Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Immigration, like abortion, should be Safe, Legal and RARE

A lot of people these days are considering what to do to help or stem the tide of illegal aliens that cross the U.S./Mexico border every year. These individuals employed in mostly menial labor jobs when they arrive after taking great risk just to get here. Some argue that America could not function without these men and women who work jobs that are, in my eyes, tantamount to slave-labor. I thought we had fought and won a war once upon a time long ago to end the exploitation of minorities. Landscapers, contractors and corporate farms seem to have forgotten who won that war. I used to be an employer of Mexican nationals. I went broke paying $10- $16 an hour while my competitors exploited the same class of individuals at minimum wage. Our current President wants to sanctify this abuse with the new immigration bill now before Congress. This bill would give more legitimacy to those who are forced by the economic tyranny of their country to flee to the only slightly less abusive economic tyranny of this country. It does not do anything to actually help the abused; it just makes it ‘OK’. But is it really OK to take advantage of an entire race of people just because you can? And as we take into America all these millions of unassimilated foreigners will the U.S. become something other than what it is now? You know, kind of like what happened to the Indians? Should America stand by and let this happen? Would it be a bad thing?

In the eyes of those who think migrant workers are a boon, the most important thing is that these people be given the opportunity to live and work in the U.S. These strange bedfellows include greedy American consumers, the corporations that feed their greed, Republicans and a handful of misguided human rights advocates. Greedy American consumers want to continue an injustice that brings them cheap produce. Corporations enjoy exploiting the wage disparity that nets them more money while pleasing the greedy Americans. Republicans think it’s a way to get more votes from a minority blind to the exploitation by trumpeting a few proposals that sound good but just perpetuate the injustice. And as to why some human rights advocates advocate for a subjugated minority to remain a subjugated minority (support the President’s plan) is simply beyond common sense comprehension.

In the eyes of those who think migrant workers are a problem, the serpent has many heads. There are those opponents who remember that this is a democracy and that (occasionally) majority rules. Trouble for them is, Hispanics are rapidly becoming the new prominent minority in this country and if you take the population projections out far enough, presto, white Europeans no longer rule this country. Amexico is born! Opponents also point to public services enjoyed by but allegedly not paid for by illegal aliens and their offspring such as public schools, medical care, food stamps, children’s services and so on. Opponents blame immigrants for drug importation. The trouble with that argument is that if illegal aliens were employed in the drug trade they sure as hell wouldn’t need the near slave-labor jobs they have to take when they arrive. Some opponents are offended by even the existence of bilingual ATM’s, signage and stores with Spanish marquees that leave them baffled as to what they sell because they “no hablo EspaƱol.” I used to be one of those people. Then I went to Europe for a few weeks. I’ve never cursed public bilingual postings of any kind since.

The two main problems are of course wage disparity and assimilation. Wage disparity causes the build up of a large potential pool of eager laborers just on the other side of the border. A failure to assimilate into American culture by those laborers who do cross the border and stay is changing the culture of America on this side of the border.

Wage disparity can be blamed on the past, present and future governments in Mexico. Mexico will always be a poverty ridden nation as long as the wealthy elites hold all the power in Mexico. Mexican government politicians would like to see America take on more of the socio-economic burden they are unwilling to bear in their own country. They have even gone so far as to say Mexican nationals should have an “expectation” of a right to work in the U.S. Until regular Mexicans organize and defeat the paid politicians who see to it that Mexican socio-economic reform remains a dream, wage disparity will always be a problem. Don’t blame American industry for this disparity! Corporate interests all along the southern U.S. pay the least amount of money they can, offer no benefits, no overtime, nothing they are not required by law to provide. If they could eliminate the wage disparity between the U.S. and Mexico by lowering wages, they would! Some American consumers would just die (and we should let them) if farm workers were paid a living wage resulting in them having to pay a few cents more for a loaf of bread or a basket of fruit. They contend that Americans won’t take the low paying jobs that the illegal aliens take. And they’re right. I wouldn’t pick fruit or harvest vegetables for $5 an hour. No one should. When’s the last time one of you 20 something call center pussies who eat junk food and read from a script all day long actually did some manual labor? If you ever did you’d find yourself ashamed of either the $10 an hour you are paid for munching and chatting through a few hours of your day to support yourself, or the $5 an hour paid to good hard working people who labor until their hands bleed 10 hours a day, sacrifice their youth, health and sometimes freedom to support large extended families. Harvesting is hard labor. Citizens of the U.S. who work hard labor jobs like longshoremen, steelworkers and pipe fitters get $15-$20 an hour or more. I’ve had two of those jobs in my life and worked as a farm laborer. Harvesting is more physically demanding then either of those “trades” but because we allow exploitation of an illegal minority we pay those who work the harder job 60%-80% less than those who have a “trade”. Last time I checked with a family farmer friend of mine, he considered his work a “trade.” If harvesting paid $15-$20 an hour you’d find a lot more white folks and powerful labor unions in the fields.

We’ve been screwing the Mexicans for years and their government has been bending them over and handing us the Vaseline for just as long. This sick, twisted, codependent relationship must stop and the only way is for one of us to act like adults and end it. We have all the money and therefore all the power in this relationship so we are the only ones in a position to take meaningful actions to correct it. My suggestions for fixing this complex, intertwined, imbedded and accepted injustice are a lot like tough love.

1) America should make the border of the United States and Mexico impenetrable. An impenetrable border will force everyone’s hand that has an interest in immigrant labor.

2) Institute a Guest Worker program that allows frequent unfettered traceable movement of laborers to and from the markets where their services are desired and construction of Guest Worker processing centers near all crossing points where documented Mexican nationals can walk in with a voucher from an U.S. employer for a guaranteed job with living accommodations in hand and walk out with a work visa from the U.S. in minutes, not months.
3) Temporary repatriation (at least on paper) of all illegal aliens currently living here. People wouldn’t actually have to leave but they would be forced under threat of deportation to produce valid Mexican ID and obtain the same visa available at the processing centers.

4) A publicly financed rail system capable of transporting workers from the Mexican processing centers to the various locations across the country where the jobs are, and then back again to Mexico at the end of the season.
5) Fiscal arrangements between the U.S. and Mexico that compensate America for expenses incurred transporting and tracking Guest workers while they’re here and compensate Mexico for the Social Security payroll taxes collected in the U.S. that Mexicans pay and never see a dime of upon retirement.

6)Complete protection of immigrant laborers under all U.S. labor laws including the right to organize and form unions to enhance their bargaining power with the corporations that now indiscriminately abuse them along with full access to all social services and other amenities any U.S. resident would expect.

If this normalization of labor practices between the U.S. and Mexico can be realized there will be benefits for everyone. Exploitation would vanish. Coyotes would no longer have jobs. Corporations would have to pay wages based on demands of real people protected under law not on the faint pleadings of illegal laborers with no protected rights. Wages would rise for all farm workers. Immigrant laborers would be protected under all U.S. laws and no longer subject to the indiscriminant abuses of corporations that have no fear of retribution for those abuses. Subconscious as well as blatant discrimination would wane over time because derogatory term “illegal” would now be about the actions of the persecutor not the individual being persecuted. In America, being part of the system offers social acceptance; access to public services; legal protection; recourse for abuses; opportunity to petition the government when you want change and more.

Assimilation poses its own set of complicated paradoxes. Failure to assimilate causes a lot of the social and racial tension that exists on this side of the border. I would bet you a million dollars that if every Mexican national that came to America spoke fluent English and consistently drove over the speed limit they wouldn’t even be noticed in American culture. Do we really want or expect Mexicans to assimilate to what are essentially western European standards of culture or do we want them to bring to America new culture that enriches us and makes us stronger through diversity? The answer of course is YES to BOTH. America is built on diversity and a conglomeration of assimilated cultures that make up the “melting pot” culture we enjoy living in today. Mexican nationals who avoid assimilation by living their lives outside the system pick up a heavy burden they can never set down. They must first suffer Mexican exploitation by coyotes to get access to the near slave-labor environment here in America. This is followed by the ridicule of Americans in the form of stares and discrimination when they gather on street corners and labor camps. They are further exploited by American corporations who pay the least they can and treat them however they want to because their lack of legal status prevents them from using labor laws to protect themselves. They must constantly lie about who they are, commit fraud, falsify documents, live in the shadows and must always live in fear of being found out, arrested and deported. This is BULLSHIT! This should not be happening.

Assimilation for Guest Workers would be less critical to those who are worried about the effect on American culture. If you don’t live here or don’t want to live here you would simply participate in the Guest Worker program where assimilation is not expected. Mexicans who do want to take up permanent residence and or citizenship in the U.S. should want to assimilate in the same way as the Italians, Germans, Irish, Vietnamese, Japanese and others. Right now many Mexicans are either resisting assimilation or going through a process of imposed assimilation that is more akin to what Africans and American Indians went through. And it doesn’t seem to be going much better now than it did then.

Assimilation is important to maintaining the "melting pot" culture that has become America. Right now unassimilated illegal aliens are changing America. Do we really want some of the common realities of Mexican life to take root here? Do we want things like bribery of police; passive acceptance of illegal payoffs to government officials: widespread abject poverty; third world quality health services; government condoned air, land and water pollution; contaminated public water; civic disregard for public safety; a crime rate that even the military can’t control; population densities like that of the Gaza Strip; disappearances and murders that are rarely solved and drug wars as common practices here? Don’t Mexicans flee Mexico because all those things are different here? Do we want these aspects of Mexican culture in America? NO! If you want to live here, be prepared to assimilate and leave the negative aspects of your culture behind. Bring to America the flavors of your culture, not its afflictions.

Wage disparity is an injustice and should not be tolerated.
Assimilation for those who want to call themselves Americans should be desired by the individual and expected by society.

I’m sure I have offended almost everyone involved in or who cares about this issue. Good. Maybe you’ll think new thoughts. Maybe you’ll see the other persons point. Maybe you’ll talk to them about what an asshole you think I am. Maybe you’ll have more meaningful discussions of the real issues. Maybe you’ll step out of the covered cages that blind you to the truth if I rattle them this hard.