Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Immigration and the common-sense test

After all the demonstrations, I was grateful to hear the President take on the immigration issue -and address it at several levels, including documenting workers, border control and a less clear plan to make legit the millions of illegals already here. However, is anyone else feeling like the current immigration speeches continue to lack the common-sense test? When that happens our sincerity radar should be on high alert -in Bush's immigration speech and the Democrat responses it was what was not said that interests me.

What about the heavy dependence of large sectors of our economy on Hispanic illegal immigrants? How would our economy change? How would the price of goods and services change if the shadow workers become visible? Don't we depend on the cheap labor? What about all of those businesses, franchises, even corporations who have no interest in thoroughly documenting workers, providing minimum wage or benefits equal to legitimate workers - where is the policy to address this in any serious way? Or consumers who have no interest in paying "American" prices and wages? Without addressing this issue, the conversation remains a bit disingenuous. Examples follow.

"Illegal immigration puts pressure on public schools and hospitals ... strains state and local budgets ..." -Bush

Yes, but they also take off pressure by staffing public schools and hospital at minimal expense and often bring as many workers as needed to jobs that lie languishing if depending upon American labor.

Lets imagine I just turned off Maury Povich and headed to Meijer's to buy their $1.20/lb Tyson's chicken. Except now, due to staffing changes at Meijer's and Tyson's (not to mention other parts of the supply chain), my chicken costs $2.69/lb.. And that International Buffet where I take the family on Saturday night? The price has tripled - for the same reasons (meat processing, vegetable picking, kitchen labor). Want to hear a public outcry? It is not that people won't pay more - many can't pay more. Their good jobs have dried up - the service sector doesn't support people the way manufacturing and other middle class jobs did before globalization.

The working folks in places such as downstate Illinois fail to enjoy the bi-partisan wink and nod that goes on on the immigration topic. They live in hundreds of towns gutted by the loss of the manufacturing sector. They are depending upon someone to really see and care about the deterioration in their life, the disappearing options, the crumbling hope for their children, the increasing chasm between the haves in the big cities and the have nots in rural ex-factory towns. Illegal imigration poses a grave threat to them and to their children -even the mimimum-wage jobs at Denny's, Joe's Nursery and Wal-Mart - all are competed for by immigrants. And these are not the preferred jobs - no, these are often the remaining jobs.

In my affluent neck of the woods, people fail to have the outrage, anger and anxiety of the little man. Their jobs are fine, thank you, and may depend on having that brown underlayer. Their nannies and housekeepers and certainly, lawn crews, are probably not documented workers. Neither are many of their construction workers - the painters who barely speak English, carpenters, stone workers who lay those Unilock patios. But if we employed union workers we'd have to pay twice as much! And we already pay $25 a plate for our free-range Napa-Valley chicken. No- leave those workers alone. Just secure the borders. Eh?

In terms of the idea of temporary or guest workers - another common-sense test needs to be applied. When, precisely, will the cafeteria jobs at my local high school be "finished"? The landscaping crews? The meat packers? THe hospital orderlies? What jobs exactly are "finished" so that immigrants will docilely return to Mexico or South America. Or do we not care about those jobs? Crop harvest is merely one segment of the labor debate.

Visuals help. Our dependence on cheap, illegal labor makes us like a giant magnet. All of the metal filings are on the other side of the border. We are now reassured to hear that there will be two layers of chicken wire keeping the filings from contacting the magnet. But the pull of the magnet continues.

Do we really care about the little guy? Do we really believe we can change our economy? Can we really give up the benefits of the existing system? We need to get real.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

No one in this current debate seems to want to mention the fact that the ongoing outsourcing of American jobs oversees, and the economic policies being made by Washington, have contributed much to the current labor unrest and immigrant resentment in this country. The lose of thousands of jobs, and the social uprooting they cause, are what American workers are mostly angry about in this current debate. Someone needs to be blamed. Someone needs to be held acountable.
So lets let "others" shift and redirect that anger for our unemployment problems and lowering of our standard of living away from those directly responsible. Let the blame fall on the illegal immigrants who do the low paying, often dirty jobs that most American workers wouldn't want to do. Let's label them the real threat to the fabric of American society. After all, it's always been easier to beat down the weak and downtrodden then take on the powerful interests that really control our lives. This has been the story of immigration in our nation for over 300 years. Have we learned nothing in all that time?
It's time Americans woke up and had the courage to face the real threats and causes of our economic and social problems, instead of just lashing out against those that can't defend themselves. Are we really just sheep? "and like sheep, we are led to the slaughter".

8:25 AM  

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