Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Immigrants: The New Slaves

By the border down Mexico way
We build fences like the Berlin wall
To make it harder to play
The toughest charade of all
Can you crawl despite your thirst?
Can you run despite your fear?
And will the patrol get you first
Or will you make it free and clear?
You may break your heart and die
Or break the law and try
To earn a living in the sun
But either way you’ll fry
And hiding is no fun

The US Senate is considering an amazing bill that would legalize standardized indentured servitude of 13 years for immigrants, where the rights of an immigrant are not only restricted, but where the immigrant would have to pay a penalty while living in the shadows and being forced to work under the table.  It is at once a travesty against humanity and simultaneously a more human alternative than the US House of Representatives that sees immigrants as a privatizing boondoggle for security and construction while forbidding entry to anybody through our south.  It means nothing that our national security threats have been mostly from the north (Canada) or from our airports or the Saudis.  Is this the best of all worlds in the land of opportunity or what?  Will either alternative preserve families?  Well, not exactly.

We hear and read virtually every reason for “sealing our borders,” but the reality is that the only border we focus on is the Mexican border.  There are some real reasons for this, however, are they reasonable?  There are millions from countries south of the United States that have a seriously impoverished class of inhabitants.  They migrate into Mexico and some stay while others continue north into the US.  The migration is a sign of human desperation and because people are desperate, they will take risks that others avoid.  Grinding poverty is an incentive for emigrating.  In 1870s Italy, people starved and the government even assisted people wanting to leave for the US or Argentina.  During the potato famine, the exodus of people from Ireland was a matter of desperate clinging to life.  In some states south of Mexico and in Mexico itself, the differential between rich and poor is sharp and vast.  The problem is economics and the reaction is not only half vast, but strangely targeted.  We will spend far more to seal a border from economic refugees than we might spend to invest in the people facing deprivation and even starvation.  We are soon to spend $46 Billion, by one recent estimate, for construction and high-tech electronic and human detection systems on our southern border.  That level of investment in education and training of our neighbors would pay high dividends and spark internal investment in agriculture and even manufacturing in poor nations.  Actually, 10% of that money expended on sustainable industries could reduce poverty and the need to emigrate.  If we spent the rest on educating and training our own workforce, then high paying jobs could become a reality for thousands or even millions of Americans.  Silicon Valley complains bitterly that we do not educate our citizens for the jobs they have and will have.

If you define slavery as humans being involuntarily exploited, then we are moving at warp speed to that end.  In fact, a Saudi princess just last week was arrested for overt slavery in Irvine, California.  She was placed on $ 5 Million in bail, but now it appears that there may have been 4 slaves in that household alone.  The princess confiscated their passports and required 12-hour days for 7 days each week while paying them only a pittance and not what they contracted for before coming to America.  The de facto slavery is equally onerous and yet it has become so common that we are becoming inured.  Given the relentless threat of disclosure and deportation, when men and women can only work “under the table” where they are usually paid less than minimum wage, they are afraid to complain or to notify authorities.  Strangely, the overt slave in Irvine clutched a pamphlet on worker rights that she had saved from before her travel to the US.  She had that in her hand when she met police.  She was less afraid than the typical immigrant who is forced to live in the shadows.  The conservative House of Representatives wants no part of the “liberal” senate bill.  Their only exception to any bill is to spend more money for privatizing the border security. Strangely, they also attack their hero Ronald Reagan for his “amnesty” for immigrants and they accuse the Senate of the same.

What does the current policy of keeping the status quo or reinforcing the border do?  For one, it maintains a sub minimum wage structure that is akin to black-marketing goods.  It is the black-marketing or gray-marketing labor services.  Have you noticed that the usual entry jobs in fast foods and personal services like landscaping have gone from white teens to older whites and Hispanics?  Is there a restaurant in your area that does not employ Hispanics in the kitchen? Historical protections of labor unions have been systematically removed by “right to work” laws and targeted removal by those such as the Governor of Wisconsin.  Average wages have actually fallen in the past 11 years; in states like Wisconsin, total employment has shrunk even as wages have been forced down.  Wisconsin’s economic activity is on the decline since the election of Scott Walker who has taken his economic lessons from Europe where austerity is king in a post royal era.  Europe and Wisconsin are on the decline.  Ironically, Europeans have gotten tough on immigration, and they are losing the foreign labor they depended upon.

We need to look at all the reasons for immigration and the damage that our current ad hoc cheapening of labor is doing to our economy as well as our social structures.  Farmers are unable to harvest many crops that still use hand labor unless they employ migrant workers, many of whom are undocumented.  Would documentation of working aliens be that difficult?  We could then monitor the working conditions and see that workers are paid and wages are taxed properly.  Instead of building a bigger and better wall, we could have processing centers at the border to match migration to labor needs.  We must have photo ID that identifies the worker, and states the purpose and length of the visa with simplified reporting by scanning ID.  It is feasible and cheaper than building a $46 Billion dollar wall.  Now if the purpose of immigration is to maintain a black-market labor pool to undercut the American worker and destroy unions, then our current non-system is perfect.  The House of Representatives is correct in building walls and privatizing our non-system.  What is wrong with privatizing greed anyway?  The rich will not only get richer, but they will do so faster and with legal protection to create new victims and get cheaper labor.  Maybe Lincoln did not end American slavery, after all; it has simply morphed into a new era of economic immigrants without rights.  Would you like some fries with that?

The Senate legislation deals with the estimated 11 million current undocumented immigrants unrealistically and unreasonably, but at least immigrants are recognized as existing.  That is better than the House that seems to ignore them entirely.  Thirteen years of additional hidden living for our current immigrants is excessive and subject to the whims of future bureaucrats and bigots who will trade rights for votes and onions for apples in future negotiations. Must we force immigrants to live in the shadows?  They feed us in restaurants; care for our children; harvest our crops; landscape our yards and give example for families.  Cannot this be done in three years?  Do we need three presidential elections plus a year to determine their stability here?  Most immigrants pay wage taxes now.  What will forcing fines and longer indenture prove?  They have shown their desire to be Americans by the difficulty of their passage and the sacrifices of their labor.

George Giacoppe
17 July 2013

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