Thursday, April 06, 2006

The Interestingly Divisive US Immigration Debate

I've been paying some attention to the US illegal immigration debate that's been going on for the last little while. What I find interesting about it is that it isn't the usual clear-cut Republicans vs. Democrats issue. The Republicans seem to be split between the racist faction of the party and the corporatist faction, with Democrats for some reason feeling like they need to pick one of those two sides or look like wafflers.

Of course the fact that there's an election coming up this year and a clusterfuck of a war in Iraq means Republicans need something else to scare people with, which is probably why this is coming up at all. But I do think it's a legitimate issue. What people often forget about all this is that it's only recently been the case that the US immigration laws have been so universally unenforced.

Cesar Chavez and the old United Farm Workers were very well known for reporting illegal immigrants they suspected were working in the fields. The reason is of course very obvious, they were yet another source of non-union labour that could be used to put the squeeze on pay and working conditions for the rest. This is what's happening now, anyone in the trades in the US is finding it harder and harder to compete in a marketplace and pay their workers proper rates while also paying into their taxes and other benefits.

Any time you increase the supply of labour, and having an entire impoverished country just to your South is a perfect non-finite supply of extra workers, the prevailing wage is going to plunge downwards and hurt everybody. Meanwhile, the status quo is preserved in Mexico because the able-bodied and ambitious members of the lower class (almost everyone in the country) have their aspirations set on leaving the country rather than working for change from within.

When I was in San Francisco I didn't see a single white person in a service industry job, but knowing the cost of living there I knew it was impossible for most of them not to be living somewhere outside of the city and commuting in. There's something very unsettling about having the most livable city in the US being so completely supported by such a visible underclass.

This all seems very obvious, yet I'm reading articles in places like The Nation calling on so-called progressives to take up the mantle of these illegal immigrants and presumably fight for their right to bring down the wages and working conditions of every single American who doesn't live off of dividend income.

The unpaid internships that serve as starting points for employment in most American liberal magazines, ones that can only be filled by kids who's parents can bankroll their apartments in New York City or Chicago while they work for free, almost certainly creates a culture of isolated idealism divorced from the needs of working people. And it seems they've adopted the narrative of economic globalization as being the norm, and forgetting why people formed nation-states in the first place, which was to protect the people in a society from threats which couldn't be handled by individuals. The economic threat of manufacturing jobs flying overseas, and service jobs which have to be done where they are being filled by an inexhaustible pool of cheap labour is a bigger threat than any single other state that the US could face, yet they race to embrace the undoing of their culture from within, thanks to the false idea Americans have that they shouldn't do anything to impede the lifestyles of the super rich because they dream of being one of them some day. The poor white substistence farmer still hasn't learned that siding with the plantation owner isn't doing him any good, despite them having the same skin colour.

The ideas that Jefferson and Franklin seem to be so at odds with the prevailing American mentality that you wonder how they managed to be the ones to get to write the founding document of US governance, probably the only reason the whole experiment didn't immediately fall apart as sono as the last homesteader claimed the final available piece of open land and the country had to become a real economy.

By al - 5:52 p.m. |

You say this issue is only coming up because the Republicans need a smokescreen for Iraq. My reaction is this issue was hot because of the street protests, but then I remembered that they were protesting proposed legislation. This means maybe you're right, the legislation is meant to push buttons and get a reaction, but then I think, isn't GWB a man with a plan on immigration? He's a border state governor (Texas, not his mental state) who was going to get guest worker legislation in America.

So, the question is who proposed the legislation? I think it was Congress, probably some Republican Bush haters, which I think are the racist lot.

Ok, I just went to The Economist online to read who is behind the proposed law.

The Economist says:
"THE Republican Party is currently engaged in a fierce internal debate between two of its body parts—its head and its gut. The party's head tells it that it has no choice but to create a guest-worker programme. How else can it satisfy the ravenous demand for labour from business? And how else can it tempt America's 11m illegal aliens out from the shadows? But the party's gut tells it something completely different—just enforce the law. Build a fence. Arrest scofflaws. Send the bums back."

The article goes on to point out that the head asshole behind the legislation, which includes a fence/wall (AKA Israel, Berlin) is a congressman named Mr. Tancredo.
The final paragraph sums it up...

"But it is a disaster that could get bigger. Mr Tancredo reflects the fears of millions of Americans: that immigrants steal jobs, over-burden public services and increasingly refuse to assimilate. He has a dedicated army of supporters, from Minutemen to America First activists. And he is threatening to run for the presidency in 2008. “Pitchfork” Pat Buchanan demonstrated the strength of the nativist streak in the Republican Party back in 1992, when he won 37% of the vote in the New Hampshire primary against “King George” Bush. Mr Tancredo is showing every sign of becoming the Pitchfork Pat of the current decade."
The US really is in a bind with this. The 'guest worker' idea is exactly what caused the previous rioting in France, a permanent underclass of residents who didn't enjoy the same access to the country's services and civil society as the citizens they worked for. Making this system of economic neear-slavery legal and permanent is also, as I said, a terrible blow to the rights of American workers. Then again, you can't just go and deport 11 million people.

The seemingly most sensible solution would be to make it illegal to employ someone who isn't in teh country legally, if someone can't get a job they'll head back South of the border on their own. The only problem with that is that many of the people who've been in the US for a couple of years have children who, since they were born there, are citizens as much as any other American. Do they get sent back to Mexico as well? Or do they become burdened with the fact that their parents have to sink further into the shadows of the economy and work for even shadier businesses who sneak below the radar of the law?

The reaso nI didn't propose a solution in the post is that there really isn't one. The US has gotten itself addicted to cheap labour (the Economist neglected that very important modifier, either on purpose or out of ignorance, and it's killing them.

Here is Tancredo on

Poor Americans in New Orleans, California, or Detroit have one power: they run the country. If you don't believe me just imagine every minimum wage worker and undocumented worker stopping what they do. No restaurants, stores or trucks being loaded and unloaded and we are all fucked.

Why is there immigrant stress now in America, when the economy is not bad. This is nothing more than fear, misdirected fear of the world outside of America by Americans.
The US economy is doing alright if you measure it by stock market averages, meanwhile real wages have been steadily going down with respect to inflation for the last couple of decates, and this has accelerated in recent years.

I think there is an undercurrent of economic disquiet in the US among ordinary people, and the most obvious plank of it is people seeing their manufacturing jobs shipped overseas and service and construction jobs go to foreigners living in the US. I can't imagine how alienating this would be.

Certainly blaming the worker who's jsut trying as best he can to support himself or his family back home is missing the real villain, the guy who fired you and hired him, but people have a hard time seeing the forest, it seems.
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