Sunday, April 16, 2006

Enforcement Where it Belongs

My sister-in-law is Mexican. She came legally to the country, had a baby with my younger brother, eventually married him, and is now a naturalized US citizen, though she still has Mexican citizenship. She and the kids go to visit her folks every year or so, and the kids are being brought up bilingual. Her grandmother was born in Chicago, and her family has many people in the US in various states of citizenship. I look at her and I see a pretty typical immigrant - with strong ties to family and the land of her birth, and no less powerful bonds to her new family here and the land of her choice.

On my mom's side of the family, my great-grandfather was an illegal immigrant. An ethnic German, he fled Russia, was rejected for entry to England or the US (he was probably a Red and possibly a Jew), and came to Canada. From there, he walked across the border and down to Lincoln, Nebraska where he rejoined the Kiev expatriate community. When the Cold War kicked in, he lived in terror of being found out and deported as a "Commie." The other side of her family were Swedes.

My dad's side of the family has an interesting mix of German immigrants (his cousins attended a German speaking public grade school in South Dakota), French Canadians and hillbilly refugees from the Civil War.

With that kind of pedigree (humanity at large), my natural sympathy lies with those who wish to come to America and make the most of things. Populations shift and change over time. Human history is one of migration.

But I also am a believer in national sovereignty and in the rule of law. A nation can and should control its borders to defend the rights and well-being of its current *and future* citizens. Citizenry inhenrently posits an "us" and a "not us", though it should not be allowed to become pernicious. A society of laws and newcomers should have as one of its fundamental functions a clear and fair procedure for moving from the latter group to the former. The latter group should have the designation of "not yet us," presupposing a transitional state from outsider to citizen.

This is why I oppose any kind of guest worker program. The entire purpose of such a program is to create a pernicous "not us" in the heart of the system, purposefully bringing in a class of humans who can be treated as "never us." The guest worker creates two serious pressures on an open society - a permanent threat to comparable workers who are citizens, decreasing their bargaining power vis-a-vis corporations, and reducing the value of humanity as such by eliminating any social aspect to conditions of modern labor.

But I'm also not very impressed by the racist, nativist bullshit kicked up by the hate-mongers of the right about building fences and deporting aliens. They seek to punish the people taking advantage of the employment situation rather than change the situation that brings them here is the first place. Why? Because they are fucking hypocrites. Duh. They want cheap labor that is living in fear and not able to insist on humane treatment and decent wages. I also don't care for the defacto presumption that non-northern Europeans are all suspected criminals, AND that if you've got fair skin and light colored hair, you've got to an A-OK-Murikan. That Ireland and Canada have many illegal professionals in the US is not acceptable to me.

There's no painless way to solve the problem, but there is a way. It's called a national ID card that all Americans, especially the "white" ones, have to carry in order to be employed. Preferably with some biometric check in it like a fingerprint scan. No, I'm not scared of "Big Brother." It's already here, folks, and Equifax owns your ass. Be one with the digital hegemony and make it work for you.

Next, severe, painful penalties for hiring someone not legally allowed to be employed in the US - AGAINST THE EMPLOYER. The biggest offenders are labor agencies that provide large numbers of unskilled laborers to corporate entities, like hotels, meat packers, light manufacturing and agri-biz. I'm talking tax penalties, fines that wipe out a year's profits and jail time for senior management. Next, slap major fines and penalties on people hiring in the cash market, like good old Arianna Huffington and her frickin' nanny.

If someone is in the US illegally and they are here because of family, there's no need to deport. Granny can stay. If someone is here illegally to get work, sorry. Go home. You're not getting employed. We don't have to bother with deportation simply for that because there is no reason for them to stay. If they have legal family members who can support them, I don't care too much. People who commit crimes in the US who are not citizens are up for two penalties. First, jail time for the crime committed, followed by deportation. I got no problem with that.

As for the argument about not sending people back to impoverished countries, look, the third richest man in the world is Carlos Slim, head of the biggest TelCo in Mexico. There's buttloads of money in Central and South America, but it is in the hands of small oligarchies who prefer to export their social problems to being just a littly less filthy rich. If they can no longer offload their poverty to the US, they are the ones who have to deal with their foul and failing social policies.

What about the threat that stuff in the US will become too expensive? Well, how about the counter argument that Billmon presents in this post Why People Think the Economy Sucks - just take a look at the first two graphs. Corporate profits are mega-high and personal income is flat. How about the corporation eating some of those costs and having a smaller profit margin? There's a start. Also, if employers have to offer real wages for real work, enough that it is worth the while regular citizens (i.e., people who would like not to live in gullies and shacks and be in fear of deportation every day) to perform the work, then more people will have more money to spend. You know, the "rising tide floats all boats" argument works when the money goes to the people at the bottom, too.

Yes, this will throw a significant number of migrant workers out of a job and this is going to hurt them most. I'm sorry, but I don't think it is wrong, unethical or inhumane to say employment and the benefits of this society go first to citizens and next to legal visitors. There is a cost to this kind of work migration. Someone is already paying it. It needs not to paid by US citizens at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder. It is time for the uber-rich to pay living wages for labor-intensive work, and time for the comfortable middle class to stop averting their eyes from how they benefit from exploitation of migrant labor.


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