America, I am not the kind of girl who has access to things. I can’t just call up folks and get meetings and stuff so I don’t really know the proper etiquette for what one does when one does.
And yet, because of this blog, sometimes those things are happening. I’m trying not to stumble around town being a dork about it, but I am, so I am, so there you go.
So, yesterday, I got to go to the Scene and play with a baby and talk to Liz Garrigan and then, later, I got to go to this Q&A about Obama with a Democratic Big Wig (or is it a Big Whig? I’m not sure.), thanks to Mack’s willingness to act like we’re in one of those buddy movies where the two main characters get handcuffed together and have to learn to work things out, even as they bicker and argue and run from the cops.
And I heard some stuff, gossip, really, that, if I were a voter here in Tennessee, which I am, I’d want to know and be able to consider as I shaped my thoughts about immigration and where our state is headed.
Here they are, in no particular order.
1. Last year the state passed legislation that fined employers for knowingly hiring undocumented or improperly documented workers. This year, there’s legislation before the state that would make it a felony–for which you could lose your business license–to knowingly hire undocumented or improperly documented workers (note, I have not seen said legislation, but that’s my understanding of how it was explained to me).
2. The rumor is that one of the largest employers in the state had working for them or working for companies that do work for them about 60% undocumented employment. And there were discussions of the amount of work being done at other large corporations by undocumented workers. The questions that were raised, then, were whether anyone thought that the state would be marching over to Memphis or down West End to arrest and charge Presidents and CEOs (and Chancellors) of these large employers and stripping those companies (or universities) of their ability to do business in the state. No one did. So, who would be targeted by the enforcement of this legislation?
That, my fellow Tennesseans, is an important question you need to ask yourselves. (‘ll give you a hint: it rhymes with tmall ruisiness coners.)
3. But let’s say that Tennessee did target one of these corporations for their hiring practices. Say a company sets up in a county with 40,000 people in it and hires (for the sake of my math), 1,000 people.
If we guess that there are roughly 4 people to a household, we know that there are roughly 10,000 households in this county, which means, that roughly one in ten households in that county get a paycheck from that company. On top of that, businesses come to that county to support and supply those people. They need gas stations and grocery stores and Wal-marts and so on, which also employ people. The whole economy becomes dependent on that corporation and their 1,000 jobs.
Let’s say that two-thirds of those 1,000 jobs are held by illegal immigrants–667 jobs. So, the state comes in and ICE comes in and rounds up some of those folks and scares off many of the rest.
Here’s the next two questions you have to ask yourselves: Why would that company stay in Tennessee? And, if the company does leave Tennessee for friendlier confines, what happens to the 332 other people at that corporation and the people who work at the Wal-mart or the grocery store or the teachers whose classes are now half-full?
4. Another widely circulating rumor is that people are just not hiring brown people, rather than go through the hassle of maybe having an illegal immigrant employee, in order to avoid the fines.
5. Everyone was talking about Electrolux. Will they stay in Robertson County? Will they go? What will happen to Robertson County if they lose Electrolux? No one knows for sure what will happen, but everyone I talked to seemed very, very concerned that Electrolux will leave. One doesn’t have to be an astute political observer to know that that would have devastating consequences for that community and Middle Tennessee in general.
I know what I’d like to see–comprehensive immigration reform (so that unskilled laborers can legally enter the country in the numbers needed) and a way to legalize people here (get them visas and such) so that they can work openly where they are needed and, if they choose, can get on the path to citizenship.
And I know that there are folks here in this state who strongly disagree with me about that.
But no matter what happens, this is an enormous problem for our state. It will be an enormous problem if things stay as they are, because we have a large pool of people who can’t be wholly integrated into the community, and who must avoid the police and we have businesses who depend on those people. It will be an enormous problem if we adopt the “just throw them back where they came from and punish the employers” because there are American citizens dependent on those employers and we will lose those jobs when they pull up stakes (not to mention the humanitarian concerns). And it will be an enormous problem if we just fix things here, without doing something about the policies our country carries out in the rest of the hemisphere that drive people to desperation and bring them here in the first place.
So, yeah, it’s a pretty insurmountable problem.
But we have to start some place.