Wednesday, June 20, 2007

More on the Latino Peril

Okay, once again I'm going to use this space to ask a stupid question. Why don't the American groups that are vehemently opposed to illegal immigration pressure the maquiladoras to pay higher wages in Mexico? Seriously. It seems like it would have a more profound effect than anything they're arguing for, but the idea doesn't even come up.

What do I mean? Well, I must've read a few dozen websites now for groups that are upset about the ''flood of illegal immigrants from Mexico'' which they believe is going to destroy the culture, swamp our social programs, and ruin Christmas. So, okay, they're upset about illegal immigration. I can understand that... sort of. To be honest, I'm not terribly concerned myself. But, then again, I'm not what you call a 'worrier' usually. I lack the apocalyptic imagination.

However, it seems to me that there are two questions here:

1. Should we do something to stop illegal immigration?

2. Are our solutions to the problem of illegal immigration actually practical?

To put it bluntly, Americans seem to be much more interested in question 1 than question 2, which they seem to think is someone else's problem.

Whenever the issue comes up, someone screams ''Can't you see We have to DO SOMETHING!!'' And then, predictably, someone else says, ''But, they're just coming here to find a better life,'' and then they yell at each other for thirty minutes, or if they're online, for several weeks.

So, let's just agree on question 1- sure, there are all sorts of problems involved with having thousands of undocumented workers coming across the border. I'm not sure that hearing other people speak Spanish is one of them, but let's agree that there are some problems here. Big problems. Okay.

This brings us to the second question, and I'm not convinced that any of the immigration hardliners even care if their solutions are practical or not. They want to build a wall, which should cost trillions of dollars. Theoretically, they're okay with paying higher taxes for their wall. But, who's going to police the wall? Clearly, we need to beef up the border patrol in a huge way, and probably put the war abroad on hold for a while. Okay, so let's do that, and spend a few trillion more dollars for people to hang out watching the wall, or watching cameras pointed at the wall. Now, suppose all of this works at stopping fence jumpers. It still doesn't do anything about the people who cross the border legally but don't leave when they're supposed to. As someone who does cross into the U.S. frequently, I can't see any reason why an illegal immigrant would go to the trouble of jumping the fence in the first place. It's much easier to visit legally and stay.

So, let's be honest, a wall and a beefed up border patrol probably won't make much difference. The trick is finding those people who come legally and stay illegally in this massive country. So, let's throw in more INS cops and raise the price tag even higher. Still think this is all worth it to keep the country safe from landscapers? People say that we also need some sort of worker IDs that can't be faked to make sure our workers are legal. Most employers require ID, but most IDs can be faked. So let's get IDs with holograms or some such shit. And a Worker ID Office, no doubt. Right next to the DMV. So now we add a spiralling government bureaucracy to a price tag which is already in the trillions of dollars. And more cops. And the weird militarizing of sections of the country. Oh and don't forget hindering our own civil rights. And the fact that it won't work. So, the drug war part 2 basically. But, once again, we have to DO SOMETHING!!

Do you see why I wonder if these people have even considered practicality. None of their ideas can pass even the most basic cost-benefit analysis, and so they try to turn the discussion back to question 1. But we have to DO SOMETHING!!

But it seems like there's an obvious reason why I've never had any of the Canucks I know ask me to bring them across the border so they could stay in the states illegally- Canadian jobs pay as much as American jobs. The minimum wage in Mexico is the equivalent of $3.40/day. So, clearly, if we want Mexicans to stop trying to come over here, their wages over there need to improve.

And it's not like we don't have a say in this. We're not talking about El Mariachi Motors here; we're talking about companies like Hasbro, Chrysler, Honda, Bayer, and Xerox. All of which own factories in Mexico that make products for American consumption. So, if these anti-immigration pressure groups are so successful and widespread that they can get immigration bills killed in Congress, why don't they have a single consumer campaign to push up wages at the Maquiladoras, the foreign-owned assembly plants in Mexico? I couldn't find one.

I'm not inclined to just write them off as bigots. Most of them probably aren't. But it's hard not to get the feeling that they just haven't given the matter very much thought. It's someone else's responsibility to actually solve the problem. It's their responsibility to put pressure on Daddy... I mean the government to DO SOMETHING!! So they push for these emotionally-satisfying, but totally worthless measures like 'English Only bills'. Well, and try to keep the discussion on question 1.

Would consumer pressure even work? Might the maquiladores just move to some other country where wages are lower? Possibly. I'm not convinced that they would. But at least talking about the pluses and minuses of various solutions pays some mind to reality instead of simply taking part in therapeutic screaming sessions. At least we would be giving the matter some thought, instead of acting like practical thinking is the responsibility of our elected officials.

I mean, you know, since these anti-immigration people are mostly conservatives anyway, you might think that they would be the ones arguing for using market forces as a solution instead of arguing for growing a massive government bureaucracy. You'd think.


Holly said...

This whole issue was illustrated beautifully by my in-laws, who feel strongly that America should not be packed to the eyes with illegal immigrants, because they're taking something away from "us"... but they don't hesitate to go to Mexico to get their teeth cleaned and their eyeglasses prescribed & made. They see nothing wrong with the maquiladoras because it's just good business sense, to have things made where labor is cheaper. Only, they can't see the good business sense of the folks who are illegally staying in this country.

Why go back to a $2/hour factory job when you can do [whatever thing Americans consider too demeaning and low-paid] here for minimum wage or better?

And also... for a country that spends so much time crowing about how it was built on the backs of wave after wave of glorious immigration... it seems a little hypocritical to suddenly complain that the system works as planned.

In some ways, it looks like Europe is addressing this issue by equalizing many of the factors that make transmigration appealing. The job market is leveling, because it no longer requires special paperwork to travel/work/live in the EU members. Health care is available among all the members, so while there may be some incentive to go to Hungary to get my teeth cleaned, I'm *already living somewhere that will take care of that*. ... and so on. Clearly Europe is not a utopia, but they may be on to something with this equalization business.

Australia and New Zealand (and, I think, very soon the UK) have taken the island nation out, becoming HIGHLY selective in which visas they grant. That works, but isn't practical for the US, unless the US implements a limited, but rigidly enforced standard... English competency and no criminal record? (Hypothetically, these things never work according to plan, and I'm not willing to count on Mexico's criminal justice system to keep real tight records.)

Is there a possibility that what's uncomfortable about immigrants in the U.S. is the sense of discomfort, being surrounded by so many people who are being openly exploited as cheap labor, both here AND in their home towns? That's gotta be awkward at parties.

Rufus said...

I think there was paranoia about every wave of immigration. I always find it amusing to read old newspaper articles about how the Irish are going to destroy America.

Part of the problem is probably also how much the economy has changed in the last few decades. Buffalo, for example, was totally devastated by the removal of the steel industry. It's still a mess in some places. But I think that becoming a post-industrial economy has been tough in a lot of areas. Granted, I've never seen a hispanic in Buffalo. But I assume that there are some places whose social programs are simply overloaded.

I can see where the people in those places would want to do something; I just wish they had some ideas that weren't so counterproductive and irrational. Also, I'm not a big fan of solving every problem by making the government bigger and throwing money at it wildly.