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A Discussion on Undocumented Workers
<n>Portions of this discussion are taken from a discussion I had on Facebook.</n> <hr> <h>Joe Legal vs. José Illegal</h> This comparison of <a href="http://message.snopes.com/showthread.php?t=47660" source="Snopes.com" author="">Joe Legal vs. José Illegal</a> reaches its conclusion by employing both straw-man reasoning (knocking down an exaggerated, drastically simplified or superficial version of a premise and then claiming to have refuted the original) and a pretty cavalier attitude toward fact (e.g. undocumented workers are not eligible for welfare; their American children, on the other hand, are). The conclusion that <iq>If you vote for or support any politician that supports undocumented workers, you are part of the problem!</iq> is infantile because pretty much all politicians "support immigration", whether they are willing to admit it or not. In a country built on---and still largely profiting from---immigration, it's silly to talk about stopping immigration. A more interesting topic is that of <i>illegal</i> immigration, which does need to be addressed, as it is generally unfair to all involved (save perhaps the corporations that benefit from hiring undocumented workers, to which we will get below). Most immigration happens not because people like to travel hundreds of miles to work and spend most of their time away from their families and their culture. Immigration happens because of pressures that makes where people live so unbearable that literally <i>anything</i> is better. Politicians that claim to be against immigration, then subsidize the hell out of their local farmers and ranchers are implicitly supporting immigration by supporting policies that can only logically end in a drastic increase in immigration pressure. This immigration pressure manifests as a lowering of living standards and employment opportunities in neighboring countries. Those same politicians are likely only too happy to take material support from the same companies that actually hire the dozen million undocumented workers that result from their policies. Undocumented workers aren't in America because of the awesome free health-care or because of the particularly awesome jobs; they're here because back-breaking work at 2 bucks an hour for 12 hours a day is <i>still</i> much better than what they could get in their home town after glorious ideas like NAFTA or the latest round of farm and commodity subsidies got done with it. Treating the guy who actually crosses the border as a hardened criminal may be a lot of laughs, but it mostly serves to distract us from making our fearless leaders deal with the real causes and propose real solutions to burgeoning immigration numbers. <h>America Isn't the Cause of All of it's Neighbor's Problems (Is It?)</h> To which I got this is a pretty reasoned and well-thought--out response (interleaved with my comments): <bq>While our government, along with many other governments (INCLUDING the governments of the countries whom which we are assuming the undocumented workers are coming from) is PARTIALLY responsible for certain conditions in these countries, that automatically means we should just welcome everyone into our country and cater to them without due reciprocation??</bq> I wholeheartedly agree that other countries are responsible for getting their own shit in order. I also know that there is no way for them to do this as long as we continue to allow our government to exercise undue influence over said countries, to the detriment of our own domestic policy (read: our politicians use foreign policy wins for short-term, election-winning, but ultimately America-screwing gains). <bq>Our fearless leader, Barack [...] Obama, a true American - clearly, is more concerned about his image and legacy abroad than anything else.</bq> There's plenty of blame to go around here, with Clinton having gotten the ball really rolling by working hard to get NAFTA passed and Bush having offered a massive amount of support to Calderon to help him maintain his stranglehold on Mexico and <i>keep</i> that ball rolling. That Obama is gleefully kicking that can down the road and ignoring the core problem comes as a surprise only to those who were naïve enough to believe that it was truly possible to change things with a single election. <bq>[...]you can attest to how Europe sees the US. What the papers say, etc.</bq> That's the thing about American myopia: Europe has too many of its own immigration issues to deal with to waste energy laughing at America's. Also, there's a wee little financial blowback going on here that's distracting us from chuckling over ugly Americans as we munch our croissants and sip our espressos. <bq>So, help me understand how it is ok for our American friend to struggle to make ends meet and live sparingly, but these other gentlemen can walk out of the same grocerly store as if they were feeding a family of 40 having their groceries paid for by our American friend's tax dollars? Do you really think that makes sense and that is acceptable?</bq> Short answer: no, I do not think that that is acceptable. Long(er) answer (of course): We have to be extremely careful about building policy based on anecdotes. Instead, we should try to find out just how effective a program like WIC is, instead of letting our guts decide. That is, assuming that we even think it's beneficial to help the poor at all. Is it possible to eradicate all cheaters from a given system? No, of course not. Everyone has to decide for themselves how much cheating they're willing to put up with in order to help those who they feel truly deserve help. You might say "no one deserves help" or that you aren't willing to put up with any cheating. In that case, you'll be 100% against most social programs. But if that's where you want to be, then you better be honest and open about it. The question you have to ask yourself is: how much of a given program is waste? 5%? 10% 20% 50%? And how much is too much for you? If a program (like WIC) has too much waste, do you just give up and end it and assume that there's no way to run it in a way that has an acceptable level of waste? Or do you try to change it so that it's more to your liking? I understand that nobody likes to think about the big picture when some asshole is wheeling a cart full of food your taxes paid for over to his Chevy Tahoe, but it's our responsibility to keep a clear head and be very sure we actually truly support a given proposal (like ending WIC) before we get dragged in that direction. <h>An Eminently Viable Solution: Militarize the Border</h> Another commenter also offered some interesting insights, so I tried to address those as well (again, that person's comments are interleaved with my own). <bq>You neglected to focus on a very important word, however. Illegal. […]</bq> That's true. I'll try to tackle that below. <bq>My proposal is to truly find a way (military, etc) to secure the borders so people can't sneak in here.</bq> Do you really believe that's possible? We spend quite a bit of money now and the borders are acknowledged to be pretty porous. You'd have to do some working showing using the military could achieve the goal of reducing the number of undocumented workers (ignoring for the moment that deploying military troops domestically is also illegal). The Israelis have done a decent job of controlling border flows, but their country is much smaller and they spend a staggering amount per capita to ensure this (and have a sugar daddy that provides them with funding for this). That's all without considering the human cost of such measures. <bq>As for distracting our blind leader from the real issue, again, I feel it is quite the opposite.</bq> It's not distracting from the real issue, but distracting from viable solutions. Ramping up enforcement is unlikely to reduce the number of undocumented workers to a degree that it would be "solved". Are there other measures that would be more effective and perhaps cost less? There are actually two criminal acts involved in employing undocumented workers: sneaking into the country and hiring people that have snuck into the country. Immigrants---both legal and illegal---come to the states because it's attractive economically (though perhaps less so in recent years). One way to make America less attractive to undocumented workers is to crack down on corporations and individuals that actually hire them. I would argue that increasing enforcement on that end would be more effective than militarizing the souther border. Another possibility is to reduce America's protectionist trade policies and massive subsidies so that neighboring economies are not so severely impacted that their populations feel the need to leave their homes. If we can't see our way to reducing subsidies or tariffs, we could consider providing foreign aid to neighboring countries so that they can combat the ill effects of our other policies. I'm not recommending this, by the way, just noting that it's a possibility. American taxpayers would, in that case, not only subsidize whole industries in America, but also those in neighboring countries. It's entirely possible, however, that even such a stupid policy would <i>still</i> be cheaper than militarizing the border---and more effective. And that's where our principles enter into it. Every person has to decide for themselves what's most important: Reducing the number of undocumented workers? Spending the least amount of money? Protecting American industry? Sticking to an ideology? What if the cheapest, most effective solution reduces the number of undocumented workers, but goes against your deeply held beliefs? Would you be willing to hold your nose and support it anyway? <h>What Problem Are We Trying to Solve?</h> Below are some other notes I took as I thought about the issue more---and discussed it with other people in meatspace (as opposed to cyberspace). Continuing on with other ideas for reducing the number of undocumented workers. If we just throw the doors open to ideas---and assume the tenet that we are not against immigration in principle, but just against illegal immigration---we can eliminate all undocumented workers with an amnesty. Just make all 11 million of them American citizens. Now, sure, some of you just threw up in your mouthes a little bit, but no one said that public policy is easy. The goal is to find out what is so inherently abhorrent about that idea and <i>put it on the table</i>. You can't come to a compromise or find a solution as long as the parties involved continue to hold unspoken beliefs. Another way of reducing the number of undocumented workers is to make it easier to get a residence and/or work permit. Why is that so bad? Because though we support immigration in principle, we actually also hold the implicit belief that we don't want to increase legal immigration in order to reduce illegal immigration. There is also the idea of justice, or fairness: we don't want to implement a policy that rewards people for breaking the law. The important thing is to recognize why we believe things and to assign priorities to these beliefs, so that we can balance them all against each other and support the solution that both offends us the least and also has a prayer of actually addressing the issue. We could also just crank up the ID-checking so that it's everywhere <i>and</i> compliance is mandatory (unlike in the case of the recently passed Arizona law, where compliance is voluntary). In that case, however, we would run afoul of the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, in which case we would have to add civil liberties to the list of things which importance to us we have to consider. Fairness also comes into play here, as does what America is as a country; are we willing to substantially change how America works just to reduce the number of undocumented workers? Are we willing to be the kind of country that throws a Spanish tourist in jail for a night or two because he doesn't speak English and can't show proper identification? These things are very important to some people and you can't just steamroll them and pretend that they aren't. Not being an authoritarian state may not be important to you, but then you'd better be ready to explicitly accept that that belief contributed to your position on the issue, or you're just going to look crazy or evil to some people. You have to ask yourself what you think the goal is. To have as few immigrants as possible? Or to have as few <i>illegal</i> immigrants as possible? To exact maximum punishment for law-breakers as a means of deterrence? To maintain a minimum level of civil rights for all people, not just citizens? Or would an increase in quality-or-life for all involved, citizens and non, be sufficient, regardless of the shape of the solution? Where on the list of priorities does your ideological conviction stand? A recent example of a country grappling with tough issues and trying to change direction is documented in the article, <a href="http://feeds.salon.com/~r/salon/greenwald/~3/uUy88iynaNs/britain" source="Salon.com" author="Glenn Greenwald">The Tory/Lib-Dem Government endorses actual change</a>. The Brits have decided that enough is enough and are scaling back their authoritarianism---exactly because they were no longer willing to allow their fear be the dominating factor in their decision-making. <h>How Much Immigration Does does America Need?</h> In the course of discussing whether to do an amnesty or relax immigration laws, the following question needs to be answered: just how much immigration does America need? Naturally, the next step is to define what we mean by "need". What is economically beneficial? What is socially acceptable? What fits best with our precepts and ideology? If your ideology prevents you from even <i>trying</i> to find a realistic answer to this question, then don't be surprised if you're not taken seriously. One way to determine the number is to look at the number of undocumented workers currently employed and assume that the demand for immigrants is at least that high. Continue this thought experiment and make all of these undocumented workers into American citizens with the stroke of a pen. Raise your hand if you think those people will still have their jobs the next morning---even if they were still willing to do them at their current wages and working conditions (the meatpacking industry comes to mind). Odds are that the companies employing them would drop them like hot potatoes as soon as they no longer had the leverage of being able to call La Migra on them to force those undocumented workers to accept what they are offered in terms of wages and working conditions. A likely result of this chain of events is that those companies would probably spark a new wave of undocumented workers as a result of advertising all of the newly available jobs. So the likely result of an amnesty would be a relatively large group of newly minted unemployed Americans jumping on the already severely distended welfare and unemployment rolls as well as a sudden new influx of undocumented workers. Which is hardly going to end well for anyone and not a desirable solution for any straight-thinking person. <h>The Real Problem in America: Political Morbidity</h> And here we see how logical reasoning brings us back to examining hiring practices of the corporations that hire undocumented workers. Until we address that issue---or dry up the stream of people willing to leave all that they know and love to do jobs no sane American would do---there is no way that the number of undocumented workers will go down. Unfortunately, addressing what seems to be the root cause of this issue will be quite an uphill battle because the companies that are the biggest offenders are also the biggest contributors to the campaign coffers of our heroes in Washington. Which brings us further to the realization that in order to solve anything but the most superficial of our problems and injustices, we have to first fix our hopelessly broken political system. I mentioned how British politics seems to be turning around and responding to the wishes of its populace … and this so soon after we were mocking them for having an unwritten Constitution. Theirs may be unwritten, but it seems to count for more than ours does.