Sarah and Gwen: the Two-Headed Monster

This blog is about everything involving Lexington, KY or anything else we feel like yapping about.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Illegal Immigration is a Question of Supply and Demand

I have been reluctant to enter the discussion on the status of illegal Mexican immigrants. I don't believe building a wall across our southern border is a solution. Do we simply accept the influx of illegals until the standard of living between Mexico and the United States equalizes? If so, we are in a downward spiral that will rob the nation of the benefits Mexicans are coming here to gain. Must we impoverish the United States before we find a solution? I don't think Americans will stand for seeing their way of life evaporate. Somewhere in between these - "THE WALL", and bankrupt social services - is a breakpoint. Many of the Border States are reaching that breakpoint, and demanding we, as a nation, do something, anything, to stop the strain illegal immigration is placing on their resources. The problem is one of supply and demand. Mexico has a large supply of hungry young people willing to risk everything for the chance of a better life. The U.S. has a large supply of greedy citizens eager to line their pockets by hiring illegals at below minimum wage. It is not a new problem.

For instance, as an Irish-American, I am well aware of how many of the Irish were refused entry into the United States. Some of the rejected Irish came through Canada, entering illegally and working jobs that most Americans wouldn't consider at the wage offered. They worked under conditions that were near slavery, and in some instances worse (slaves were considered valuable property; the Irish were not). Without those immigrants, Chicago might still have standing swamps. The canals would not have been built, coal and steel production would have dropped substantially, and Kentucky's miles of stacked stone walls would not exist. The Irish worked, and often died, in the coal mines and mud pits. As a result, their children and their children's children grew up as citizens. Generations of Irish contributed a lot to the fabric of the nation. We are still here and still productive.

With the Mexicans, the problem is not with the people involved or with their value to our society. Nobody questions the fact that Mexican workers are doing jobs that are difficult, dangerous, and poorly paid. They share the dream of a better life, the same that brought most of our own families to America. They work in much the same way that our families worked to give us the lives we enjoy. I am sure the Mexican illegals, their children, and their children's children will continue to be productive members of society. I am also sure they are being as exploited as previous immigrant groups.

They are also being used by businesses to exploit the legal workers. Those of us who are workers, instead of business owners, also face the problem of having employers use illegal workers to avoid paying fair wages, to cut benefits, and push familes closer to the poverty level. There is no question that illegal, undocumented workers keep wages down for all of us.

So what do we do? I cannot fault the Mexican worker who is facing enormous dangers to try to provide a better life for his family. I cannot fault the American worker who does not want to be forced to compete with labor that will sleep in shacks or truck beds to make $50 picking oranges for twelve hours. Because the Mexican worker is underpaid and undocumented, he has no benefits. He cannot afford to pay for his healthcare, for the education of his children, or any of the other services he uses. The state growing the oranges he picks cannot afford to pay those benefits for him, and those unwilling to pay a living wage are likewise unwilling to pay to keep him alive.

The illegal immigrant is expendable; thousands of others are just across the border willing to take his place. Poverty is a powerful motivation. Laws, no matter how well intentioned, will not stop this problem until we address the issue at its root. The fault is clearly at the door of those who hire illegals instead of paying the wages necessary to keep documented workers. We cannot stop the flood across the border until we stop the demand for them here. The Bush administration is not helping with the current plan. It has done nothing to dry up demand. Bush's waiving of minimum wage laws for the rebuilding of New Orleans added encouragement to the practice of hiring illegals.

Forget "THE WALL", people, and turn your attention to the demand end of the problem.


Anonymous bt in ky said...

gwen has hit the nail squarely on the head. the rhetorical question "what do we do with the 12 million undocumented workers that are already here?" is a setup, a distraction, a misdirection. the response is that we don't need to do anything with them. we need to go after those who exploit these workers, period. they are breaking the law by hiring undocumented workers at below the legal wage, and depressing wages & benefits for all low/unskilled workers.

4:27 PM  

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