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Thursday, June 28, 2007


More immigration

I do not trust that Senate Immigration Bill that was just defeated was ever going to perform as advertised, and some of its provisions looked like real stinkers. As it is, we are not enforcing the laws we have, or are only enforcing them selectively, (a situation ripe for abuse). If the laws we have aren't working, there has to be a better approach than creating a new playground for lawyers.

I've seen a report that Senator Ted Kennedy likened immigration enforcement to "Gestapo tactics". Well, he might not have said it, I haven't been able to confirm it, but Geraldo certainly did. Really! Does anyone take this seriously? Where are the mass arrests of participants in demonstrations? The courts that always deport the accused? The concentration camps? The executions?

Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff has also apparently complained about having to enforce immigration law. He says "when I have agents out hunting illegal lettuce pickers, waiters and housekeepers, they're not chasing drug dealers, criminals and terrorists", and says that lettuce and fruit are not getting picked because he has to enforce the law.

At first, I was pretty warm about this, but as I started looking up the sources, it turns out there's more to this than meets the eye. For one, he says although he doesn't like the laws, he's committed to trying to enforce them anyway.

For another, the kind of enforement he is doing involves hunting down people who have already arrived here and settled, sometimes years after they arrived and established households. To arrest and deport these people looks like piling injustice on top of negligence. I would support a path to citizenship, for those who haven't broken any other laws, though not ahead of those who have obeyed the law. There ought to be prevention before they settle rather than punishment afterward. Although I don't really like the idea of fencing the border...and it's not a complete solution, because fences, real or virtual, can be climbed over, cut through, and burrowed under, I don't see any other way around it. If the US government doesn't want groups such as the Minuteman Project trying to do the Border Patrol's job, they should give the Border Patrol enough men to do it themselves.

There's also a difficulty with enforcing the IRCA That's the law that requires those I-9 forms that every new hire is supposed to fill out. It's supposed to turn farms, hotels, garment factories, and restaurants (as well as all other employers) into INS...excuse me, that's ICE now... agents as well as tax collectors. But of course enforcement isn't a priority. The IRS and SSA bring in revenue. The ICE doesn't.

Many of these immigrants would happily enter legally, but legal immigration is a bureaucratic nightmare that can take years to navigate. The border is so porous that it's easier to just slide across it. What an industrious, reasonably responsible and mostly harmless person can do, drug-dealers, criminals, and terrorists can do even more easily. Then, they just have to hide in the crowd.

Chertoff also said: "if you start paying $1,000 an hour, I'm out there. But there's not going to be a lot of lettuce in the store because I don't intend to buy lettuce at $10,000 a head. So, I mean, these are the laws of economics and the reality",

Neither economics nor real: this is purest hyperbole. No one is going to pay that a hundredth that much, and if they did, it wouldn't cost ten times the hourly rate per head. But perhaps inadvertently, he does point to why Americans aren't thrilled about these kinds of jobs. Agricultural workers and waiters/waitresses are exceptions to the minimum wage laws, they and the housekeepers aren't paid benefits, and none of these kinds of jobs offer much scope for using even a high school education. The conditions documented in "Harvest of Shame" have improved, but not all that much.
I'm not at all impressed by rhetoric that wanting to secure America's borders is racist, because this argument could be just as well be used as a smokescreen for those who want to continue to exploit the underclass.

I don't see any way around the economic pull. As long as wages and working conditions in the United States are better than they are in Mexico, there will be Mexicans wanting to come here, legally or not. Ditto for any other country. About all we can do we can do is channel the flow, by making it harder to enter the US illegally and easier to do legally.

The more I look, the more I think it's not really fair to pick on Chertoff. He didn't make the ineffective and burdensome laws he's saddled with trying to enforce, and he's not the one who's responsible if Immigration and Citizenship Enforcement doesn't get the funding it needs. For both of these, look to Congress.


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