Dealing with Immigration in America
April 26, 2006
While the U.S. Supreme Court was hearing a case on April 26, 2006 to decide whether some employers who hire illegal immigrants are in the same criminal class as gangsters, Congress set out once again to try to convince voters it is "doing something" about the illegal immigration problem.
But this issue cannot be debated in a vacuum. The use - and abuse - of undocumented workers is just one component of a deliberate plan by unscrupulous employers, the Bush Administration and Republicans in Congress to systematically dismantle, piece by piece, the American middle class.
Their plan has already forced the lay-off of a large part of our workforce, and is dedicated to destroying all the advantages and progress that labor has worked so hard to achieve over so many years.
The GOP plan
Step One in this bloodletting of our American economy was "outsourcing" U.S. manufacturing and call center jobs, via NAFTA and other trade agreements, handing our jobs to the underpaid and overworked in developing economies, and then profiting handsomely by selling back to us those items and services we used to provide ourselves.
But there are some jobs that can't be outsourced. No worker in Malaysia can make a bed in Colorado, pick tomatoes in Arizona, or lay bricks in Texas. So Step Two is to drive wages in this country artificially low.
Henry Ford often said that he wanted to pay his workers enough so they could afford to buy the cars they were manufacturing. Today, the Wal-Mart theory is to pay employees so little that the only place they can afford to shop is the company store.
Many in Congress are complicit in this, including Maine's Senator Olympia Snowe, who refused to raise the federal minimum wage last fall above $5.15 an hour, at a time when Maine's own minimum wage was $6.50 an hour, and will soon go to $7 an hour.
But even a sub-poverty-level federal minimum wage is not low enough for those dedicated to widening the gap between rich and poor in America. Step Three of their scheme is to create an underground serfdom in this country by importing - "in-sourcing" if you will - illegal immigrants to further depress wages. It's all part of a deliberate race to the bottom.
George Bush condones these law-breaking employers by saying illegal immigrants are taking jobs Americans don't want.
But that's a lie. It's not the hard work that is keeping Americans away from these jobs. It's the low pay, coupled with the lack of benefits in these jobs, including health care benefits.
It's not that Americans don't want these jobs. They simply can't afford to take them.
I understand the people who are coming into this country illegally are looking for the promise of a better life in America, the same promise that has driven immigrants to this country for generations. But, for whatever reason, illegal immigrants have chosen to circumvent our immigration system which welcomes thousands of people each year, a system designed to balance the needs of this country for workers with the desires of immigrants to leave - in many cases flee - their home countries.
That being said, the real criminals in this situation are the employers who willingly violate U.S. labor and tax laws by hiring undocumented workers. These American employers are preying on the immigrants' desperation, greedily gaming our legal, labor, and tax systems which are designed to keep our nation's economy running smoothly and fairly.
Also guilty are those in the administration and the federal government who are allowing this to happen by not implementing reasonable verification systems and refusing to enforce existing laws.
Recent news reports stated that out of 5,800 employees at a raided pallet factory, half of the workers had Social Security numbers that were bogus, were assigned to dead people, or did not match the name assigned to that number. Why did it take a massive raid by the ICE and Homeland Security to uncover this? Why wasn't each non-match at Social Security investigated immediately, with each new payroll hire?
The case heard by the Supreme Court on Wednesday involves lower court findings that a major U.S. corporation, Mohawk Carpet, knowingly hired illegal workers with the express intent to drive down wage rates throughout its production facility, a tactic that labor - especially organized labor - should strongly oppose. The original complaint in this case was brought not by the government, but by plant workers who were victimized by the company policy.
The solutions are obvious and have been proposed before, by me and by others. The difference is that right now Congress and the American public are paying attention. Now is the time to fix this.
Building a wall on our southern border is NOT part of the solution. It would be a huge waste of time and money, the equivalent of trying to make air travel safe by confiscating pen knives from farmers and knitting needles from grandmothers.
First, make the minimum wage a living wage, so tax-paying American workers and legal immigrants whom we have welcomed to this country can afford to take those jobs. Workers deserve a fair day's pay for an honest day's work.
Second, break the link between health care and jobs. The United States of America should join the rest of the industrialized nations of the world and implement a national health care program. With national health care, American businesses will be more competitive with their global counterparts, American workers will be more able to take jobs that they previously had to pass up due to lack of health care benefits, and those with family members on disability or with children on Medicaid would be able to return to the workforce, rather than being forced to reject work so they continue to qualify for life-sustaining government medical programs.
Finally, we must get serious about enforcing our tax and labor laws and about prosecuting those employers who hire undocumented workers.
By making the minimum wage a living wage, implementing a national health care system, enforcing our laws and clamping down on employers who hire undocumented workers, we will not only invigorate our nation's economy, but we will also remove the impetus that is now driving immigrants across the border illegally - the promise of a job in America's underground economy.
Will this happen overnight? Of course not, and certainly not as long as the Republicans are in control of Congress. But even if not overnight, each of these three points - a living wage, national health care, and labor law enforcement - can and must happen if we are to revitalize the working and middle classes in this country.
It is up to the American people to make this happen. It is time for us to take back our country and our economy.
How you vote in the next election will make a difference in what happens next in this country. So pick your candidates carefully. In this coming election, and in every election, vote for the America you want to live - and work - in.