“….Encouraging a rapid increase in the workforce by encouraging companies to hire non-citizens is one of the three most potent tools conservatives since Ronald Reagan have used to convert the American middle class into the American working poor. (The other two are destroying the governmental protections that keep labor unions viable, and ending tariffs while promoting trade deals like NAFTA/WTO/GATT that export manufacturing jobs.)
As David Ricardo pointed out with his “Iron Law of Labor” (published in his 1814 treatise “On Labor”) when labor markets are tight, wages go up. When labor markets are awash in workers willing to work at the bottom of the pay scale, unskilled and semi-skilled wages overall will decrease to what Ricardo referred to as “subsistence” levels. Two years later, in 1816, Ricardo pointed out in his “On Profits” that when the cost of labor goes down, the result usually isn’t a decrease in product prices, but, instead, an increase in corporate and CEO profits. (This is because the marketplace sets prices, but the cost of labor helps set profits. For example, when Nike began manufacturing shoes in Third World countries with labor costs below US labor costs, it didn’t lead to $15 Nikes – their price held, and even increased, because the market would bear it. Instead, that reduction in labor costs led to Nike CEO Phil Knight becoming a multi-billionaire.)
Republicans understand this very, very well, although they never talk about it. Democrats seem not to have read Ricardo, although the average American gets it at a gut level.
Thus, Americans are concerned that a “flood of illegal immigrants” coming primarily across our southern border is, to paraphrase Lou Dobbs, “wiping out the American middle class.” And there is considerable truth to it, as part of the three-part campaign mentioned earlier.
But Dobbs and his fellow Republicans say the solution is to “secure our border” with a fence like that used by East Germany, but that stretches a distance about the same as that from Washington, DC to Chicago. It’ll be a multi-billion-dollar boon to Halliburton and Bechtel, who will undoubtedly get the construction and maintenance contracts, but it won’t stop illegal immigration. (Instead, people will legally come in on tourist and other visas, and not leave when their visas expire.)
The fact is that we had an open border with Mexico for several centuries, and “illegal immigration” was never a serious problem. Before Reagan’s presidency, an estimated million or so people a year came into the US from Mexico – and the same number, more or less, left the US for Mexico at the end of the agricultural harvest season. Very few stayed, because there weren’t jobs for them.
Non-citizens didn’t have access to the non-agricultural US job market, in large part because of the power of US labor unions (before Reagan 25% of the workforce was unionized; today the private workforce is about 7% unionized), and because companies were unwilling to risk having non-tax-deductible labor expenses on their books by hiring undocumented workers without valid Social Security numbers.
But Reagan put an end to that. His 1986 amnesty program, combined with his aggressive war on organized labor (begun in 1981), in effect told both employers and non-citizens that there would be few penalties and many rewards to increasing the US labor pool (and thus driving down wages) with undocumented immigrants. A million people a year continued to come across our southern border, but they stopped returning to Latin America every fall because instead of seasonal work they were able to find permanent jobs.
The magnet drawing them? Illegal Employers.
Yet in the American media, Illegal Employers are almost never mentioned.
Lou Dobbs, the most visible media champion of this issue, always starts his discussion of the issue with a basic syllogism – 1. Our border is porous. 2. People are coming across our porous border and diluting our labor markets, driving down US wages. 3. Therefore we must make the border less porous.
Lou’s syllogism, however, ignores the real problem, the magnet drawing people to risk life and limb to illegally enter this country – Illegal Employers. Our borders have always been porous (and even with a “fence” will still allow through “tourists” by the millions), but we’ve never had a problem like this before.
And it’s not just because poverty has increased in Mexico – today, about half of Mexico lives on less than $2 a day, but 50 years ago half of Mexico also lived on the equivalent of $2 today. Our trade and agricultural policies are harmful to Mexican farmers (and must be changed!), but we were nearly as predatory fifty years ago (remember the rubber and fruit companies, particularly in Central America?).
Yet fifty years ago we didn’t have an “illegal immigration” problem, because back then we didn’t have a conservative “Illegal Employer” problem.
As the Washington Post noted in an article by Hsu and Lydersen on June 19, 2006: “Between 1999 and 2003, work-site enforcement operations were scaled back 95 percent by the Immigration and Naturalization Service, which subsequently was merged into the Homeland Security Department. The number of employers prosecuted for unlawfully employing immigrants dropped from 182 in 1999 to four in 2003, and fines collected declined from $3.6 million to $212,000, according to federal statistics.
“In 1999, the United States initiated fines against 417 companies. In 2004, it issued fine notices to three.”
The hiring crimes of Illegal Employers are being ignored by the law, and rewarded by the economic systems of the nation.
Proof that this simple reality is ignored in our media (much to the delight of Republicans) is everywhere you look. For example, check out a series of national polls on illegal immigration done over the past year at www.pollingreport.com/immigration.htm. A typical poll question is like this one from an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll conducted in June, 2006:
“When it comes to the immigration bill, the Senate and the House of Representatives disagree with one another about what should be done on the issue of illegal immigration. “Many in the House of Representatives favor strengthening security at the borders, including building a seven-hundred-mile fence along the border with Mexico to help keep illegal immigrants from entering the United States, and they favor deporting immigrants who are already in the United States illegally. “Many in the Senate favor strengthening security at the borders, including building a three-hundred-and-seventy-mile fence along the border with Mexico a guest worker program to allow illegal immigrants who have jobs and who have been here for more than two years to remain in the United States. “Which of these approaches would you prefer?” The question: “Or would you prefer companies that employ undocumented workers be severely fined or put out of business?” wasn’t even asked. The word “employer” appears nowhere in any of the questions in that poll. Nor is it in the CBS News immigration poll. Or in the Associated Press immigration poll. Or in the Fox News immigration poll.
Only the CNN poll asked the question: “Would you favor increasing penalties for employers who hire illegal immigrants?” Two-thirds of Americans, of all party affiliations, said, “Yes,” but it went virtually unreported in mainstream media coverage.
“Illegal Immigration” is really about “Illegal Employers.” As long as Democrats argue it on the basis of “illegal immigration” they’ll lose, even when they’re right. Instead, they need to be talking about “Illegal Employers.”
Politically, it’s not a civil rights issue, it’s a jobs issue, as working Americans keep telling pollsters over and over again. “Mass deportations” and “Fences” are hysterics and false choices. Start penalizing “Illegal Employers” and non-citizens without a Social Security number will leave the country on their own. And they won’t have to confront death trying to cross the desert back into Mexico – Mexican citizens can simply walk back into Mexico across the border at any legal border crossing (as about a million did every year for over a century).
Tax law requires that an employer must verify the Social Security number of their employees in order to document, and thus deduct, the expense of their labor. This is a simple task, and some companies, like AMC Theatres, are already doing it. For example, Cameron Barr wrote in The Washington Post on April 30, 2006, that: “At one area multiplex owned by AMC, the Rio 18 in Gaithersburg, 11 employees ‘decided to resign’ this month after they could not rectify discrepancies that arose during the screening, said Melanie Bell, a spokeswoman for AMC Entertainment Inc., which is based in Kansas City, Mo. She said such screening is a routine procedure that the company conducts across the United States.” Not wanting to be an Illegal Employer, the Post noted that AMC “has long submitted lists of its employees’ Social Security numbers to the Social Security Administration for review. If discrepancies arise, she [company spokeswoman Bell] said in an e-mailed response to questions, ‘we require the worker to provide their original Social Security card within 3 days or to immediately contact the local SSA office.’ She said the process is part of payroll tax verification and occurs after hiring.” Easy, simple, cheap, painless. No fence required. No mass deportations necessary. No need for Homeland Security to get involved. When jobs are not available, most undocumented workers will simply leave the country (as they always did before), or begin the normal process to obtain citizenship that millions (including my own sister-in-law – this hits many of us close to home) go through each year…”
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