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Immigration Law: Still a Sham

March 26th, 2006

House Republicans passed H.R. 4437, titled the “Border Protection, Antiterrorism, and Illegal Immigration Control Act of 2005.” This bill is a sham that punishes the wrong people and will do very little to actually stop illegal immigration–instead, it will simply fill up jails with people who are just trying to look for work.

The key to illegal immigration has always been ignored. Politicians–and most people–seem to think that it’s the fault of the aliens coming across the border. They’re to blame, they believe.

Wrong. People streaming over the border is the symptom, not the actual problem. The problem lies with us, not the people starving for work. It’s very simple: aliens would not be entering the country illegally unless there were jobs being offered to them. And that’s where the problem lies. We’re the problem. We’re the ones who create the market. We’re offering the illegals jobs. We’re telling them to come.

A man desperate to find work to feed his family is not, by nature, a criminal. The criminal is the man who does not want to pay a fair wage or pay the requisite taxes that a citizen or legal immigrant would require, so he seeks out undocumented aliens to do the job, knowing it to be illegal.

And yet, we don’t want to admit that we’re the problem. So instead, after inviting illegals to stream over the border, we blame them for a host of problems we ourselves created, and then punish them for crimes which we are ultimately guilty of.

The solution to the problem is simple: stop the Americans who are hiring illegals. If there are no jobs for illegals, the word will get out, and they’ll stop streaming over the border. Read over the new bill. Try to find anywhere that outlines penalties and punishment against those who hire illegals. I couldn’t find it. The bill focuses only on immigrants, not one bit on illegal employers. The bill would make it a felony to cross the border or to help someone crossing the border–but does not strengthen the penalty or enforcement against those who hire illegals.

True, laws exist making it illegal to hire undocumented aliens–but they are rarely enforced. And that’s the dirty little secret: we push to punish the poor and the hungry who want a better life, and let the employers who encourage and exploit these people get away scot-free. In 2004, only three companies were cited for hiring illegal immigrants. (During the Clinton administration, more of an effort was made–417 businesses were cited in 1999, though still a tiny number compared to the total number of violators.) Employers are virtually unpoliced. Fines to employers can be as low as $275 per offense (no jail time), and are often negotiated downward.

Many believe we turn a blind eye on the employers because we need the workers–but that’s not true. We could bring the workers in legally, without too much hassle. But if we did that, then minimum wage laws would apply, and employers would have to pay taxes on the wages–and that’s the key to the whole story. To support these businesses in their desire for a cheap, disposable labor source, we instead heap invective, blame, and punishment on the backs of those who are being taken advantage of. The classic case of “blame the victim,” the high state of the conservative art.

H.R. 4437 will do little or nothing to solve the problem. Employers will still offer the jobs, and people starving for work will still risk all to get it. They’re risking their lives now, why should a felony arrest stop them?

You want to really stop the problem? Enforce the penalties against employers. In fact, make the penalties harsher, and then enforce them to the limit of the law. At the same time, create a guest worker program where aliens can get a work visa cheaply and easily if they have a legal sponsor. Documentation to be carried at all times, in the form of a wallet-sized card made extremely hard to counterfeit.

Employers will try to claim that they were fooled, that they believed the employee was legal. Solution: make it the responsibility of each employer to get the visa and bring the worker in, then send them out when the contract has finished. No more hiring from the back of a truck. The employer would be required to have a paper trail going back to the worker’s entry into the country. The bureaucratic machinery would have to be set up carefully so as to make it cheap and easy to accomplish this. I know it can be done: I am hired on exactly such a visa (in fact, a more elaborate visa), here in Japan. It costs my employer very little time and effort. A similar program in the U.S. would not make it an undue burden even for the lowest of employers.

Any employer caught hiring an illegal the first time would be slapped with a $5000 fine and a stern warning. Second offense: thirty days in jail and a $20,000 fine. Third offense: five years in prison and a $100,000 fine. No exceptions, no excuses. Prison time to apply both to the person doing the immediate hiring and to the owner and/or top officer of the business. (At least one bill in this spirit was introduced in 2005 by two Texas Democrats, but the Republican majority shunted this to a committee where it now languishes.)

But enforcement is key: take the bulk of the force hunting down illegals and set them to hunt down employers. Make it so that an employer hiring an illegal stands a better-than-50% chance of being caught.

Then watch illegal immigration dry up.

President Bush has long called for a guest worker program, and I have actually praised him for it–but only on the condition that he focuses enforcement and punishment on the employer, not the immigrant. Bush has used the issue in his long-standing attempt to draw Hispanic voters over to the Republican Party. Just days before everyone got sidetracked by 9/11, Bush said the following:

The truth of the matter is that if somebody is willing to do jobs others in America aren’t willing to do, we ought to welcome that person to the country, and we ought to make that a legal part of our economy. We ought not to penalize an employer who is trying to get a job done, who hires somebody who is willing to do that kind of work.

Which is why I don’t think the problem will be solved by Bush’s solution–he wants a guest worker program, but will never punish an illegal employer. And that, of course, will make any guest worker program a facade, a sham–illegal employment will still flourish, as will illegal immigration. The only result is that the hypocrisy will escalate to the point where politicians will blame the immigrants even more. They’ll say, “we’re offering them legal work, and still they come in illegally! They could easily get a visa, but they prefer to break our laws!”

When the truth will be that few legitimate visas will be offered (and all will be snapped up quickly), but the bulk of jobs offered to immigrants will continue to be illegal in nature.

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  1. Martin
    March 26th, 2006 at 22:11 | #1

    A reasonable analysis, but you need to take it one step further. First off, let’s get real and acknowledge that the Dems aren’t any better on this issue. Clinton did better on paper, but he didn’t ‘get real’. He couldn’t, because the Dems are also in the pocket of Big Business, a point that tends to get overlooked. They want contributions, so while they are more worker-friendly than the GOP, they can reasonably be counted on to do what business wants so long as it doesn’t piss off some other constituency of theirs. The Dems aren’t going to make a fuss over this. When the Dems were in power pre-1994, the same thing went on. They just didn’t want to spend the political capital to stop it.

    In sum, this is not a partisan issue. Like the ‘War on Drugs’, it’s a ‘doing the right thing’ issue, and neither party wants to do it. Nothing will change until Democrats stop taking big checks from the corporations that (directly or indirectly) benefit from cheap, exploitable labor. Don’t blame the conservatives until you’re ready to point fingers in your own backyard.

  2. Tim Kane
    March 27th, 2006 at 02:51 | #2

    This is perhaps the one area where I disagree with you Luis.

    The sovereignty of the nation has to be protected. I do agree with you that all employers have to be punished and punished severely for any use and encouragement of illegal aliens. I am not against immigration, but it must be legal and it must meet our national needs.

    But the REAL problem is Mexico and central America’s economic and social models. They concentrate wealth and power at the top prohibiting the development of demand and broad based economic growth. I worked a few weeks in the mid 1990s with a guy from a Mexican facility of the company I worked for, he said that Toyota wanted to build a big factory in Mexico. The local authorities showed the land and places to build, Toyota selected one. Then Toyota said, how much do you want us to pay these people. The Government official said, $15. Toyota said, no problem $15/hr is what we are used to paying our employees. The official said, no, $15 a day. You can’t pay people $15 an hour, then everyone might have to pay that much, then where would we be? My answer: the first world.

    I recall back in the 1970s, when I was a kid, I use to cut grass for the peopl across the street and watch their house while they went on vacation. They always went to Spain because it was cheap. Then Spain joined the European Community – and through careful and tight negotiations, the EC forced Spain to adopt Europe’s liberal economic and social models. Within a fortnight Spain went from a third/second world country to a first world country.

    By letting in illegal alliens, any illegal aliens, we incloser, step by step to adopting the social model from where they come from. This plays right into Bush and the Republican’s movement to turn America into a Banana Republic.

    The guest worker program is just an extension of all this. He simply want’s guest workers so that way they can push down American wages without worrying about those immigrants ever being able to vote democrat when they want goods and services from the government. Thats a very very very dangerous move. You shouldn’t back it on any conditions, because you know Bush wants to turn America into a banana republic. You are in the far east, take a gander to the Philipines to see what he wants to do to us. It aint pretty. I wouldn’t give Bush one ounce of consideration on this. He has a $450 billion dollar defense budget, yet he let an army of 3 million unarmed illegal alliens into the United States last year. To me thats treasonous on his part. What’s the defense budget good for if he can’t protect our borders.

    I feel for the plight of the Alliens, but Charity begins at home, we have to make sure that we are looking out for our fellow Americans first. Think of America as a big community – a nation is a community, a very big family. You have to take care of your own first. It’s a matter of who you are in community with. George Bush is community with the Petro-Oligarch world wide, that’s why he can sell out our ports and national security to other nations. But the rest of us live, fight and die with and for each other. We are a community and a family.

    When we allow illegal alliens to work for $15 a day we make it harder for existing American workers to find work for $15 an hour. And without that American’s can feed, clothes, shelter, educate and raise their family in a sane and healthy environment.

    I feel for the plight of the illegal aliens, but my first loyalty and my first concern is to feel for the Plight of the American worker. If illegal aliens aren’t allowed in, then McDonalds might have to pay a guy $10 an hour instead of $5 an hour. Yes my happy meal might go up a buck or two, but that’s not going to keep me from buying my happy meal, and its only social justice.

    I feel for the plight of the illegal alien, but the problem isn’t here, per se. The problem is in the country illegals are coming from. We have to use whatever influence we have over those countries to force them to alter their social models. Europe didn’t allow Spain to enter the EU until Spain fixed its domestic situation first. Once they did that, Spanish people could move freely all over the EU, but you know what, they stayed at home. Bingo, problem solved.

    Since we can’t look for any good policies in the short run, I would suggest that Mexico enter negotiations with the EU to join it under an “associate status”. Europe needs to import low wage workers. Muslims from North Africa can’t except separation of church and state, so they can’t integrate with Europe, better to get Spanish speaking Catholics and Christians from Latin America. Begin negotiations now. In ten years Mexico will be the first world country. In the mean time, America will have had its economic crash from its bloated deficits and Yankees will be flooding across the boarder in the other direction. Mexico will then be the one building the wall to keep us out.

    One things for certain. We have more immigrants now than we ever have had, and that, in conjunction with the concentration of economic and power in the hands of a few and the exporting of manufacturing and outsourcing of technical jobs and the importing of debt threatens to send the American Republic the way of the Roman Empire.

    Remember the Roman Empire was gone for fifty years before most people fully realized it.

    People are sick of what is happening to this country economically. I can guarantee that this is the one area where they can take out there frustrations, and they will. I would be prepared for a most draconian response from the Republicans, because they have been selling out this country from decades now and its reached a crescendo, and its an election year, republicans need to appear like they are doing something for their constituents and their commmunities. After 30 years of undermining the economic security of the American family they have to throw people a bone. This is likely to be it.

    I am sorry for the illegal Aliens. I wish that we helped them to change things at their home, but instead their very presence undermines our situation here. I would love to go to live in Europe, but they won’t let me because I might undermine their social model. So why shouldn’t I allow follow suit. Maybe if we force them to go home they can go back home and start a revolution or something and change things there. And if they do, maybe it will bring similar changes here.

    Simply put, they are here to take an existing American’s rice bowl, and their are willing to do it a cheap price. I for one am sick of this situation. Fight their economic battles there so we don’t have to fight them here.

  3. Luis
    March 27th, 2006 at 08:04 | #3

    When we allow illegal alliens to work for $15 a day we make it harder for existing American workers to find work for $15 an hour. And without that American’s can feed, clothes, shelter, educate and raise their family in a sane and healthy environment.I feel for the plight of the illegal aliens, but my first loyalty and my first concern is to feel for the Plight of the American worker. If illegal aliens aren’t allowed in, then McDonalds might have to pay a guy $10 an hour instead of $5 an hour.

    There are somethings I did not make clear in the post which I also believe…

    I was not saying we should allow in guest workers for just any job, at any wage. I did not make it clear, but by mentioning that illegal employers want to avoid paying legal wages and taxes, that these would be applied to all guest worker jobs. This would mean that instead of being paid $15 a day to do work in a textile shop, they’d get at least minimum wage. If there are current piece-work or field work wage laws that allow an end run around the minimum wage, those should be closed. I have also previously voiced the opinion that the minimum wage should be raised and pegged to automatically rise with inflation, at least.

    I was also making the presumption that usual visa conditions applied–that it would have to be for a job that no American wanted to do. I know this rule is often broken–software companies love to do this, for example–but there could be an added process which could fix this. When a guest worker visa is applied for, one step the employer would have to take would be to advertise for the job locally. If any American qualified to do the job applied, the visa of the guest worker would not be allowed.

    As for paying McDonald’s workers… do illegal immigrants really drag down that wage? I thought that teens and seniors filled those posts quite enough to keep it at the minimum wage.

    I think that if these were enforced, it would work to drive wages upward, not down, and make it harder for employers to replace local workers with people they could pay $15 a day and not pay in to taxes to support infrastructure (education, health care) that these people use.

  4. the exile
    March 28th, 2006 at 06:56 | #4

    Agreed that the American public opinion tide is running against immigrants (pendulum swings and all that). If the economy gets worse, the clamor will become a national hysteria. So progressives need to have some reasonable sounding policies that recognize the problem and offer a solution without demonizing the immigrants. Focussing on real employer sanctions is as good a policy as any. But 2 things need to be kept in mind.

    1. there is still the question of whether or not you amnesty those already here illegally. If you don’t, you destroy lives and break up families. If you do, you face the wrath of the wingnuts.

    2. Paying people decent wages is the right thing to do. But prepare yourself for the inevitable consequences, both good AND bad– food prices WILL skyrocket. And many more businesses will offshore. As night follows day.

    So part of me wonders whether it might not be better to have an intelligent and humane but tough-sounding immigration agenda, hoping that it doesn’t actually get passed.

  5. Luis
    March 28th, 2006 at 07:57 | #5


    1. Immunity has been granted several times before, as I recall, and the politicians who did so survived, I think.

    2. How much will prices “skyrocket”? Most of the prices on items we talk about are inflated far beyond the cost of production–labor costs very little, sometimes a tiny fraction of the retail price. It’s not as if increasing labor costs by 5x will increase the cost of an item 5x. I don’t think you or I could predict how much prices could change, but I doubt it would be more than, say, 10%, unless the companies artificially jack up prices in order to discourage the new policy. Of course, if they did so, then it would demonstrate with incredible clarity exactly which industries were massively violating immigration law and causing the whole problem in the first place–so those industries might instead try to hide the difference…

    As for offshoring, many jobs cannot (like farms), and for those that do–well, if they use illegals to do the jobs here, then what difference could it make to move them offshore, except to save the illegal immigrants the trip over here? They don’t hire Americans and don’t pay payroll taxes anyway, nothing would change except that illegal immigration would drop.

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