Tuesday, January 29, 2013
Senate hammers out bipartisan path to citizenship for illegals, promises to tighten borders. What could be wrong with that?
Hey look, Congress may be about to do something! Stop the presses! Ring the bells!
A bipartisan group of U.S. Senators has announced a 'tough but fair' path to citizenship for illegals already in this country, a plan that, according to an editorial in this morning's Chicago Sun-Times, accommodates the Republicans' demand to secure "the border against future illegal immigration." Over in the House, former Republican Vice Presidential nominee Paul Ryan has also indicated a willingness to consider immigration reform.
So what could be wrong with this?
Where in these proposals are tough penalties against employers who lure illegals over the border with promises of employment? Where is the enforcement now? Every big company in America has exposure on this, restaurants and banks and hotels and retailers and manufacturers. And, yet, no gringo goes to jail.
Here's how it works in the real world: José sneaks across the border, finding a job at a factory in Iowa, and sends money home to his mother each month. When José's employer is ready to hire, he gets the word to José: We have more jobs coming open. José lets the folks back home in his village know -- and a new northward surge begins.
José and his once and future neighbors make more than they would have made at home -- and the jefe Americano pays them far less than he'd have to pay Americans. El jefe doesn't have to worry about unions or overtime or insurance or anything. If an employee gets out of line, he can cut him loose faster than he can say, "I'm shocked to find you don't have a green card, son."
Meanwhile, our own young people can't find entry level employment because the minimum wage is insufficient to feed a family (which, of course, is true -- but irrelevant when considering the parlous employment prospects of the all-American teenager).
I don't blame José for coming here. José and his fellow villagers are doing what our parents, grandparents or great-grandparents did, and for the same reasons: José wants a better life for himself and his family. His neighbors want the same. So did our ancestors. That's what America is all about, darn it.
I do blame the cynical store owners, restaurant owners, factory owners -- los jefes Americanos -- who flaunt the laws about hiring illegals knowing there's no consequence for their crimes -- and lots of opportunity for profit.
And I blame Congress for not going after the bosses... many of whom are contributing some of their profits back to the politicians who allow them to continue doing what they're doing.
Congress is acting -- if it really does act -- here for the most cynical of reasons: It's all about votes. Republicans are interested in immigration reform all of a sudden because Mitt Romney got so little Hispanic support. He's got Mexican relatives -- but few Hispanic votes. Meanwhile, the Democrats see José and his ilk as Future Democrats of America. Once they tread the 'path to citizenship,' however long, Democrats are betting they'll become a virtually captive constituency, at least in the big cities, just as African-Americans already are.
But neither party wants to upset the corporations that profit from illegals... so here's what's going to happen.
If José registers for citizenship, his boss would have to start paying him minimum wage, paying employment taxes, paying Medicare and Social Security. José may be a great worker, and in some cases it'll work out, but there's probably a good chance he'll get tossed out on his kiester. Not immediately, perhaps, but as soon as possible.
José's kinfolk will get the message: Don't register. And, if they do, well, there's a lot more villages in Mexico. And we'll have a sudden surplus of unskilled Spanish-speaking workers who were making a living, now forced on a path to dependency.
Here's what should happen: José registers, as do all his friends and neighbors from back home now working at the factory. ICE comes in and charges the boss criminally. Faced with jail and the certain loss of his business, the boss suddenly decides that he can keep José et al. on board after all, even when he is forced to pay an appropriate wage. Some bosses do go to jail. Getting a few Forbes 500 CEO's in a perp walk on the evening news will convince their brothers and sisters to take hiring and wage laws seriously.
This is a Main Street issue. Wall Street benefits more from and (carefully removed from direct contact by several layers of subcontractors) treats illegals worse than the small business-owners left on Main Street. Republicans are trying to shed the label of the Stupid Party. But "No Longer the Stupid Party" is not a particularly positive name. As part of a plan to become the Party of Main Street, not the Lackeys of Wall Street, the Republicans should insist on aggressive enforcement of immigration laws -- existing and proposed -- against employers.
That's the way to have real reform. That's the way to help José -- and all the rest of us, too.