Friday, June 08, 2007


I'd like to take a few minutes to talk about the now failed attempt to pass an immigration bill. In many ways, this entire debate has been disingenuous and a symptom of the divisive nature of racial and hate politics in this country.

Let's face a couple of facts -- American business and the consumer public has relied on low wage immigrant labor for decades. Our strawberries, t-shirts, wine, cleaning staff, clerk labor, child care, service staff, just to name a few, are often staffed by cheap, undocumented labor. American consumers benefit from lower prices, business benefits from not providing minimum wages, health care and other benefits.

Immigrant labor is often characterized as a detriment to society, that they take American jobs, diminish American culture, and are a general threat to the country that needs to be addressed immediately. Immigrants are demonized and de-humanized, and anti-immigrant forces would deny basic services to them and their children, such as health care. They are characterized as not paying taxes, and thus should be blocked from participation in our society. Nevermind that they do pay taxes (sales tax) and that consumers and business benefit from lower prices on the backs of cheap labor.

And yet -- how often do we hear calls for the enforcement of existing labor laws against businesses that hire this low cost labor? We don't. If undocumented immigrants were such a "problem", then why don't we punish business for hiring them and reduce the demand for this type of laber? It's an additiction -- the demand for labor exists, so the workers come.

Which brings me to the immigration bill. I've got no illusions about the flaws of the bill - they are many, including the idea of paying back taxes for citizenship, the "merit"-based instead of family based point system, the "touch back" provision, blah, blah, etc. ad nauseam. I'm not even sure what ultimately wound up or didn't wind up in the bill that was actually voted on. I frankly have no idea what the right answer is. But I'm glad they tried - just about anything is better than what we've got now, which exploits cheap labor for our benefit - and that labor must remain in hiding, without basic services and, all the while, living in fear of being deported.

The thing is, the bill was doomed because of a fear of "amnesty", and the idea of letting people stay is not "fair", and that Americans somehow are harmed by the status quo. The entire debate has been characterized with this concept. This is a FALSE debate, in my opinion, designed to demonize a class of people for political gain by (mostly) Republicans. Here's why - WE DON'T NEED A BILL IF YOU REALLY BELIEVE UNDOCUMENTED WORKERS SHOULDN'T BE HERE -- existing laws prohibit employment of "illegal" aliens.

Any bill would necessarily have to address the status of those folks who are here working without permission -- and any modification of the status quo would thus be construed as "amnesty". Support for ANY immigration bill (which I believe is needed) necessarily means that people are going to expressly be permitted to stay in the country and work.

I can only guess there's many who benefit from the status quo. I was actually impressed by the bipartisan effort by the 12 senators to get a bill passed. The motivations of the many Republicans and Democrats (I rarely give equal blame and billing to both parties) who offered up bill killing amendments are impossible to pin down. But the reality is that now we're still at the status quo.


Vigilante said...

I'm glad you posted on this, Schmoggy, because it took some steam out of my misplaced impulse to do so. Nevertheless, I anticipate being drawn into this whirlpool and, if I do succumb to the temptation, I will be immediately over my head. Much safer to see you wrestle with it.

Vigilante said...

BTW, off topic, but I wonder if you, as an attorney, would be amused by this?