Mar 30, 2006

Immigration: We Wanted a Labor Force, But Human Beings Came

When the Law Doesn't Reflect Reality

Many arguments aren’t always being debated on their merits; people try to rationalize a position they've taken already often regardless of the fact.

Diversion, trickery, and intellectual dishonesty are tools for those who don't care to have an open discussion. Their mind is religiously set on a position, (however they frame the issue), and what evidence falls outside this frame is discarded.

I think this is the case with the immigration discussion—if you call it that—we’re having today. No one would admit to being xenophobic, not outright anyway, but, if you carefully dissect their arguments and further examine their political affiliations then their xenophobia becomes more obvious.


Most of the arguments today aren’t new at all. They’ve been re-circulated every so often since the 1800s. Terrorism, is the new factor, but, heck, preventing terrorists from entering our country has little to do with a sane immigration policy. All the terrorists involved in the 9-11 attacks, (and a couple others arrested), came into this country legally; they didn’t risk the arduous trek most illegal immigrants take. Like the broken immigration system, our intelligence agencies couldn't put all the available evidence together to prevent the 9-11 terrorist attacks. [The would-be highjackers had been spotted, several times, but no action was taken because nobody connected the dots].

Plainly put, it's a matter of being smart and efficient with our laws & tools at our disposal; and when those laws or methods don't work, we should revise them rationally not out of fear. Fear is not a good adviser in making prudent decisions. But, as the 9-11 tragedy and the failed Iraq war have proven, people who aren't honest with the facts are doomed to failure!

We’re not having an honest debate, and, from what I’ve seen thus far, I don’t like the proposed legislation. Therefore, I’m in favor of failure! This Congress can’t pass meaningful and appropriate legislation to tackle the immigration issue, so it’s better that we wait a bit longer. Perhaps the Democrats will re-gain control of the House and may come up with a more sensible proposal next year. This kind of legislation isn’t revisited often, so if we get something bad now, it will stay on the books for a very long time. It's a tough pill to swallow for those who are caught in the insanity of the present system, but half measures aren't prudent right now.

The xenophobes point to the non-English ancestry immigrants as groups that resist integration, politically and culturally. I don't buy this, but even if this were so, what’s the harm? Having enclaves with different-looking and speaking people? So what? It has always been the case in our history; when adult immigrants make a transition from one country to another. It’s hard to master a language when you’re older, work very hard to make a living, and have little time for leisure.

And yet, immigrants do make the effort to learn English and fit it. There are long waiting lists for second-language programs. We know that by the third (if not the second) generation, there's a rapid change and integration in the greater society . It’s a fact that the children of the immigrants throughout (our American experience) have assimilated well and have had a faster socio-economic mobility than the older groups!

The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Immigration, Arlen Specter (R-PA), is the son of two immigrants! [his mother came from Russia and his father from eastern Europe]. I'm sure his parents weren't fluent (if at all) English speakers. Within one generation, this household produced a US Senator!

All immigrants realize the benefits from being fully integrated in the society at-large. It just takes some time for it to happen.
While they're trying to achieve their American Dream, they contribute in many ways, and as a group are much less likely to be a "public charge" than other "native" groups.

Patriotism? The vast majority of people who come to this country are no less patriotic than the rest. Have you seen how many non-citizens have served and died in our wars? They’re “green card” holders fighting for a country where they cannot vote in. Do you pay attention to the names of those killed in Iraq every day? Do you recognize how many have Latino and Asian surnames? They are the sons & daughters of relatively recent immigrants if not immigrants themselves. We know immigrants pick our produce, serve us food, and clean our bathrooms, but they also risk their lives for America.

The Cons and Faux News have been saying, “gut welfare” to eliminate the “freeloading illegals”! Whatever. Sometimes their arguments are so ridiculous that don't merit a response. Welfare and abuse isn't a trait of the immigrants. As for wasting money, sure, let's try to do this. Where's the abuse and by whom?

The problem is how we spend our money. It's a matter of priorities and of ..impressions. It also depends where you look or where you don't. People can easily see the drunkard who loiters around the neighborhood while he receives food stamps, health care benefits, and whatever else from society. Ah, that’s why we need to pull the safety net, they say. Let's get real here. Abuse occurs, and the system is far from perfect. We have to compare the cost to the benefits and not destroy social programs but reform them.

What's hard to see, and harder to make an immediate connection with, is how the system gives a lot more to those who have lots already. Tax heavens, no-bid huge contracts, favorable laws & regulations, and so forth, are all part of a skewed economic system that favors the wealthy and whereas the gap between the elites and the rest has taken obscene proportions.

Yeah, but if we were to eliminate the essential education and health care for the immigrants and their children we'd help balance the budget, some argue. Education is the key to a better society. Those who stick around, legally or illegally, do better themselves and the whole country benefits too. Not to mention that an educated person is less likely to contribute to crime--and we pay for it dearly.

Surely, it's a matter of priorities. Hey, look over there: we’ve committed to spending almost a trillion dollars (and countless human lives) because it seemed like a good idea to be a “war president” and “bring freedom & democracy to the world.” Besides, they knew that there would be a transfer of wealth during the war [guess which way?] while the costs of this ill-thought exercise wouldn’t be proportionally shared by all. Some even spoke of patriotism while their fat corporations had a fax machine as "headquarters" off-shore to avoid paying taxes! [bonus question: What's an "American" company based in the Bahamas that recently got a multi-billion dollar no-bid contract from the Dept of Homeland Security? Clue: For the answer, contact the Repub. leaders in Congress who didn't allow discussion on the subject, despite objections from members of both parties.]

I remember, not so long ago we were being bombarded with the slogan “a culture of life”! I remember, I didn’t like their definition, nor did I trust the people who were promoting it. They never explained if this culture of life would be ..funded. You’re on your own, more or less, because they don’t believe in a state that can play a positive role in truly enhancing the quality of life when it matters. Again, it's a matter of priorities, and the responsibility is a two-way street.

The immigration reality presents us with a challenge, but if we have to make tough choices, we must be honest and discuss the facts, not peddle superstition, or allow to be deceived by illusions and false premises. Columnist Paul Krugman of the NY Times brought up some “uncomfortable facts about immigration” [3/27/06] He argues that the low-skill immigrants threaten to unravel the safety net of our social net—which, he acknowledges, is full of holes. He says, “basic decency requires that we provide immigrants, once they’re here,” with all sorts of benefits. Yet, several sources reveal that illegal immigrants pay about
$8-9 billion every year for Medicare and Social Security taxes. Where's this money, year after year?

But they broke the law! Well, yes, but the punishment should fit the crime. The vast majority of them have lived responsible & productive lives within the law since their original trespass. Any illegal can’t afford to be apprehended for any serious legal violation because this would result in deportation. Most, some 70%, have been in the country more than 5 years! These immigrants come here because they need a job, want to improve their lot, and reunite with family members. Most have been exploited by American employers.

We have already given amnesty to all those American businesses that have benefited from this hard-working & underpaid labor pool. The plain truth is that a great number of the immigrants are essentially citizens already. We have to recognize this fact. The test of citizenship is, in my estimate, more than a formal exam in civics--an exam that most "bona-fide" Americans would fail. It's a rational and an emotional decision to be an American. Once the decision is made, then you measure the commitment and the contributions the individual makes to his adoptive country.


The law itself is not very rational in my estimate. It’s a failed law. It’s not a good law. Let me give you another example: Millions of Americans buy drugs from Canada because they can’t afford to buy them here. The health care/Medicare system is a mess. Yes, there are laws, some passed in the last 2-3 years. Well, be honest, if you needed a prescription drug for your health and couldn't get it here (for whatever reason), you’d buy it from abroad even if this meant that you’d be breaking the law!

As a country that needs immigrants, for their labor and for their varied contributions, we have to treat them as human beings and bring them from the underground into the light of respect and legal status.

We've been chasing the exploited but not the exploiters. If there are jobs not being filled by Americans then we should welcome those who can do them, and we do it in such a way as not to create a labor underclass. The employers have benefited by keeping wages low, because the illegals can't ask for more. Of course, there are some Americans who don't want to discuss the facts because they prefer the present situation to a sensible reform. Giving rights and being fair to a whole new class of people will also impact our way of life. I think for the better, but not everybody agrees with me.

The price for reform maybe too high for some Americans if they have to pay higher prices for produce, to have their lawns mowed, and go without the maid one day of the week. But then if we start on the reform path, we may have to deal with human trafficking & sexual trade/exploitation going on in our country today--another facet of our broken immigration law that deters these people from coming forward if they're illegally here.


Keeping people in the shadow of the law and in the underground may seem like a good idea to those who aren't willing to face reality or put some effort in dealing with a serious problem.

15 comments:

Kelly said...

My parents came from overseas and from the moment they arrived they became Americans. They didn't stop loving the old country, but having given the oppurtinity to start a new life here, made them fervent patriots. It's what you feel that makes you identify with a country. It's amazing to me that despite the hardships and the discrimination our parents (most immigrants) faced, they became true Americans.

Thanks for the good points you've made and for focusing on the humane aspect of the issue.

Anonymous said...

Although I understand that we can't allow everybody in, we need immigration reform. The cons want the marketplace to decide almost everything. How about this issue? If there are jobs to be filled, then bring in those who want to work, but not keep them illegal so the employers can have a deep labor pool to draw from and keep wages down!

Anderson said...

Most illegal immigrants have lived here for many, many years. They ARE Americans already.

Rumbux said...

In your earlier post you said that we'd need new blood to bolster the Social Security as the ratio of workers to retirees is shrinking. Although the SS should have a huge surplus the money has been "borrowed" by the government for other needs... like war and tax breaks for the rich, the fact is that the pay-as-you-go system is in danger of going broke.

Shhh, don't tell people that by legalizing those immigrants their fruits & vegies will cost more, and their maids... omigod!

no dogs & Irish allowed said...

What a great example of the situation when a law contradicts reality.... The millions of Americans who are forced to buy prescription drugs from Canada... an illegal activity!!!!!

Anonymous said...

Randi Rhodes had a good segment today on immigration. Many of the talking heads don't know what they're talking about, and many of them aren't nice at all. Yes, it is about being nice and decent. How can they say, we don't care, they broke the law they should be deported?!!! All of our parents (except the native American Indians) came over, changed the rules of immigration, brought in by force slaves, exploited every minority group, etc.... Come on, we need some sensitivity here. America has benefited by immigration while it has treated the poor and the hungry with disdain.

maiden said...

Illegal aliens have paid a high price already. Can you imagine how it is to constantly look over your shoulder? Many try to raise families while being exploited by employers, while may not be able to obtain a driver licence, not complain to the police if beaten up, raped, or abused? If going through all of this doesn't make them leave, they most likely don't have a better choice anyway. I don't know but I don't like seeing people kept illegal for the benefit of employers and American consumers.

Every person who works and doens't engage in criminal acts is also a consumer and a contributor to society in many ways. The take up jobs and they generate jobs by spending their money. In those sectors that there is plenty of labor supply no employer should hire illegals to keep his wages down and make more profit. If there aren't people who want to, say, pick fruits and meatpack, then bring in immigrants, legally.

samantha said...

I also think there shouldn't be any bad law now under present conditions. The House version of the immigration bill is atrocious, so much that any compromise in conference committee with the Senate version will not result in anything good.

The "nativists" use firebombs to participate in this important dialogue. In addition to fear, they try to excite their conservative base by being against "amnesty for the lawbreakers." We've already given amnesty to the American employers who have benefitted from hard working and inexpensive labor force. We've already gotten paid from the illegals in the tune of $9 billion a year. Because this money can't be traced back to individuals it has padded the public coffers without ever have to be paid as retirement benefits. By making people legal, the contributions will definitely increase too.

Amnesty isn't a bad word to me. If can remedy a problem. Some of the proposals mentioned would never bring out of the underground the 9 million illegal immigrants because there would be no real incentives for them to do so. They are here, they're integrated (as most have been here for over 5 years) and won't leave. They are everywhere and behave just like any other citizen. They are citizens in practice but not technically. We have to acknowledge this fact and recognize them as such. What is the true test of citizenship anyway???!!!!

Before you answer, think how many Americans would pass that test today...

Geeshus said...

Many of those South of the Border immigrants are also very religious, no surprise that the Catholic Church is delighted to have them as Church attendance has dropped. In NYC the Archdiocese just announced that it will close 41 parishes & schools.

elizabeth said...

Andros- you are a godsent! Thank you for talking about this!

The reason people don't come here legally is because THEY CAN'T! Your drugs-from-Canada analogy is an excellent one. The system of processing potantial immigrants and issuing visas and greencards is archaic! Navigating the USCIS requires either a healthy knowledge of the laws or enough money to pay for a lawyer who does. Making more laws will NOT make the system better, easier or more efficient. It's too complicated already! The issue at hand is not "creating a path to citizenship," the real problem is the legal code. There are paths, they are just too covered in brambles to follow. The expenses involved are tremendous and the built in contradictions are frustrating ad nauseum. The laws need to be streamlined, not added to! As you suggested, it would be better to leave the laws alone, until next year when there are (hopefully) more reasonable and humane people in congress.
Thank you for your insights!

Andros said...

A most excellent point Elizabeth: that the legal way is like descending into the abyss, swim in the dark for a very long time while holding your breath.... Not practical. The legal code & the bureaucracy must change.

I know people who have had a good chance of getting their papers but they preferred to remain illegal either because they didn't have the money to pursue this for many years and/or thought it'd expose them to the danger of deportation. Likewise, any proposal that doesn't include immediate permanent residency & a SECURE path to citizenship will NOT bring out the majority of the 12 million illegal immigrants--most of which are already "citizens" [as Samantha pointed out--read her comment above].

Amigo said...

This is an interesting poll I came across, regarding the attitudes of immigrants and US citizenship.

ghassan karam said...

Andros,
It seems to me that your post fails to make an important distinction between immigration policy in general and the fate of the 11-12 million that are already in the US. Suppose the US decides to naturalize the whole 11 million tomorrow then what? Unless we deal with the issue of immigration honestly we will have to revisit the problem of the undocumented periodically. The same reasons that make capital flow to where it is most productive apply to labour, humans will always seek a place that offers a better opportunity and that above all is less corrupt and respects their human rights more than the place that they are at.
Ultimately the solution is clear, political borders are ficticous in the first place and should go the way of the do-do bird. Is such a solution realistic? The unfortunate answer is in the negative. Societies that are at the same level of development can erase the borders without creating a major flow in either capital or human resources, a good example is the EU and US-Canada. It is not clear though that benefits to some will outweigh losses to others if residents of a large less developed area are allowed to move into a smaller and a more developed area. The North needs to work much harder in order to bring about a much more equitable global distribution of income. But none of this will happen as long as we look at the mission of hastening economic development and eliminating poverty as charitable work instead of the fulfillment of the rights of the underprivileged.

What to do meanwhile? Sadly, I do not see a meaningful solution. The US has to deal with the human problem that the 11 million undocumented workers pose by offering them the opportunity to aquire the US citizenship but the same problem will haunt us every decade or so unless we can help improve substantially the living conditions in Mexico.

Andros said...

GK,

I didn't think immigration policy and the fate of the 12 million undocumented immigrants are two separate issues in the sense of reforming a failed system. They're here & undocumented because of a failed policy. We want them here to do certain jobs with less wages, but we are not ready to be honest and recognize them. And, when we given them a legal path, we make it so long and expensive that deters most people from applying. I'm amazed that no one is talking about the AMNESTY we've already given to those Americans & American businesses that have benefited from this labor pool.

As you say, people will flow like capital to places for the best return possible. But, again, WE skew the game here by being hypocritical with our immigration policies.

I often ponder about "reality"... You say, "political borders are ficticious" and should disappear. If enough people believe in having those borders stay put, then those people live in a certain "reality" or, they create their own reality and act based on it. Like the 44% of American who believe that Jesus will return to Earth in their lifetime! Likewise if you believe in the end of times and Rapture is around the corner! YOU may not believe it, but if a critical mass believes it, it affects public policy and forges a sense of identity. I ask you, why haven't these borders disappeared?

I agree that the socio-economic conditions in Mexico should be improved and this would make the US much less attractive for emigration. But, the world isn't moving at the same pace, nor humanity is willing to share the resources available more equitably. Worse, I don't think the gap between the rich & the poor is shrinking. Humans today live in different ..centuries!

On a humanitarian level, most "illegals" have lived in the US for many, many years, so essentially they're part of the country even if their first language isn't English (as all the non-British immigrants that came before them). We can't send them back, nor should we keep them in the shadows, and thus maintain a bad status quo. Yes, if we don't fix our immigration system in a few years we'll have another 12 million undocumented workers. Any possitive change begins with open, honest debate, and with an open mind. I just don't see this happening right now.

Often it's very hard to convince people of the necessity to do something for a long term solution/gain, because they only see what's infront of their nose. Education is one example--spend now, see the benefits later.

Thanks for your input.

Inheriting Syria said...

I think that the poor immigrants that come to America give more power to the poor Americans, so for that reason I support the immigrants that are NOT convicted felons. I say jail the immigrants that are felons and those that hire those felons.

Most of all I say, “Power to the poor.”

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