The Scope of the Problem

I’m not an immigration reform activist.  Which is probably good, because Lord knows that if Stephen Fotopolous or John Lamb were publically calling Maury County officials ‘jackasses’ there’d be problems.  Whereas, if I call someone a jackass, it’s just business as usual.

The other is that, for as big a mouth as I have, I really don’t see an easy fix.

Let’s just talk about numbers.  Right now, illegal immigration is a hot-button issue.  Most everyone in the United States is for catching illegal immigrants and sending them home, cost and humanitarian issues be damned. 

Let’s be honest, if ICE went door to door and demanded to see proof of people’s legal status, removed by force the ones who couldn’t, and sent them to Mexico without due process and without regard to whether that’s their country of origin, there’d be wide-spread support for their actions.

ICE has almost unilateral public support for whatever means it wants to use and, seemingly, a public mandate to just get illegals out of here.

There are between 12 and 20 million illegal immigrants here.  According to ICE’s own website, “Since the beginning of FY 2004, ICE has removed more than 400,000 aliens; of those, more than 210,000 had criminal records.” 

Let me run that by you again.  At a time when most of the country supports spending time and resources on removing illegal immigrants from this country, a country which, supposedly has between 12 and 20 million illegal immigrants, ICE can only find 100,000 a year.  Even if we believe the 12 million number, what is 100,000 in the face of 12 million?

How can we then view the strategy of removing illegal immigrants as being successful?

So, maybe we could build a wall between here and Mexico.  But how are you going to build a wall through that?  Or over mountains?  How long is that going to take?  How far out into the oceans are we going to extend it?  How are we going to pay for it?  And what’s to keep people from tunnelling under it or throwing a ladder over it?  Or boating around it?  Alcatraz is a small island where there was a prison and the feds could not keep everyone in the prison who was supposed to be there or out of the prison who wasn’t.

How’s that supposed to work for a whole country?

Maybe we could make things so miserable for people here that they’ll just go home.  Except that, no matter how bad things are here, we don’t have death squads.  We don’t put our academics in helecopters and drop them into the ocean.  People are hungry but few are starving to death.  There is actually work for people.  In other words, let’s take a moment to be thankful that things are not and could not be, without incredible effort, as bad as the places some of these folks have left.

We could demand that people go back to “their” countries and go through legal channels to get here, except that our immigratin system is such a mess that, for most of these people, there are, in effect, no legal means for them to enter the country.  So, again, this is not “reform,” this is just removal.  And, to point you back up this post, we see how well removal is working now.

The Democrats are floating this balloon, again, (see here and here) that the problem is not poor people, who cannot be blaimed for desperately seeking a better life for their families, but corporations who exploit that desperation and use the desperation of many native-born workers to create a climate where the native-born workers believe that the undocumented workers are “stealing their jobs,” (as if these corporations are helpless to hire anyone but undocumented workers) and the cultural hatred and distrust of the undocumented worker becomes so great that the undocumented workers have no allies in the native community to help protect them from exploitation.

This tends to be the position I hold.

I don’t know what a workable solution to the problem is, but I do know that, when I lived in Illinois, Archer Daniels Midland seemed to turn themselves in for hiring undocumented workers just about when it seemed like the Unions had managed to infiltrate and let the workers know that they weren’t being paid what they should be.  And, I heard (and I will make this clear, lawyers among us, that this is a completely unverified claim by the undocumented worker I worked when we worked for a subsidiary of another large multinational corporation whose name rhymes with ‘Baterpillar,’ but she said it about her husband, so I guess she would know) that the Mexicans were put on a plane that day, flown down to Mexico where, when they got off the plane, there was a bus and an ADM HR person and, if they aggreed not to unionize, they could get back on the bus and come home to their families.

This has been fifteen years now, almost (ha, god, yuck) and I’m sure it’s not that way any more.  But I have to tell you, whenever I turn on NPR–my good lefty source for news–and I hear “Sponsored by ADM, Supermarket to the World,” I can’t help but think that I’m not even going to get real, thoughtful, reporting on this issue from NPR.

This seems to me to be the only fair solution–to hold corporations accountable.  Not just for hiring illegal immigrants, though, but for undermining the household economies of working people here and in the homelands of the undocumented workers.

But I’m not dumb.  And, though I can be naive and unrealistic, I don’t see how that can work.  We would all have to set aside our differences and work together, knowing that the corporations might just deem us all as too difficult and pull up stakes and find a more compliant labor force in India or China or Russia.  In other words, even if we all got on the same page, these corporations have enough money to just write another book, one that excludes all of us.

So, what can we do?  I don’t know.  I really don’t.

All I can do, all I know how to do, is to speak out against cruelty and fear-based hatred when I see it, to remind, demand, and cajole folks into remembering that everyone here is a person, with value, and deserves to be treated as such.  There are forces much larger than each of us individually at play here and other people being jostled around by a system they have little say in don’t deserve our contempt, but our compassion as fellow folks getting fucked over.

3 thoughts on “The Scope of the Problem

  1. Yes, according to my friends in ADM land, this is still situation normal.

    IBP also was well-known in my part of Iowa for being the principal employer of coyote recruiters — these under-the-table labor contractors would pack buses and import hundreds of workers at a time to bring them in at “trainee” scale (no benefits, lower wages — which was at the time around $8 an hour). When they were about a week from moving up the pay ladder and receive benefit (or whenever anyone from a union looked their way), someone would drop a dime to INS and IBP never had to take care of the return bus tickets. The coyotes would be there to greet them when they got off the bus to take them right on back…

    If it wasn’t intensely profitable to corporations to have a relatively powerless underclass of undocumented people here, it wouldn’t be happening. It’s just a pity that native-born workers would rather turn on immigrants than on the people who are really fucking them. (But hey, they’ve been taught to privilege race over class from the moment they’ve been born and have been since the 1650s…)

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  3. Corproate America is addicted to illegal immigrants like Americans are addicted to big SUVs. They demand an unending supply of cheap labor. Labor which prefers not to be unionized. Labor which doesn’t demand raises or even benefits.

    We need “work place enforcement”, more than a border fence. The Safe Act was recently introduced in the House and has 122 co-sponsors.

    It would force all employers to verify social security numbers. This would turn off the job magnet for illegal aliens. This would prevent employees from accepting false or duplicate social security cards, for employment..

    Employers will scream, “We don’t have enough workers !” They’re right. They would have enough workers that labored at min. wage or just a little bit more. A real shortage of workers would result in raises. We aren’t seeing raises, so I doubt we have any real labor shortages.

    Illegal workers would be replaced with legal resident, legal immigrants and your typical American. Any shortages could be addressed with some type of visa. Employers ignore the multiple visa programs we already have. They don’t like the paperwork and find it easier to hire (and fire) illegalo aliens. with stolen or false social security numbers.

    Visit NumbersUSA –
    for more details about the SAVE act and send your elected reps. a free fax urging them to co-sponsor the SAVE Act.

    Do it today. Take our country back !

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