves. While there is a huge and important amount of ileagal imigration, some scary counter trends are emerging. An increasing % of young foreign students who go to school here now choose to return home. Pittsburgh owes a lot of it's history to a few important imigrants like andrew Carnegie. Whould he come her today?

The new America may be in Bangalore.

10:20 AM  

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