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Monday, April 10, 2006

Illegal Immigrants: Just another unit of economic measure

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Tribune
April 10, 2006

Long ago, that supposed "giant sucking sound" of American jobs heading south to Mexico began to be muffled by a stampede of illegal immigrants coming north to grab away more U.S. jobs.

Now, if you're of a free-market mind, you might think that this is just ducky. Just as goods, services and capital should flow freely across borders to allow the market to work its magic, so should people. After all, isn't a person just another unit of economic measure, and if illegal immigration depresses the living wages of Americans and legal immigrants, well, it all works out for the higher good of economic efficiency.

As callous and daffy as this sounds, some posturing politicians actually believe it. Or act like they believe it. They don't see much difference between a person as a unit of economic activity and a person as a human being. They talk about the "collapse" of the American economy that would follow if we turned off the ready supply of cheap units of labor. Americans, they argue, would never tolerate a better paid, domestic and legal workforce to pick their veggies or mow their lawns because they would have to pay a few dollars more.

We should be scandalized. Arguing that economic necessity demands that we have a ready supply of cheap, exploited labor sounds like something that apologists for slavery would say. Yet, the argument has been so shamelessly expounded by liberals and conservatives that I've come to worry about the state of our national soul.

Think about it: Under the mislabeled "guest worker" program, official government policy actually would endorse and enable the exploitation of human beings. Years of struggle to make the workplace more humane--the minimum wage, no child labor, work-week standards, health requirements and so forth--would be diluted.

The majority of Americans know what this is about, and it's why they strongly oppose having immigration "reform" shoved down their throats by President Bush and Congress. "Reform" is really about special interests. Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, put it well when he laid this outrage at the feet of Big Business, Big Politics, Big Labor, Big Media and Big Academia. Big Business for bigger profits. Big Politics to demagogue some votes from a growing segment of the population. Big Labor to bag more dues-paying members. Big Media because, well, that's what the media do. And Big Academia because its elites know what's good for the average American mope.

Krikorian also threw in Big Church, referring to clergy and laity angered by the possibility that their acts of charity, such as feeding, clothing and hiding illegal immigrants, would become a serious crime. I somewhat agree; it's too much like criminalizing the Sermon on the Mount. Yet, the faithful also should ask themselves if the kind of servitude they are abetting conforms to church teachings about social justice.

You'd think that the Kennedys, Durbins and Obamas would be furious at this betrayal of their party's historic principles. They aren't. So, irony of ironies, it is up to conservatives such as me to remind them of it. Not that I expect it to make any difference.

It won't, because Washington creatures are hellbent on feathering their political nests and doing big favors for their friends in business, labor and elsewhere. Never mind that the pols know that they are engaged in a charade by passing a joke of an unenforceable law. Ask yourself: If you have been here illegally for years, would you turn yourself in for some vague promise that some day you might get a chance to become legal? Why bother? Why trouble yourself with paying fines and back taxes, patiently standing in long lines waiting for a bureaucratic stamp of approval, suffering background checks and learning English--all to get something that you already have? You know it and the hypocritical pols know it: It won't work. It's worse than doing nothing at all.

We know so because it didn't work 20 years ago when the government offered amnesty to about 3 million illegal immigrants, at a cost to taxpayers of billions of dollars, only to have a fraction of those eligible apply. It was such a disaster that another 9 million or so have arrived and stayed illegally since this last "solution."

At this pace, in 10 years we'll be asking what to do about the 24 million people here illegally.

4 comments:

Lois Roewade said...

Dennis,
Your article assumes that all illegal people are here for the sole purpose of making money. You have totally ignored the hundreds of thousands of people who come to the United States for the American Dream...who want the same thing for their families that I want: political freedom, good education, job security, ability to rise above your born-into economic/social class. You fail to acknowledge the hundreds of thousands of illegal immirgrants that DO study to become fluent in our language,that DO continue their high school or college education here, that DO pay taxes that DO work hard to pass the citizenship test, that DO want to become contributing, voter-registration card carrying members of our nation, that DO hang the American flag next to their country's banner...that have come here not just to send money back to Mexico but to build a life for themselves and their children in a country that they love and respect. Let's reward them, not punish them, for these values that we all cherish.
Lois Roewade
Evanston, IL

Chris Cooper said...

Dear Mr. Byrne,

Yours' is the first voice I have heard challenging our apparent ready accpetance of "cheap labor". You are dead-on. We should be scandalized.

Must we make "Grapes of Wrath" required reading for all our Senators and Representatives? Whether the person is an "Okie" or a Mexican - people need work that provides security for them and theirs. This is probably the main reason people come to America. As Americans, we should not exploit this need for wages as the means to reduce our costs of living.

Thank you for your fine piece.

Publius said...

I too thought it was a well though out and articulate piece. I applaud you for your writing and convictions. But, I also agree with Lois, people do come here for the American Dream; in fact the U.S. allows more legal immigration than every other country in the world combined to enjoy that American Dream. But, as an event like Hurricane Katrina showed, there are still millions of actual Americans who have yet to achieve the American Dream. Lois, what say you allow Americans a chance before you open the flood gates to the rest of the world?

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