Saturday, April 01, 2006

Some notes about the immigration debate [Caution - Logic Ahead]

Politics in the US does make for some rather ugly displays of behavior and the current debate over illegal and legal immigration is no different. During the past week, viewers of the nightly news programs have been witnesses to scenes of schools being closed, highways being clogged, state capitals being beseiged by persons saying that

- this debate would penalize those who come over the border into the US for a better life.

- is racist because it is targeted towards Mexicans which at the same time paints these new people on these shores as being criminals .

- that such laws will hamper the economy due to the fact that those immigrants work for rates that are much lower than native born Americans -- hence keeping the price of new houses, produce, meats and other items down.

Well let's try to take these by the numbers and bring some logic to the debate.

On the first issue, yes there are many who are willing to risk life and limb to come over the border to start a new or have a better life. Compared with much of Mexico and Central/South America -- this is the case. Salaries here are much higher than what they would get in their native countries, which even includes the maquiadoras [US Factories built just over the US -Mexican border in places like Ciudad Juarez]. With this being the case, what those who are seeking a better life are doing is no different than those waves of immigrants who have come to the us by air, boat and by land for years. In this case though the major part of the argument is that quite a few of these folks are not willing to go through the process to become a citizen like others have done. As in, apply for visas, file the paperwork, take the citizenship test and therefore become full participants in the American system. While President Bush's ideas for a guest worker program may work [more about this in a few]what would be best to take care of this part of the issue would be to ask that all those who want to come and live here make the effort to become citizens, Every other country that has an immigration policy does that [or if they have not -- in this post 9/11 world are on their way to it] and those that have an 'open borders' policy are now paying for that.

How you may ask? If France is any example of this, the payment for this are riots, social unrest [which has this eerie look of something out of the US in the 1960's] and people being sent to prison. Odd because this in a sense dovetails on what we have had because of illegal immigration here, in that there is a sizeable population in the jails and the Federal penal system who are illegals. Compound this with a stream of illegal drugs [See this link to Frontline's program about the Meth Epidemic] and this situation gets even stranger. Before it is said, yes it is a fact that many meth-heads here in the US are anglo and do not look like that they come from south of the border. Yes, most of the arrests as a result are of meth are anglos. However, because of a clampdown on the sale of one of the main ingredients in meth -- there has been streams of this item making their way via drug mules into the US from Mexico [this as well as cocaine and other illicit chemicals]. So there is a need, a real need to police the borders if not just to cut down on those who do not want to follow the process but also to cut down on the drugs that are being moved.

In a sense, the last paragraph dealt with the latter portion of bullet-point 2, however there is also the former of this. Those of you who see the targeting of the Mexican border as being racist, intentions and practice sometimes go into a gray zone of logic. The US does have a porous border with Canada [there are parts where one can cross into the US from Manitoba -- for example and not get noticed in the least] but the Mexican border is being focused on because of the aforementioned problems that have come through as a result. Sadly, if there is a sizeable portion of those who are commiting crimes after crossing the southern border are from Mexico, then there would be a targeting of those who would come in through that means who are of that descent. This is no different than targeting some communities in the inner cities where crime is committed by one or two particular groups and the police focus in on them in an effort to alleviate the situation.

Now about the economic end of this situation and here is where things start to get really fun. Let's be a little blunt here, there is some truth to the statements that have been made that the Mexicans and others who cross over will do the work that some Americans are not willing to do. Such as the picking of produce, working in the meatpacking and poultry houses, doing janitorial work, etc. But this did not happen overnight. Far from it. Over time and this had to do with how the waves of society work, these jobs were done by those who either came into this country or had very little skills otherwise and as such worked their way up by performing same. The list of groups that have done so is long and I will not detail that here, suffice it to say that this was the case. With that being the preface, we now go to the mid part of the last century.

With the advent of the civil rights movement, also came movement and the statements that these jobs tended to not only be demading and trapped some groups in a cycle of being confined to that level of work without there being any chance of advancement. In short folks did not want to be the beasts of burden and that part of this makes sense if only due to societies progressing over time. Add to this some programs that were geared towards social engineering [a term that I despise as well but it is here for illustrative purposes] and some of the work that used to be done is not any more. After all, when there is the governemtn dole, there is very little need to break one's back so to speak. So these jobs were filled by those who came caross the border, who performed those duties and also did those for very low wages. The beauty of those who were willing to work for those wages is that they also helped to keep the prices down.

With the prices down, stores are able to sell those goods rather quickly because folks are able to afford the veggies, meats and other items. As slightly perverse as this may sound, it has been and is a good situation for the businesses involved. Those who are now protesting the labor that comes across should also keep in mind that housing proices also are lower [not to mention improvements to said same housing] due to the cheap labor. Be it the day laborer who gets picked up on the streetcorner at 6am in the morning or the ones who work on a project for a little while and them move on, the overall effect is lower prices. Regretably that is an economic fact.

Granted, there have to be ways to keep the prices down and hire natives of the US first. After all there was a day years ago when there was a certain amount of pride in that line of work [some of us kids looked up to the guys who could stand on a roof...or thought that being out in the sun in the fields was something kind of cool]. This can go hand in hand with some revamps of the programs that led to why the immigrants came in and have and are perfoming thse jobs in the first place.

Which does lead into the following, a slight digression but you will see the connection on this in time. Someone in one of the major US papers had been questioning why the major civil rights groups have not been involved in this debate. The aritcle about this is
here , but the portion that is really telling is this:

In 2002, the NAACP made a slight nod to the immigration fight when it invited Hector Flores, president of League of United Latin American Citizens, to address its convention. The NAACP billed the invite as a "historic first." But it was careful to note that immigration was one of a list of policy initiatives the two groups would work together on. That list included support for affirmative action, expanded hate crimes legislation, voting rights protections and increased health and education funding. There is no indication that the two groups have done much together since to tackle immigration reform.

The caucus and civil-rights leaders tread lightly on the immigrant rights battle for two reasons. They are loath to equate the immigrant-rights movement with the civil-rights battles of the 1960s. They see immigrant rights as a reactive, narrow, single-issue movement whose leaders have not actively reached out to black leaders and groups.

Black leaders also cast a nervous glance over their shoulder at the shrill chorus of anger rising from many African Americans, especially the black poor, of whom a significant number flatly oppose illegal-immigrant rights. But illegal immigration is not the prime reason so many poor young blacks are on the streets, and why some turn to gangs, guns and drug dealing to get ahead. A shrinking economy, sharp state and federal government cuts in and elimination of job and skills training programs, failing public schools, a soaring black prison population and employment discrimination are the prime causes of the crisis in many inner-city black neighborhoods.

Yet, many blacks soft-target illegal immigrants for the crisis and loudly claim that they take jobs from unskilled and marginally skilled blacks. Black fury over immigration has cemented an odd alliance between black anti-immigrant activists and GOP conservatives, fringe anti-illegal immigration groups and racially tinged America-first groups.

While a brilliant anaylsis, it is missing here too that the current generation is missing the work ethic. There is an assumption by some employers [and I have actually heard the following from some as 'off the record comments'] that some in the current black population, in particualr the not want to work. If a population or pool of potential employees is not willing to work, this places the employer in a bad position. Hence the employers are left with no choice but to look elsewhere for those willing to not only work cheap, but also will work hard.

So this brings this post to the following:

1. Let's have a common sense immigration policy. Do not penalize those who want to work but strongly, emphatically encourage that the persons go through the same process to become a citizen as others have.

2.Send those who are the criminals back to their homeland and make sure they never come back here. If they do instead of catch and release, jail them but bill them -- through the state department -- to the government from where they came from. Like let's say the Mexican governemt for the mules or trafickers who come over as well as other felons.

3. For the US workers who do not want to do these jobs, fine. Let there be the incentive of either work or no more of the dole to the mailbox. However, employers and employment agencies should not act as though they are the discriminator of first choice as well as those who want the work should make sure their skills are up to snuff.

Could this be a win-win? Not immediately, it will happen over time. But this can make this issue less contentious. After all no city wants to look like Paris has over the past few weeks. Or for that matter -- have traffio clogged by demonstrations as Los Angeles has.


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