Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Immigrants Out!

I find the attitude to migrants in the US hugely ironic, an irony brought bubbling to the surface by the recent Arizona law that has been cause for loud and prolonged discussion. Arizona complains that Federal border protection has been beefed up in neighboring California and Texas, leaving Arizona squeezed in the middle by a concentrated tide of migrants who see Arizona as more porous by comparison. The state estimates 640,000 of them crossed the border illegally and reside in the Grand Canyon State. In order to do something about this flood Arizona is implementing it's own anti-immigrant measures by empowering local police to take on the immigration duties normally operated by Federal agents. All sorts of constitutional issues have been raised and boycotts are threatened right and left, from both sides of the border. Indeed some local law enforcement agents, notably the Sheriff based in Tucson has said he opposes the law as it will cause migrants to be reluctant to come forward if their status can be reviewed by local officers. Aside from all that I see a shortsightedness on the entire illegal immigrant issue highlighted by the Arizona law.Immigration has always been a schizophrenic issue in the United States, the land that proclaims itself as different and the one land that welcomes industrious arrivals on it's shores. However even the legal migrants have generally received a rather cold shoulder by those already hard at work within the US. It used to be that southern Europeans were the peasants at the bottom of the migrant ladder, typically admitted through Ellis Island and sent to struggle to get a job in the tenements of big cities. These days everyone loves to hate the brown skinned immigrants, the arrivals from south of the Rio Grande, the Spanish speakers who work long and hard and are always accused of bilking the "welfare system" in the US with greater efficiency and rapacity than Goldman Sachs on Wall Street. They are not welcome in Arizona.The trouble is that for all the talk of securing the borders and refusing to consider amnesty for people already here without papers, the truth is we all want and need illegal immigrants even if we don't realise it. As long as they provide cheaper labor than legal US residents the products they produce, vegetables and meats for instance, will not skyrocket in price. Were you to take illegal workers out of the US meatpacking industry and replace them with legal residents the cost of meat would go out of sight. How many people who scream and moan about the "illegals" really take the time to understand the costs of eliminating cheap labor? CBS reported last year that health care costs for illegal immigrants cost one billion dollars- far less cost to the public treasury than the bank bailout at 12 trillion dollars. Yet illegal immigration, which has certain peculiar benefits to the US economy produces far more outrage and public anxiety.

I always supported the 1986 Immigration Control and Reform Act which provided a controversial path to amnesty yet also provided for severe fines for businesses that knowingly hired illegals. So burdensome were these fines that the business leaders, pillars of the community, lobbied to overturn that portion of the bill. And because they had well paid lobbyists no one gets fined regularly anymore for hiring non-US residents. Which is a scandal in light of the appalling levels of unemployment.

As hard as it is to accept, most undocumented migrants come to the US to work, and most have a plan to return home and use their savings to set themselves up in some small business. It is in fact the American Dream in it's purest form. Now that unemployment is stalking the land like a plague the tide of migrants is ebbing as many of them go to try to survive closer to home. Yet the issue, a perennial electoral red herring, continues to cause debate in the US. I say lets only hire US residents, let's enforce all the original 1986 provisions and lets see how low WalMart can keep it's prices. Be prepared to pay for the cost of paying a proper living age. And about time too.


Danette said...

I think "schizophrenic" is exactly the right word to use in describing so many problems in this country-- (coincidently, I used it too in my own blog on the disaster in the gulf) It fits so aptly-- or maybe it is just easier to discuss what is wrong in this country rather than look at the evil that truly lurks below the surface- the reason we DON'T do anything about immigration reform (I mean as you point out, how will Walmart have "falling prices" if they actually have to pay what an item actually costs when it is made honestly paid workers) or about the lack of regulation on the oil industry or coal industry or banking industry or... so I don't know- evil seems harsh but perhaps I am more willing today to call a spade a spade rather than a bent spoon.

Conchscooter said...

Evil? Sure. To know better and not do it seems pretty bad.

Anonymous said...

The author of the following bit of nonsense needs to return to his/her Econ 101 class. "… the truth is we all want and need illegal immigrants even if we don't realise it. As long as they provide cheaper labor than legal US residents the products they produce, vegetables and meats for instance, will not skyrocket in price. Were you to take illegal workers out of the US meatpacking industry and replace them with legal residents the cost of meat would go out of sight."

Look, every business sells its products and services for the MAXIMUM price the market will allow. These businesses make their profits in the difference between their costs (which includes labor as a major component) and for what they can sell their product or service. Businesses love CHEAP LABOR no matter what its source because it INCREASE THEIR PROFITS. CHEAP LABOR never reduces costs to the consumer. Just think about it, why would a business reduce what you're willing to pay for a product or service just because they have figured some way to produce it for less? Why would they take money out of their pocket and give it to you? They don't and they wont.

Labor costs impact the MINIMUM you will pay for a product or service but NEVER the MAXIMUM you will pay. The MAXIMUM you (the market) will pay is the MAXIMUM you are willing and able to pay. The impact on corporations/businesses is that their profits will go down because you are already paying the maximum the market will allow. If costs exceed what the market will pay, then the corporation/business will stop producing that product or services. The example of the meat packing corporations, is a good one. After the Feds raided 6 Swift and Company meatpacking plants and arrested the illegal aliens working there, US citizens and workers authorized to work in the US lined up around the block to fill those jobs. There was no skyrocketing of meat prices. All that happened was that the corporation increased wages for the workers and the corporation's profits decreased.

Conchscooter said...

In theory I agree. We hear the same argument every time raising the minimum wage is proposed: people will be put out of work. The problem as I see it, and I may very well be wrong, is that every excuse is a good excuse to increase prices, lower wages or limit benefits. It's odd but no matter which way the wind blows it blows cold on the workers. So even if costs rise marginally if at all, the play will make it seem as though price rises were inevitable when the illegals were sent packing.