Wednesday, February 08, 2006

'Illegal' Workers: "They Get What They Deserve?"

I get comments -- both positive and negative. The posts I write about the workplace abuse of immigrant workers, such as yesterday's article about the continuing scandal of immigration officials impersonating OSHA inspectors, probably generate the most negative comments.

Most of these (on Confined Space or other blogs that linked to these stories) can be summed up as follows:
What don't you understand about the word "illegal?" We should be using any means to deport them. If we keep them out, or send them home, we're actually protecting them. And why should we be spending our tax dollars to protect criminals? This kind of whining just shows why you liberals who support illegal immigration are soft on national security.
Being who I am, I can't generally help responding, so to ease the strain on my overused carpal tunnel, I'm going to respond here -- and then just link back here every time I get the usual attacks.
  1. First, it's not a matter of supporting illegal immigration, it's a matter of recognizing that it's here, it's growing and the reason, as Harold Meyerson explained in today's Washington Post, is not that we've let our guard down at the border; the cause is globalization and the economic devastation that NAFTA has caused in Mexico.
    The North American Free Trade Agreement was sold, of course, as a boon to the citizens of the United States, Canada and Mexico -- guaranteed both to raise incomes and lower prices, however improbably, throughout the continent. Bipartisan elites promised that it would stanch the flow of illegal immigrants, too. "There will be less illegal immigration because more Mexicans will be able to support their children by staying home," said President Bill Clinton as he was building support for the measure in the spring of 1993.

    But NAFTA, which took effect in 1994, could not have been more precisely crafted to increase immigration -- chiefly because of its devastating effect on Mexican agriculture. As liberal economist Jeff Faux points out in "The Global Class War," his just-published indictment of the actual workings of the new economy, Mexico had been home to a poor agrarian sector for generations, which the government helped sustain through price supports on corn and beans. NAFTA, though, put those farmers in direct competition with incomparably more efficient U.S. agribusinesses. It proved to be no contest: From 1993 through 2002, at least 2 million Mexican farmers were driven off their land.

    The experience of Mexican industrial workers under NAFTA hasn't been a whole lot better. With the passage of NAFTA, the maquiladoras on the border boomed. But the raison d'etre for these factories was to produce exports at the lowest wages possible, and with the Mexican government determined to keep its workers from unionizing, the NAFTA boom for Mexican workers never materialized. In the pre-NAFTA days of 1975, Faux documents, Mexican wages came to 23 percent of U.S. wages; in 1993-94, just before NAFTA, they amounted to 15 percent; and by 2002 they had sunk to a mere 12 percent.

    The official Mexican poverty rate rose from 45.6 percent in 1994 to 50.3 percent in 2000. And that was before competition from China began to shutter the maquiladoras and reduce Mexican wages even more.
  2. Undocumented workers may be in this country illegally, but the penalty shouldn't be death (or even serious injury.)

  3. If you want to encourage employers to hire undocumented immigrants, the best way to do it is to make sure that the workers are too afraid to complain about their health and safety conditions. Employers will prefer to hire undocumented immigrants to work in unsafe conditions because it will give them an automatic advantage over those who hire "legal" workers who might actually call OSHA.

  4. Discourging immigrants from calling OSHA also makes work more dangerous for "legal" workers. If employers are free to hire and abuse undocumented immigrants without fear that they'll complain about their safety conditions, US-born workers will feel they need to accept the same unsafe conditions or risk being replaced.

  5. One might argue that you are "protecting" undocumented immigrants by deporting them, but what you're actually doing by impersonating OSHA officials is making work more dangerous for the population of immigrant workers who are still here because they won't dare risk complaining about health and safety conditions for fear of being deported.
OK, that's enough for now. I'm open to additional contributions.

You know where the comments are. Have at it.