The Relative Comment

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illegal immigration, a ramble

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I read this from the editorial board at the NY Times, and it has me frustrated again. TRC has no original ideas on how to resolve the complex immigration issues facing the US, other than to say that laws such as that in Alabama or Arizona are not the answer. The standard to which we should begin this debate, it seems, should be one of human decency and respect, but our laws are to deport. And marrying those concepts is impossible.

The place to start, or one of the places, is to finally put to bed the misconceptions. One of the biggest and most frustrating of which may be the political argument that if state or federal governments can get the illegal immigrants out of the United States, those jobs would be freed up for unemployed Americans. Because illegal immigration represents law-breakers stealing American Jobs. It’s just not true. Most Americans, unemployed or not, don’t want to pick food in the fields.

The Times puts it this way: “For all of the talk about clearing the way for unemployed Americans, there is no evidence that Alabamians in any significant numbers are rushing to fill the gap left by missing farm laborers and other low-wage immigrant workers.”

Here’s a farmer’s take on the same issue:

Tomato farmer Wayne Smith said he has never been able to keep a staff of American workers in his 25 years of farming.
“People in Alabama are not going to do this,” said Smith, who grows about 75 acres of tomatoes in the northeast part of the state. “They’d work one day and then just wouldn’t show up again.”
At his farm, field workers get $2 for every 25-pound box of tomatoes they fill. Skilled pickers can make anywhere from $200 to $300 a day, he said.
A crew of four Hispanics can earn about $150 each by picking 250-300 boxes of tomatoes in a day, said Jerry Spencer, of Grow Alabama, which purchases and sells locally owned produce. A crew of 25 Americans recently picked 200 boxes — giving them each $24 for the day.

This is not to argue that Americans can’t do these jobs, or that they shouldn’t be allowed to work them if they want to. Of course they should. It is just to say: it seems most Americans do not want to do the work that is currently done by illegal labor. Repeatedly, reporting that covers this issue shows that once illegal workers are deported, the jobs gap remains and the costs of lost labor are felt elsewhere.

Perhaps a new economic reality is settling in, and the next decades will be hard, and work will be scarce, and the paradigm towards day-labor will shift. That’s possible. But it isn’t the case right now. We should just stop pretending that the reality is any different than it is.

This is just one problem caused by the immigration debate the US is currently having. There are many, many others, such as: is there any practical way to deport 11 million people? what is the moral responsibility of separating families and care-givers and lovers? what are the costs of deportation to local communities in taxes, real-estate, etc? when did white European immigrants win the right to expel brown-skinned immigrants, not just legally but ethically?

The current immigration debate is based on one idea and one idea only: if you are here illegally, you broke the law, and thus you should be held accountable. That’s true. Unfortunately, this idea creates a bipolar argument: Deport 11 million aliens vs. Amnesty for everyone. Neither of these solutions is likely, preferable, or right.  There are human questions involved in every corner of the immigration conversation, making murky waters of our clearly outlined political arguments.

The costs of laws like that in Alabama or Arizona are too high to pay. TRC, for one doesn’t want to live in a nation where the idea of “show me your papers” becomes the day to day reality for millions of individuals in this country, legal or illegal. It smells of history everyone should want to avoid.


Written by Christopher ZF

November 28, 2011 at 11:04

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