Getting Serious About Illegal Labor

It’s a tough choice, but if I had to pick a favorite fire-breathing, immigrant-baiting blowhard, I’d have to go with Lou Dobbs[1]. Why? Because if you can look past the way he sneers the words “illegal aliens”[2] you can find the occasional story that really deserves more attention :

DOBBS: The influx of illegal aliens into this country has reached nothing short of a crisis as we report here almost nightly. Since the federal government has failed absolutely to deal with the issue of illegal immigration and border security, my next guest proposes his own plan to handle what he calls the imminent invasion from Mexico. Robert Vasquez is commissioner of Canyon County, Idaho. He wants to sue the people who hire illegal aliens. That plan would make Canyon County, Idaho, the only local government in this country to use federal racketeering statutes against people who employ illegal aliens.
[. . .]
VASQUEZ: Well, I was listening to your previous segment. I believe that certainly those World Trade Organizations have had some influence in the passage of NAFTA, and certainly in the preparation of CAFTA. It’s merely the establishment of the 21st Century slave trade, as I see it. It affects not only my county, but the United States. And I’m pleased to see that representative Bernie Sanders and others are taking action on that.

DOBBS: Commissioner, the idea that you bring to bear, that is using racketeering statutes, to actually go after the — those firms that hire illegal aliens, how soon can you do what you propose? And precisely what will happen, in your judgment, to those employers?

VASQUEZ: Well, Mr. Dobbs, we’re on a fast track, as I see it. We initiated this action in March. We brought in Howard Foster, who’s an attorney from Johnson Bell. He rendered an opinion letter indicating that we had standing. And from there we’re proceeding with the investigation. When that investigation is concluded, we’ll proceed to the next step, which will involve the filing of a brief — and then possibly the lawsuit to follow.

[. . .]
DOBBS: Well, many farmers, construction companies, in your region tell us that they don’t feel they can survive without that illegal labor. How do you react?

VASQUEZ: Well, if your business depends on breaking the law and the exploitation of labor, then perhaps you don’t need to be in business.

Damn right. Of course, big business loves the invisible hand as long as they’re talking about cutting the costs of environmental and labor regulations, but there always seems to be a “pro-business” politician ready to save the day for a company that can’t survive when they’re forced to obey the law. Economic Darwinism gets about as much respect as the other kind these days….

More to the point, it’s troubling that discussion of immigration issues is dominated by protectionists and xenophobes because there’s a serious problem here that needs to be addressed. Of course, the President proposed his own solution last year :

Allowing undocumented workers, who make up an unknown percentage of the approximately 8 million illegal immigrants now in the United States, to work legally here would benefit all Americans, Bush argued. He said it would make the nation’s borders more secure by allowing officials to focus more on the real threats to the country and would meet U.S. employers’ dire need for workers willing to take the low-wage, low-skill jobs unwanted by many Americans.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m no immigration hawk. The way I see it, somebody who comes to a country where they don’t know the language, lives in an overcrowded apartment with their extended family, and works for next to nothing in a horrible work environment[3] has worked harder to achieve the American dream than I ever have. But at the same time, there does need to be a system in place to keep immigration at a reasonable level and ensure that people who “play by the rules” don’t get screwed.

But that’s not what the President proposed. His plan is just a sneaky attempt to legalize a whole segment of the labor market that should be illegal[4]. Lou Dobb’s guest, on the other hand, understands that when it comes to illegal workers, it’s the employers who are the bad guys here. They’re the ones who have been working around the system of worker protections that have been put in place over last hundred years. The workers themselves are generally making below minimum wage, aren’t getting benefits or overtime pay, work in hazardous environments, aren’t allowed to form a union, etc. These are the crappy jobs the President wants to legalize.

Conservatives love to write these jobs off as “unwanted by many Americans” as if to paint us all as a bunch of sissies who are afraid to get our hands dirty or break a sweat[5] when the reality is that average Americans don’t want these jobs because (a) we’ve got a greater awareness of our rights under the law than most illegal immigrants, (b) since we’re here legally we’re harder to blackmail, and (c) it’s nearly impossible to make a decent living off a low-wage job. Beggars can’t be choosers, after all, and the GOP elite hopes to keep it that way.

If you want to control illegal immigration, an important place to start is in disrupting the basic principle that provides for business demand for cheap, disposable labor with a supply of workers who enter this country illegally. If businesses were forced to adhere to the labor laws that are already on the books, this wouldn’t be a problem. Instead, we’ve got a domino-effect where one employer breaks the law (ie. Wal-Mart) and is able to undercut the competition so much that the business community makes the argument that the need to break the law in order to stay competitive[6].

It’s a bullshit argument, but don’t forget that we’re living in Bizarro world now. The best way to respond to rampant law breaking is to get rid of those pesky laws before they hurt anyone’s feelings. You gotta problem with it? Well, write out your complaint in the memo portion of a check made out to the Republican party and cross your fingers.

1 : Yes, even more than Pat Buchanan.

2 : Which is, admittedly, a very difficult thing to do.

3 : This is a archetypical example, of course.

4 : If this all sounds familiar it’s because I’m plagiarizing myself from this post.

5 : I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again : Republicans are elitists.

6 : It’s this “dire need” to break that law to which the President is so receptive.