August 1, 2006

Immigration Policy: Cracking Down or Cracking Up?

Our colleague Peter Rousmaniere continues to track the rocky road to a new immigration policy in his invaluable working immigrants blog. He brings our attention to the new federal emphasis on enforcement. The administration is cracking down on employers of illegal immigrants, not just slapping wrists as in the past, but slapping on handcuffs as well.

Julia Preston writes in the New York Times (registration required) that immigration agents went after the Garcia Labor Company, a temporary worker contractor that provides low-wage laborers to businesses from Pennsylvania to Texas. The feds brought a 40-count indictment, part of a new strategy by immigration officials to clamp down on employers of illegal immigrant laborers.

Maximino Garcia, the president of the company, was charged with aiding illegal immigrants and money laundering. If convicted, Mr. Garcia, who pleaded not guilty, could serve 20 years in jail and forfeit his headquarters building and $12 million.

Fear and Loathing Among Immigrants
The new policy is beginning to create an environment of fear in Ohio’s immigrant communities.

“It’s a very uneasy feeling,” said Sister Teresa Ann Wolf, a Roman Catholic nun who works with immigrant workers in Canton, Ohio. “People are afraid to leave the house to go to the store. They are afraid to come to church.”

While the old immigration agency brought just 25 criminal charges against employers in 2002, this year Immigration and Customs Enforcement has already made 445 criminal arrests of employers. Some 2,700 immigrant workers were caught up in those operations, and most were deported.

Hiring illegal immigrants “has been a low-risk, high-reward enterprise,” said Brian M. Moskowitz, the agency’s special agent in charge for Ohio and Michigan. “We want to send the message that your cost of business just went up because you risk your livelihood, your corporate reputation and your personal freedom.” They may well send a message, but are they really proposing a crack down that will encompasses literally millions of people?

The President's Strategy
President Bush is pushing for enforcement in order to pre-empt his party's right wing. He probably still has hopes of developing a more balanced approach, combining a new registration and certification process for illegal immigrants with more robust enforcement. At the moment, however, the policy is dramatically out of balance, emphasizing pure enforcement without offering immigrants any new paths to legitimacy. As a result, more and more immigrant labor will be driven underground. This strategy puts undocumented workers at high risk. Safety standards, already compromised among this population, will erode even further. Wages and benefits will drop and exploitation will increase.

It is neither feasible nor desirable to totally eliminate undocumented workers. Throwing out a few thousand people and locking up a few employers are not going to solve any problems. The big crack down is the symptom of failure: we need these marginalized workers and we need to figure out how to legitimize their role in our economy. For the moment at least, we lack both the will and the compassion to develop a lasting solution.



I understand the compassion many people feel for these undocumented workers, or illegal immigrants (depending on your political view) and I believe it is admirable to want to help these people, however immigration controls are a necessary part of any modern society and necessarily so. A guest worker program would enable foreign workers to find employment in our country and would adress both the need for cheap labor and the problem with undocumented immigrants. A guest worker program and a mechanism by which SOME of the illegal immigrants would be given a path to citizenship would, in my opinion, be a welcome development in our dealing with this national and social issue. Also, one other area where a guest worker program would benefit society would be in reducing the numbers of illegal immigrants who pay exorbitant amounts for people to smuggle them across the border and also in reducing the numbers of those trying to gain entry into the United States by braving the hazards of the southwestern desert.

In your August 1 Blog, an immigration agent said hiring illegal immigrants “has been a low-risk, high-reward enterprise.” Almost correct. Replace the word "enterprise" with the word "crime" and he would be accurate. You also mentioned the need for compassion. The people hiring illegal aliens are not conerned with compassion. It is pure, ruthless bottom line. Too many Americans think of Mexicans as just cheap labor and Mexico as nothing more than a collection of coastal tourist destinations. That is not compassion. It is greed and hedonism. We could show true compassion by refusing to be an escape valve for the incompetence and insensitivity of the power structure in Mexico. True compassion would be helping Mexicans build a decent nation in which to live rather than continuing to be a corruption plagued place dominated by an inflexible socially stratified society divided between the vast needy and a small arrogant self appointed elite. They have to be self appointed because from the outside they certainly haven't done a good job in running things except to enrich themselves. Instead of fueling our own reliance on the misery of people who leave their country just to eat, we could be building schools, infrastructure, and manufacturing facilities South of our border. In addition to compassion, that would also be pragmatism.


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This page contains a single entry by Jon Coppelman published on August 1, 2006 4:07 PM.

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