Immigration Corrupts

Those, like me, who want tighter border enforcement and other measures to reduce illegal immigration like to point out that the immigrants are illegal. Such disregard for the law is not good, we constantly remind each other.

While this is absolutely true, what we often forget is that we're all part of the problem. People come to the U.S. seeking jobs because we want cheap labor. We want inexpensive gardeners, cooks, and housekeepers. The economy responds to this demand by attracting people who are willing to work at relatively low wages. We don't see what happens beneath the surface.

This article expresses the point well. You must read it. The author tells the story of his daughter going to work in a popular restaurant with many Latino employees.

One evening, my daughter noticed two new Latinos quietly eating in the kitchen. She asked a co-worker who they were, and he said he had just watched them being “delivered.” He had been having a smoke on the back steps a few minutes earlier when a truck drove up, pulling behind it a sedan. A man got out, went to the car, opened the back door, pulled back a blanket, and two men, who had been lying covered up in the backseat, got out. One of the restaurant’s owners came out of the cafĂ©, spoke with the driver a bit in their native language, then handed the driver a wad of bills and took the men inside, where they were given dinner.

Reportedly, the delivery man was paid $1,500 for each of the workers. The fee, as well as a lot else, had to be worked off. The owners house their workers in two decaying split-level homes about a mile from the restaurant: their own ethnic group’s workers in one, Latinos in the other (the owners’ sister serves as a kind of frat-house mother). The workers are shuttled between the houses and the restaurant in vans. Housing and transportation fees are deducted from their wages. Whatever money is left, the workers seem mostly to send back to their homes.

The Latinos whom my daughter met were hard workers. And they were in the United States because they loved their families and had the courage to go to desperate measures to try to provide for them. But with their world caged between the interior of the restaurant, the continually shuttered split-levels where they are housed, the van that shuttles them between the two, and the fear that they were criminals, they are isolated and deeply lonely. And they found comfort in those two traditional friends of the lonely and the poor: alcoholism and prostitution.

He goes on to explain how this state of affairs has a corrupting influence on virtually everyone involved: the employers, the workers, their families, the customers, law enforcement, and the public at large. Then he goes for the jugular:

The politicians—all those other folks at the Rotary tables—seem to be pitching their rhetoric and tailoring their legislation more to a view of capturing the loyalty of a new voting block than finding a solution that is both charitable and honors the law. Law enforcement, perhaps through resigned frustration, appear to be blind to the situation. But equally blind are the patrons. Because the mountains of food are so cheap, we still wait for the tables. We just have to pretend not to see the dark-skinned boy speaking Spanish hauling the plates back to the kitchen.

But then we have a tradition here in the South of not seeing dark-skinned boys hauling plates back to the kitchen, don’t we? Oh, that hurts. Maybe it’s not that the illegal immigration business is corrupting us here in Tennessee. Instead, perhaps it’s our corruption that’s attracting the illegal immigrants. The problem now, just as it was in 1845, isn’t the exploitation of an underclass. The problem is our greed that makes the exploitation tolerable.

Comparing today's illegal immigrants to slaves isn't quite right. For one thing, the government does not officially regard them as non-humans who can be treated like property. No one is forced to come work in the U.S., and squalid as the conditions here may seem, it is often even worse back home. On a practical level, though, it is easy for employers to take advantage of illegal workers and difficult for the workers to resist. This leads to a kind of quasi-slavery that most Americans choose to overlook while we continue enjoying the fruits of their labor.

In former times many of the menial jobs now held by immigrants were done by young Americans. I don't have any hard data on this, but today's teenagers seem far less likely to be gainfully employed than past generations. Some are intensely involved with academic or athletic pursuits. Others just stay home and play video games. The need for labor has not gone away, however, so we end up with immigrants filling the jobs. Is this state of affairs an effect of illegal immigration, or the cause of it? The answer isn't as clear as we like to think.

Whether it was a conscious decision or not, the reality is that we Americans have collectively decided our youth should have lives of leisure. We achieve this by importing the youth of other nations to do the work that keeps our lifestyles affordable. We pretend not to notice the conditions under which these children of other people live and work. That's why we gripe when we have to look at them, or when they clog the emergency rooms. Something is wrong with this picture.

The point is that the current situation is not good for anyone. All the parties receive certain benefits, but in the long run all are harmed as well. I don't have a magic answer. Maybe there isn't one. The legislation that has been proposed so far falls short, or is even counterproductive.

As with so many other contentious matters of public policy, I suspect we won't face up to this one until we face a crisis. By then none of the solutions will be easy or pleasant. It's the price we pay for the lives we lead. I hope it's worth the cost.

Hat tip: Crunchy Con

1 comment:

Donald Douglas said...

Just droppin' by for a good ole hello! Have a great weekend and a productive week ahead!