Saturday, July 10, 2010

More on Immigration


Back to business...

I read a revealing article a couple of days ago in the NYT: " Illegal Workers Swept From Jobs in "Silent Raids" ".

To summarize:

In contrast to the Bush administration, which favored raids by several agents on targeted businesses to round up illegals, the Obama administration is pursuing a policy of "silent raids", where one or two agents audit payrolls and levy fines based on the hiring of illegals. Practices under Bush usually resulted in deportations - under Obama they result in the firing of all illegals working at a given business.

Typically, Republicans have been critical of this new practice, since the end result hasn't produced nearly as many deportations. But that's just politics. According to the article:

"Employers say the audits reach more companies than the work-site roundups of the administration of President George W. Bush. The audits force businesses to fire every suspected illegal immigrant on the payroll— not just those who happened to be on duty at the time of a raid — and make it much harder to hire other unauthorized workers as replacements. Auditing is “a far more effective enforcement tool,” said Mike Gempler, executive director of the Washington Growers League, which includes many worried fruit growers."

Now my point here is not to argue the relative effectiveness of one strategy over the other, but to take a look at what happens in the aftermath of a silent raid. Sorry for the long excerpts, but they are instructive:

"In April, Michel Malecot, the chef of a popular bakery in San Diego, was indicted on 12 criminal counts of harboring illegal immigrants. The government is seeking to seize his bakery. He has pleaded not guilty. In Maryland, the owner of two restaurants, George Anagnostou, pleaded guilty last month to criminal charges of harboring at least 24 illegal immigrants. He agreed to forfeit more than $734,000.

But the firings at Gebbers Farms shocked this village of orchard laborers (population 2,100) by the Columbia River among sere brown foothills in eastern Washington. Six months after the firings, the silence still prevails, with both the company and the illegal immigrants reluctant to discuss them...

"The Gebbers packing house is the center of this company town, amid more than 5,000 acres of well-tended orchards, where the lingua franca is Spanish. Officials said public school enrollment is more than 90 percent Hispanic.

"Throughout last year, ICE (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement) auditors examined forms known as I-9’s, which all new hires in the country must fill out. ICE then advised Gebbers Farms of Social Security and immigration numbers that did not check out with federal databases.

Just before Christmas, managers summoned the workers in groups. In often emotional exchanges, managers immediately fired those without valid documents...

"Many workers lived in houses they rented from the company; they were given three months to move out. In Brewster, truck payments stopped, televisions were returned, mobile homes were sold, mortgages defaulted.

Many immigrants purchased new false documents and went looking for jobs in more distant orchards, former Gebbers Farms workers said. But the word is out among growers in the region to avoid hiring immigrants from the company because ICE knows they are unauthorized...

"After the firings, Gebbers Farms advertised hundreds of jobs for orchard workers. But there were few takers in the state.

“Show me one American —just one — climbing a picker’s ladder,” said MarĂ­a Cervantes, 33, a former Gebbers Farms worker from Mexico who gave her name because she was recently approved as a legal immigrant...

"After completing a federally mandated local labor search, Gebbers Farms applied to the federal guest worker program to import about 1,200 legal temporary workers — most from Mexico. The guest workers, who can stay for up to six months, also included about 300 from Jamaica. (my emphasis)

“They are bringing people from outside,” Ms. Cervantes said, perplexed. “What will happen to those of us who are already here?”

Now let's break this down. ICE raids Gebber Farms, Gebber Farms fires illegals, advertises 1200 job openings, can't find Americans to fill them, and finally has to go to Mexico and Jamaica to bring in "guest workers".

Now this would almost be comical if the results in human terms weren't so tragic. At Gebber Farms at least, the government effectively freed up 1200 of the kind of jobs illegals are always accused of stealing from Americans - but as it turns out, Americans don't want them! So now Gebber Farms is back to square one. Well, maybe not even that - call it square minus one - since even menial jobs like this require some experience - and Gebber is going to have to deal with lower production rates - year after year - as each new batch of guest workers is brought up to speed.

And this makes you think: what exactly is the kind of job an illegal will assume that a typical American will not?

Pay attention here Steve. I'm not going to turn this into some morality piece which contrasts hard working illegals against snobish, pampered citizens. But on the other hand, I do think simple economics is at the core of the issue of illegal immigration. You can talk all you want about building fences, but until you understand and address the economics, you aren't going to ever come up with an effective solution. Let's start with your's...

Let's say that by some amazing miracle, tomorrow we build a bullet proof fence at the border (we both know which one). Then, by some other miracle, 15 million or so illegals voluntarily turn themselves in - to be sent back to their home countries and "the back of the line" of those waiting to immigrate legally. Here's how that conversation goes:

Agent: Great news Joe, we fixed immigration!

Joe: Oh yeah? Tell me more...

Agent: Well, all you have to do now is turn yourself in and we send you back to Mexico.

Joe: Er, how is that different?

Agent: Well Joe they've got a line down there now and you can get in it buddy.

Joe: Sounds great. Say, let me get back with you on that. I've got a cake in the oven...

So now we have our fence and all the illegals have been cleared out. What then? Well if Gebber Farms is any indication, and I believe it is, all those job openings which magically appear are going to go unfilled. And not just because these jobs are defined by hard work and low pay, but because many more like them are seasonal and temporary, with virtually no benefits or opportunity for advancement - in other words, the little cracks and crannies of any job market.

So who wins? Certainly not the guys who lost their jobs at Gebber, or for that matter, Gebber Farms itself. Neither did the American public, which despite record unemployment, can't seem to bring itself to climb a ladder and pick apples.

So to solve the problem - once again, the economic problem, we're going to have to invite 15 million foreign nationals back into the country as "guest workers". That solution by the way has been tried before, and it didn't work.

I come from farming country back in Indiana, where one of the major cash crops has always been tomatoes. Growing up, I can remember picking season, and all the thousands of Mexican "pickers" who came through year after year. You can still drive through some parts of Grant County and see many of the compounds of little 15 or 20 foot square shacks which housed them. Anyway, these picker crews were operated by companies in Mexico who contracted with big farms and followed the harvest across the country, busing workers North and South. Not surprisingly, the labor companies got the biggest share of the money, and life for a picker was incredibly hard. They lived in sub standard housing, sometimes without running water or even electricity. They worked incredibly long hours - sun up til sun down - with few or no breaks. Time after time, year after year, I can remember driving by the fields and seeing them out in the sun, usually with their poor kids playing (or more commonly, picking) at their sides. I guess we became a little desensitized to it - but in retrospect, it really looked no different than cotton fields must have looked like back before the Civil War.

Now I don't think this country has the moral insensitivity to return to that kind of arrangement. So, to maintain the viability of a guest worker program, laws would have to be passed which would ensure clean living conditions, minimum wages and benefits, and access to rudimentary health care. You think I'm kidding? Think it through, Steve. Are you, a relatively staunch conservative, willing to advocate a guest worker program which results in fifteen million foreign laborers being treated as little more than slaves? And even if you are, through some outrageous convolution of morality, how long do you think it would be before such a system would buttress American industry with a more or less permanent class of slaves?

But once again, if you pass the necessary wage, hour and benefit laws regarding a guest worker program, all you are really doing is raising the price of labor - and handicapping it with several obvious disadvantages. Companies like Gebber Farms would probably wind up paying more for less. Less that is, than before the ICE auditors came in and cleaned out the illegals. Let's wrap this up.

Here's a better plan - one by the way which probably has no more chance of getting enacted in today's poisonous political climate than any other rational plan.

Let's say the ICE auditors go to Gebber Farms and identify 1200 illegals on the payroll. Then, instead of being forced to fire them, Gebber is allowed to enroll these people in the sort of path to citizenship envisioned by CIRA. In return for being allowed to become citizens, these people agree to background checks, the economic reality of paying fines (actually, fees) to support the program, back taxes (if any are owed), and a defined probation period during which they pay into funds like Social Security and FICA with graduated vesting.

I think this kind of plan would work. Furthermore, I think Gebber farms and their employees would be all for it. Gebber Farms gets to keep what had become an effective work force and the (now former) illegals get to raise their families in the peaceful pursuit of the American Dream - just like the rest of us.

Oh and by the way, who loses? Certainly not the 1200 non-existent Americans who didn't want the jobs in the first place. Not the local businesses which benefited from sales to a more or less permanent community. And finally, not you or me, who in the long run are going to pay less for apples - if they come from Gebber Farms that is.

Now you can talk about legal principles all you want. But this to me is the issue where the concept of what works and what doesn't is where the real action is. Go - build your fence. And when you're done, come back here and start working on the real problem.




1 comment:

  1. Chris, Chris, Chris...

    What DOESN'T WORK is free, open, and unrestricted (uncontrolled) access to this country by whoever/whenever. Building the fence NOW is not a manpower or employment issue or 'chase the American Dream' issue... It's a SECURITY issue. Sure, it affects the immigration situation, but its MUCH bigger than that.

    Are the real problems in the immigration process? Absolutely. Do we need to work on them? Absolutely. (I've never said otherwise.) But it appears you are falling into the trap of thinking we have to solve the emotional and economic issues all together or not at all. C'mon, man! You can rise above that!

    All I ask is that whatever solution we think "will work" take as a foundational requirement that we give due consideration to The Rule Of Law - specifically, no one who is or has *violated* existing law gets any advantage over those trying to follow the law. Change the law if we must, but the Rule Of Law is a critical foundational principle. And, yes, this won't make it easy to address the emotional and economic issues folks are screaming about, but it *must* be done.

    In closing, is there any 'comprehensive' immigration solution which has ANY HOPE of being successful in the long-term *without* addressing the very real security issue FIRST? *NO!*

    One thing at a time, Chris, one thing at a time.

    - Steve