a rare occurrence in America these days that popular
protest garners much media attention. The three-year anniversary
Iraq war protests which occurred this month, for instance,
drew nary a glance from TV news producers. But when half a
million Mexicans turned out in L.A. to protest a draconian
bill being decided in the Senate this week, “whitey,” in the
form of Wolf Blitzer, got scared and decided to pay attention.
The bill in question’s House version, sponsored by horrible
troll James Sensenbrenner, approves a 700-mile fence along
the Mexican border and makes it a felony be an illegal alien,
or to aid one in any way, including to feed one. Naturally,
Sensenbrenner handed this unconstitutional baton over to Bill
Frist in the Senate.
L.A., there were large protests in Chicago, Phoenix, Milwaukee
and Denver. In Georgia, “tens of thousands” (CNN) participated
in a work stoppage to protest a bill which would bar illegals
from state services and charge them extra to wire money home.
It’s a sad state of affairs when illegal immigrants are the
only group in America willing to assert their power to strike.
If everyone in this country who was against the war, for example,
didn’t show up for work next week, you can bet the farm that
the last US soldier in Iraq would be flying out in the last
plane by Friday. Instead, the poorest, least empowered people
in the country are schooling us on how to protest effectively.
Perhaps an unintended but fortunate consequence of the seemingly
unstoppable influx of Hispanics will be that they’ll teach
us how real popular resistance works. (Certainly, the ‘60s
reenactment strategy hasn’t helped much.)
The debate has
produced strange bedfellows—on one side, xenophobes and labor unionists, on
the other, Hispanics and business lobbyists. As usual, the proposed solution
is the worst of both worlds. Whether you’re for or against open borders, the
“guest worker program” proposed by celebrity Senators McCain and Kennedy and
backed by Bush is not the answer. Look beyond its friendly name what you see
is indentured servitude.
It doesn’t take
a genius to figure out that importing cheap labor screws up the system for
American workers. But what do you do about it? A distressing number of people
seem to support the ham-fisted and cost-prohibitive notion of arresting and
jailing, or at least deporting, every illegal immigrant in America. This is
not only virtually impossible; it’s just a stupid way to go about it. In situations
like this it’s much easier to stem demand than supply.
It’s a bit of
a detour, but a good analogy for this can be found in another recent story
focusing south of the border. On March 22nd, the US government
indicted 50 high-ranking members of FARC, a leftist militia opposed to Colombian
president Uribe’s conservative government, on drug-trafficking charges. To
be sure, FARC makes money from the cocaine trade, as Colombia’s deadly right-wing
paramilitary groups also have. The reality is that the US has been supporting
Uribe’s side in a Colombian civil war, in the interests of privatization of
Colombia’s resources. We have defoliated huge swaths of Colombian jungle and
farmland with poisonous chemicals and provided private troops to do battle
with FARC, at an enormous cost to the US taxpayer, but these operations receive
almost no mainstream scrutiny due to the cover of the Drug War.
But the term
doesn’t fit. The truth is you can’t stop cocaine by destroying crops or arresting
producers, because there’s always more where they came from. You could defoliate
Colombia in its entirety, and next year production would shift back to Bolivia,
or over to a neighboring country, or even to Africa. As long as Americans
are willing to pay $40 for a tiny baggie of Marching Powder, someone will
find a way to get it to them. This isn’t just conjecture; a RAND study found
money spent domestically on treatment to be 23 times as effective as that
spent on source eradication. RAND also found that drug treatment is 15 times
as effective as jail time in reducing serious crime. So, if we’re serious
about the drug war, how come we’re not spending our money on that stuff?
It’s the same
with illegal workers. Just as it makes no sense to target a limitless supply
of cocaine, it makes no sense to target an unending stream of undocumented
workers, when two or three CEO arrests would do the trick. Hiring illegal
immigrants is just that: illegal. If the people in charge of businesses felt
that they could be prosecuted for illegal aliens hired by their underlings,
they could easily put a stop to it, dramatically reducing the demand for such
workers and necessitating a raise in wages. If the president or your congressman
was at all interested in stopping such things, then that would be thing to
do. It wouldn’t end the “scourge” of Mexican maids and dishwashers, but it
would go a long way toward reducing demand for undocumented labor, which would
naturally cut the number of people coming here, pleasing even the racists.
As a solution, simply enforcing preexisting labor laws seems elegant—and it’s
the president who’s charged with enforcing the law.
why doesn’t he? Because in the end it is not regular racist
hicks, but business lobbyists that decide Bush’s positions.
And a lot of domestic industries—agriculture, food processing,
contracting, retail—are quite happily exploiting illegal labor,
and like junkies with full wallets, they’re not planning on
quitting anytime soon. They, their lobbying group (the Essential
Workers Immigration Coalition), and Bush all say that illegal
immigrants do the jobs “Americans won’t do.” This is a lie.
Americans will eat gorilla testicles on television. Illegal
immigrants do jobs Americans would do, but for a lot
less money than Americans would do them for.
a force for evil, racism has nothing on greed. Think about
it: racism played a large part in slavery, but its driving
force was greed. No amount of racism would cause a society
to drag hordes of people away from other lands just to mistreat
them—only greed can make such a thing real. Now there’s another
business opportunity, another permanently disenfranchised
racial underclass to enslave.
of the guest worker programs are focused on stemming the flow of people who
are culturally different from them into the country. The National Review’s
Rich Lowry worries about “the threat to America’s national cohesion from an
ever-growing, poorly assimilated Latino population.” Mainly, he’s afraid they’ll
vote for Democrats. Cat-killing Senator Bill Frist, on both wrong sides of
this issue, supports a guest worker program but opposes a provision making
illegals who are already here eligible for guest worker status. This, he says,
“most Americans would see as amnesty.” Which is ironic, since amnesty would
elevate their prospects and reduce their negative drag on wages instantly.
In reality, what do you do with an illegal immigrant with children who, born
in America, are automatic citizens? Throw the parents out and give the kids
to foster parents? These people risk their lives to get here, because they
fit the description written on the Statue of Liberty, and the ungrateful squatters
who live here now want to treat them like they stole something.
nothing wrong with people who speak different languages coming
to America—that’s how everyone got here. What we really should
be stemming is an influx of poverty, which a guest
worker program would do nothing to alleviate. If Mexicans
could immigrate legally, they’d be entitled to the same employee
protections we all enjoy, including minimum wage—and they’d
have as hard (or harder) a time getting a job. If we want
to stop illegal immigration and its deleterious impact on
our job pool, then we need to make legal immigration a realistic
possibility for these people, and stop pretending there’s
not enough room. What we should not do is tell them, “sure
you can come here and clean our toilets, but you’re not good
enough to be one of us.” What we should not do is actually
legislate a second-class category of American. I can’t believe
we’re even thinking about it.