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As Long as We Remember...

August 25, 2005

Can Illegal Immigration Problem Be Solved?

Tony Soltero

The recent flap in Virginia over day laborers congregating at a local 7-11 has triggered the usual overheated rhetoric about legal and illegal immigration, with no shortage of political figures elbowing each other aside in the rush to demagogue, pander, and scapegoat.

The news media has been increasingly focusing on Mexican immigration and border vigilantes in recent weeks, and the periodic clarion calls for "cracking down on illegal immigration" have once again become popular, as our sluggish economy fails to create the jobs needed to keep American citizens employed, feeding a perception that immigrants are crowding out citizens from what jobs are available.

Immigration - legal and illegal - is a vastly more complex matter than the news media presents. And sometimes it's hard to cut through the fog that overwhelms the issue. It's easy for politicians and pundits to take simplistic shortcuts and use the immigration issue to inflame passions.

But there's a problem. None of these politicians can actually do anything about illegal immigration. Not only that; they're not interested in doing so. Just listen to their "solutions" - they're all about tightening the borders, supporting militias, adopting zero-tolerance polices for illegals, stuff like that. It's all about the symptoms, not the underlying causes.

That's OK as far as it goes (though the vigilante groups are ridiculously over the top). But there's nary a word about what is probably the most prudent way to stop illegal immigration - crack down on those who employ them.

Not only is it easier and more cost-effective to inspect a relatively small handful of businesses than it is to constantly sweep hundreds of thousands of square miles of southwestern desert, but going hard after the employers removes the incentive for immigrants to sneak illegally into our country.

Mexicans, Guatemalans, and others risk their lives and limbs to come into America for a reason - and that reason is jobs. That there are desperate immigrants, who prefer to die in the desert than to continue to try to subsist in their homelands, is a damning indictment of the social and economic organization of Latin American countries. That said, the law is the law; there are legal channels for immigration available, and any individual who tries to take extra-legal shortcuts should expect to be deported.

But that doesn't preclude going full-tilt after the employers of illegal immigrants.

Why is there resistance to taking this approach?

Well, for these employers, illegal immigrants are a major cash cow. It's a limitless labor pool that will work for virtually nothing, with no benefits. It's a workforce of non-citizens with no legal rights under American law, and who can be easily deported should they make a fuss. It's a docile group of employees that lives in constant fear of being discovered and deported - a club the employers wield with extreme effectiveness.

If your flock of illegals does happen to get deported, that's not much of a problem - you just wait for the next wave to come in, and simply keep on going as before. This situation will continue as long as there's no political will to punish businesses who hire illegals.

And, of course, many of these employers of illegals are major Republican contributors. The GOP isn't going to upset that applecart.

The Republicans have signaled that they intend to make immigrants the Scapegoats of Choice for 2006, just like gay people filled that role in 2004.

So, as they do with so many other things, our Republican-dominated government will pretend to attack the problem, when, in reality, all they do is attack the symptom in a visible way, going after those who have the least amount of power.

They'll tighten the borders. They'll stage occasional well-publicized raids on illegals. They'll cite statistics proving the "effectiveness" of the crackdown. But they won't do anything to the employers - just slap a few token fines here and there, while looking the other way as the revolving door continues to turn.

And there is hardly any mention of the single best long-term approach to put an end to this problem - improving living standards in Mexico and Central America. It's been over a decade since NAFTA was implemented, and the agreement has done diddly to make life more bearable for the Mexican laborer.

Now we've added CAFTA to the pile of economic treaties that look good on paper but will accomplish very little to improve the lot of the average wage-earner in Central America. Look for an even more massive exodus to the north.

So the next time you hear a politician - of either party - thump his chest about "getting tough on illegal immigrants," you might want to make take note and see if he is equally enthusiastic about cracking down on those who hire these illegals.

Because, until the employers are dealt with, no anti-illegal-immigration policy is worth taking seriously.

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