Bell Curve The Law Talking Guy Raised by Republicans U.S. West
Well, he's kind of had it in for me ever since I accidentally ran over his dog. Actually, replace "accidentally" with "repeatedly," and replace "dog" with "son."

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Why There is an Illegal Immigration Problem

The number of illegal immigrants to the USA has soared. Why? The only conclusion is that the GOP wants them here.

In 1999, the Clinton administration issued 417 fines to employers for hiring illegal/undocumented workers. Not a large number, to be sure. But for 2004, the number was just three. The amount of time devote to worksite investigation is about 1/3 of what it was. Worksite arrests in total are down from 2,100 to less than 400. You can check out the GAO report of 8/31/2005 for this information (pp.33-36).

So we have a deliberate effort by the Bush administration to stop enforcing immigration laws against businesses.


US West said...

I have heard this accusation a couple of times. I tend to agree. I just can't figure out how so many people can be walking around illegally. I mean, it seems like every time I turn around, I am having to present and ID or a social security number. Are there really that many fake social security numbers floating around? I know identity theft is up, but I associated that with credit card fraud, not illegal immigration. So maybe I am dumb, but I just do see how it is possible unless a blind eye is being turned.
Wealthy societies get that way through exploitative (slave) labor. Paying people at below the minimum wage, often under the table, without proper working conditions or respect for labor rights is slave labor. It makes us one big sweat shop and it hurts everyone.

Mexico also turns a blind eye because the cash remissions get sent home. Talk about a round about way of letting the U.S. pick up the bill. I keep thinking how humiliating it must be for a country when its own citizens have to leave to survive. But then again, if they really cared, maybe they'd do something useful rather than clinging to their privileges.

That said, however, we could help by putting a stop to farm subsidies. Many farms south of the border produce a lower cost than U.S. farms would if subsidies were to be eliminated. But because of farm protections, many of those south of the border can't compete. Thus, all the shade grown, fair trade coffee purchases you make are undermined by subsidized U.S. farming.

There is much more to illegal immigration than rotten businesses. When you structure your economy so that you depend on cheap labor from abroad, then this is what you get. I don't blame the immigrants, I blame the governments that fail to properly provide for people.

Anonymous said...

We really should talk about farm subsidies more on this blog, because I think a few of us have some very strong opinions on this subject ... 

// posted by Bell Curve

Anonymous said...

We have, a few times. RBR is usually quite eloquent on the subject. 

// posted by US West

Anonymous said...

Farm subsidies are a particular hobby horse of mine. But I'll leave that for another posting.

Here is why I think the Republicans behave the way they do (i.e. advocating restrictions on immigration but then not enforcing them effectively): Key constituencies for the Republicans (especially heavily subsidized agricultural industries) need a cheap labor force to further reduce their production costs. Why the concern with low production costs? Because as US West rightly pointed out, farms in the "developing" world can produce more cheaply. But back to labor costs. It's not just about salary. It's about all kinds of worksite regulations: wages, working hours, safety, etc. Having a workforce that is nominally illegal is the key.

Why? Because our regulatory system is designed around responding to complaints rather than patrolling and looking for violations. When you have a work force that is too scared to go to the local OSHA or EPA inspector, your company can get away with skipping a lot of expensive safety and health stuff. And that's over and above the insurance, wages and other benefits your company can skip.

So what does this add up to? These companies need these workers - so no enforcement. But they also NEED them to have illegal status - so they can be exploited more cheaply. It's a way for these companies to circumvent the market forces that would otherwise drive up the cost of labor in this country. Let the "illegal" immigrants unionize and we won't need to enforce immigration laws in the workplaces!

The number of immigrants doesn't lower wages. Their illegal status does!!!!  

// posted by Raised By Republicans

Dr. Strangelove said...

Illegal immigration is the only misdemeanor for which the punishment is exile.

It is such a cruel punishment. For not having filled out the right paperwork, you can lose your job, your home, and be sent away from your family and loved ones... not to mention the occasional indefinite incarceration. Those conservatives who say "damn straight!" about this policy would think very differently if someone close to them were treated like this.

It is also an unprecedented punishment. Tell me, does the government throw you out of the country if you:
...cheat on your income tax, or fail to file it altogether?
...use a fake ID card at a bar?
...violate traffic rules? without a license? (Do they even impound your car?) to obtain proper building permits?
...knowingly hire illegal aliens? (Now that would be something!)

The punishment for crossing the border without the right permits should be a fine and several months in jail, as the law already provides. (The punishment could be considerably more severe if the offense is compounded by other factors, e.g. the person is a repeat offender, a wanted criminal, etc.)

RxR is right that the existence of an "illegal" class of person under our law gives employers the opportunity to exploit such people. But it is the astounding punishment that gives employers the leverage to do so. (Funny how conservatives want goods and capital to cross the border freely, but not labor. Maybe the motto of the chamber of commerce should be, "divide and conquer.")

Americans did not always see illegal immigration as a form of national trespassing. In fact, there was no such crime for the first half of our republic--and even the INS admits Americans did not question the free and open immigration policies until "economic conditions worsened" in the 1880s. (The INS has brief overview of the history of immigration laws.) Congress only started blocking "those people" from coming here with the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882.

It's time for the xenophobia to stop.

Anonymous said...

Dr.S - surely you realize that if the punishment for illegal immigration were any less than deportation, it would encourage illegal immigration mightily.

The solution to the problem is not to build fences, but to take away the incentive to migrate illegally. That means a crackdown on employers - NOT cruel measures like Prop 187 (barring illegal immigrants from hospitals if they get sick, or barring their innocent children from getting an education). 

// posted by LTG

Anonymous said...

RBR points to something important- the nature of the "regulatory" system. There was a time, back before Reagan, when we actually had real regulatory bodies that sought to protect people. But now not only are we required to "complain" to get action, we have to sue to get recompense, which in effect turns the judiciary into the sole regulatory body.

As with anything, the real issue is never what it seems. Immigration is just the tip of a much bigger iceberg.

Dr. S, I don't think anyone is being "xenophobic" here. Just the opposite. I don't like seeing hard working people being mistreated, period. I agree with LTG because when you abuse the least among you, you will eventually abuse the rest. By allowing businesses to mistreat immigrant workers, illegal or otherwise, we are in effect condoning the treatment. With every $2 head of lettuce we purchase, we condone it. But we also have little choice. That is why I referred to "slavery" above. You cannot as a nation profess to be a "protector" of democracy and human rights while allowing for the exploitation of people at home or building huge fences along borders. But you do have to enforce the laws that you have, and that means those regulations that limit the ability of businesses to hire illegal immigrants.

// posted by USWest

Dr. Strangelove said...

I already explained in detail elsewhere (commenting on an earlier post) that I favor open immigration policies. And I wholeheartedly support strict enforcement of better laws. (In my following un-caveated comments, I know it will probalby sound like I'm leaping off the left ledge... please try to see it as more of an exploration than an assertion.)

LTG says: "Dr.S - surely you realize that if the punishment for illegal immigration were any less than deportation, it would encourage illegal immigration mightily."

I have a few responses.

First: I believe most people have never considered that the punishment for illegal immigration might be excessive... In fact, most people don't even think of deportation as a "punishment" at all. They see it as just keeping out trespassers. They see it as a matter of property rights, not human rights. It's a different perspective, one worth considering.

Second: As for the consequences of reducing the punishment... well, one can always argue that reducing the penalty encourages crime. Yet in a just society, the penalty should still be commensurate with the crime. For example, an Islamist could say, "If the punishment forthievery were any less than chopping off one's hand, it would encourage theft mightily." Perhaps this is quite true... but the punishment seems excessive to us nonetheless. And consider your own words: if fines and jail time are such feeble penalties that they pale in comparison to the threat of deportation... surely that illustrates how deportation is a cruel and unusual punishment?

Third: One could view the twelve million immigrants and their supporters as engaging in massive civil disobedience against unfair laws. If the human cost of these laws can be felt by the average American, our consciences will force us to change the laws. (Even conservatives fight hard to keep their nannies.) That is my hope.

Finally, I think USWest misunderstood me. Nobody on this blog is xenophobic, and I am sorry my comments were unclear. The "xenophobia" I referred to is the notion (often racist, hence the Chinese Exclusion Act reference) that we need to keep "them" out of "our" land. Peple who would never think of stopping a man from Arizona from coming to California to get a job--because that's his right--think it is perfectly acceptable to deny this same right to someone coming from Mexico. Borders should divide lands and governments, not people. I hope someday freedom of movement will be defended as fiercly as any other right.

Dr. Strangelove said...

Let me clarify the last paragraph. Enforcing sanctions against employers, as most of you have discussed, is not xenophobic. I don't mean to say that. What's good for the goose is good for the gander and if we really want to stop immigration, those who lure them here and exploit them are deeply culpable.

And even in principle, we should not have laws that we do not enforce. I would just get rid of the laws.

Anonymous said...

Just to clarify my point: Republicans aren't opposed to the migration of labor. As pointed out in the original posting, their record of enforcement shows they aren't overly concerned with labor migration in of itself. They do however insist that this migration take place beyond the protection of US laws and the Constitution.

They NEED migration. But they don't want to pay fair wages to LEGAL migration. 

// posted by Raised By Republicans

Dr. Strangelove said...

OK, RbR: I understand your point now. You're right. They're OK with migration of labor. Just not really the migration of people... the so-called "guest worker" program is a bad joke, as it treats people like labor without recognizing their families, lives, roots, children...

Anonymous said...

Actaully, Dr. S brings an interesting point to the disucssion, as does RBR in the last posting.

I tend to think, Dr. S., that boarders are really a ficition, a man made convention to control, just like the wrist watch and sundial. It reminds me of that great stand up routine that we have mentioned here many times where the guy says to conquer a place, all you need is a flag. Well, to make a border, all you need is a sign and a fence.
However, people will pass over them one way or another. So why bother stopping it? I am one of those many pepople who has never considered the fairness of the "punishment" for illegal entry. And as you point out, I pretty much took it as natural that you'd send them home. But you are correct, in terms of severity, it is pretty harsh. And it really is futile. So what if you dump somone across the border? He'll just come back. I feel for border patrol. They must feel like Sisyphus. This is why people are calling for a guest worker program of some sort.

And RBR is right, like so many things, migration is ignored. That is a problem for "other people". But for us, it is an "opportunity". 

// posted by USwest

Anonymous said...

Dr.S., I think you've missed the point about the penalty for immigration. The penalty for theft always involves, at least, return of the stolen goods. You don't get to "keep" the fruits of wrongdoing. So if an person could come to the USA illegally and gain the right to live here, just with some "lesser" penalty, it would not work at all. This is not the same as saying that any lesser penalty encourages crime.

Now, I think the problem is really that, after a period of time, it becomes harder to argue for such a penalty. Why? It shouldn't be possible to come here illegally but work, pay taxes, etc. But it is! And since it is possible to do so, millions come here and establish lives here. Then the threat of expulsion after years of being basically tolerated does seem cruel. It's wrong to tolerate a "crime" for years so that the punishment is so much harsher when finally meted out. In legal terms, the issue is called "laches" - after a while, even a person with rights against anotehr will be barred from enforcing those rights if he has waited too long to do so, thus lulling the person into a false sense of security. Laches is an equitable doctrine, meaning it is based on the idea that it's not fair to sleep on your rights and then say "gotcha!" at a time to cause maximum pain. That's how we do immigration law, and it's not right. 

// posted by LTG

Dr. Strangelove said...

LTG: interesting point about Laches. It makes good sense. And it is certainly a much better way to argue in favor of amnesty than what I have heard before! It would make an interesting op-ed piece, LTG.

As for my take on it... please believe me, I fully understand the way deportation is normally viewed--I was, as I said, trying to express a different perspective on it. I stated it better in earlier comments, but let me try again.

With a different interpretation of the balance of sovereignty and human rights, one could view "illegal immigration" as merely the act of crossing a rather arbitrary line without getting the proper permits first. In that case, the crime would neither be stealing nor trespassing, but just a technical violation, like driving without a license or parking in the wrong spot. One does not punish such things with exile.

Some of us feel that (almost fully) open immigration is a human right.

Anonymous said...

It's an interesting thought experiment to consider what our political economy would be like if we granted more or less full citizenship "rights" and responsibilities to all current residents.

We as a country would have to pay social security to a lot of gardners and house keepers. Not to mention sweat shop employees and migrant farm labor. But we would also collect payroll taxes more efficiently and collect income taxes from some of that population as well.

I wonder if it wouldn't end up being a net budgetary gain to just let everyone in and let them be legal. Wouldn't that just be a kick in the pants!?

// posted by Raised By Republicans

Anonymous said...

"We as a country would have to pay social security to a lot of gardners and house keepers."

FYI, at most, the gardeners and housekeepers would receive a 1099 as an independent contractor, just as the legal ones do now. They pay their own social security as self-employed, if they wish (many do so now).  

// posted by Anonymous