Illegal Immigration

LettuceLately I’ve been thinking about the immigration debate, and the fact that I spent part of today picking fruit (it’s true) perhaps focused things a bit.

  • It seems to me that if angry private citizens like the Minutemen really want to keep desperate Latinos from coming to the States, they should turn themselves into some sort of organized agricultural labor force instead of a quasi-militia. They could recruit armies of Americans to go pluck chickens, pick lettuce and mop restaurant floors for free so that the migrant labor pool would cease to be necessary. Plus, they’d be supporting native businesses by replacing the cost of wage slaves with the free labor of actual, volunteer slaves.
  • In all seriousness, though, I wish the “keep ’em out at all costs” side would at least recognize that there is an economic reason people will risk death to come here and work for a pittance. Unless this country stops eating produce and meat (though lower demand for meat would be a net positive for the environment and the world, but that’s another post), and until we can invent giant farming robots, it looks like there’s always going to be a demand for harvesting jobs that Americans won’t do for any price.
  • But what about the obvious economic negatives? Being a pro-labor guy myself, do I think that illegal immigration undercuts U.S. wages? It seems that the effect differs by industry. Construction is probably the most hurt by illegal alien labor: construction work is often lucrative, unionized, and desirable for Americans, and a vast pool of cheap, unregulated, potentially skilled workers drags down wages for American construction employees. I think construction firms that hire illegals should be cracked down upon, picketed and shunned for this reason, as punishing the aliens themselves will have nowhere near the effect as going after their employers. I would also put landscaping in this category, having known several people from back home who’ve made decent careers out of it while on the labor straight-and-narrow.

    Other industries, however, are different. Illegals working in industries like the aforementioned farm work and perhaps some food-service jobs are doing vital jobs that would go unfilled, were it up to the native labor market. Migrant workers in these fields are nothing new either: read Steinbeck sometime.

  • This fact, and the inherently unfair nature of punishing a starving man for trying to eat, leads me to part I of my main point: We need an industry-based approach that protects some industries from illegal immigration, but allows others to get the labor that they can’t otherwise hire. Choosing which industries should and should not be protected is quite a can of worms, but then so is just about every proposal on the table right now. We need to identify those jobs worth saving and save them, but without hurting the consumer who drives and is the ultimate benefactor of the American system.
  • But we can’t forget part II: A vast majority of immigrants come here to work, not to do us harm, and as such they deserve fair treatment. Kicking these hapless people in the junk harder than we already are isn’t going to dissuade them from coming: coyotes, familial separation, the several hundred miles of desert between the habitable parts of the U.S. and Mexico and the life-threatening potential of all of those are about as severe a deterrent as can be imagined, and yet the illegals still come in the millions. Therefore, creating a harsher punishment for these people isn’t going to work.
  • I think a guest worker program, limited by industry, is the best way to go. It’s not amnesty, and it’s not keeping the immigrants out at all cost, but it is a way to regulate who gets in and what they do while they’re here. Once you have an industry-driven quota in place, firms can bring their most trusted workers into the U.S., having them return to the native country once a year or so to “touch base” and keep in contact with the authorities on both sides. Successful participation in this program would also weigh in favor of an application for citizenship, should the participant opt for such. Once this program is set up, the government should then crack down on anyone hiring illegal immigrants with abandon and put up all the highly trained border security to keep out the drugs, environmental problems, MS-13 and terrorists that we possibly can.
  • By the way, it’s good when Mexicans and others send their migrant wages back home, because that’s pumping a lot of cash into those foreign economies that, if properly spent, will someday eliminate the need for illegal immigrants to even come here in the first place.
  • As for those who fear that the greatest problem with illegal immigration is cultural or racial dilution, I think you need to admit to yourself that that is just some 1840s Know-Nothing throwback crap. Those hordes of Irish, Italians and Slavs didn’t break the country then; they made it stronger and better, no matter how much prejudice was spat their way. Was it rocky? Sure. Are people of those ancestries some of today’s best Americans? Sure. Why are today’s immigrants different? There’s no rational answer to that.

I think the immigration issue provokes a lot of hysteria (hysteria that has made Lou Dobbs into a very rich jagoff) and I’m doubtful that an effective system will ever emerge to handle all the humanitarian and economic concerns here. But we can conceive of such a system, so why the hell not?

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3 Responses to “Illegal Immigration”

  1. This country desperately needs immigrants. It always has and it’s a tradition to hate them (“Irish need not apply”). In about 50 years Europe is going to be in the demograhic shitter mainly due to declining birth rate.

    I’m concerned about the current network of coyotes providing a ready made infrastruture for moving AQ etc. into the country. I’m all for a system that allows Mexican workers through ports of entry legally and easily and encourages them to return home knowing they won’t have to risk their lives to come back. At the same time we can start shooting those found walking across the border. That should provide both carrot and stick.

    And the immigrant groups can stop whining about giving priority to families rather than skills. US immigration isn’t a handout, it’s quid pro quo. Plenty of unskilled labor is needed and will still get in.

    Posted by Rich | May 29th, 2007 at 7:44 am
  2. One of the things that people forget, I think, is that we have bigger fish to fry than whether some economically driven non-citizens are staying and working in the United States illegally. We need our borders to be secure from truly evil people with evil intentions (al Queda, and drug runners, I’m looking at you). Cluttering the radar by chasing Mexican and Central American workers willing to work hard for relatively little pay at jobs Americans will demonstrably not take is not helping us focus on evil doers.

    With respect to the industry-by-industry approach, why not let interested parties petition to have their industry removed from the guest worker rolls? Every industry is open to guest workers unless an interested party, like a union, can show that (a) there is significant U.S. citizen employment in the field, and (b) they can show that guest workers will undercut the industry. Maybe even let them show this by region, so in the South maybe there really are no unionized construction workers, and no U.S. citizens willing to work construction, while in the Northeast and Great Lakes region there are. The Department of Labor probably already has the expertise to decide this, and you could force them to repetition every five years to account for changes.

    I don’t know. This seems too simple to me. Add Rich’s suggestion that if you are sneaking across the border after this program starts, we shoot you (only al Queda and drug runners will need to sneak), and Pat’s suggestion that you hammer the employers who hire illegally and we are on to something.

  3. Right on. Amnesty and round ’em up are both hysterical overreactions. Border security is an important value. Deporting criminals makes good sense. Enforcing employment laws (regarding citizenship and labor standards) is a necessity – else why have the laws at all. None of those efforts has to be perfect to be justified. The fact that large numbers of people otherwise law abiding people illegally present will remain (but without amnesty) is nothing to get your panties in a twist about.

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