Keeping Workers Illegal
The Party's long history of alluring “illegal” workers through porous to nonexistent citizen employment laws and then their dogged resistance to grant these long time guest workers full citizenship so as to maintain a low wage, second class, non-voting, expendable and disposable workforce. (6)
Immigration Policies, Unions, and Low Wages
Immigration Policies of the Republican Party
Historically most Americans and both major political parties have been both consistent and ambivalent about immigration policies to fill a perceived current labor demand. In times of economic expansion, we favor policies to bring workers here, in recessions, policies to keep workers out. There are also two sets of competing policies both of which could be handled in a fair and reasonable way when supporters are politically nonpartisan. For one, there are sets of policies that invite workers into the country for a set period of time and at the end of that period, he or she goes home. Secondly, there is the set of policies that invites a person in and if they work hard, obey the laws, and pay taxes for a reasonable time we then invite them to be full citizens. Both political parties have floated proposals along these lines but nothing ever gets implemented. This has been because the Republican Party, in spite of the fair-minded wishes of its own members, as well as a majority of Americans, has a third way. They supported laws that restricted immigration, they built walls to disrupt the movement back and forth, but failed to penalize people, businesses and corporation that hired illegal immigrants. In fact, they made it easier for immigrants to come as illegals closing options to come legally. In doing so they created a pool of low-class workers who live in fear, accept wages sometimes below the minimum, and who are unable to complain to anyone about working conditions or benefits. This illegal immigration becomes exploitable foreign labor and has economic consequences.
Taking an historical perspective, there is an inverse relationship between the strength of labor unions and Immigration. From the civil war to the Great Depression immigration numbers see-sawed between 12 and 15 percent. With the Great Depression immigration decreased, but then the numbers continued to gradually fall until at the end of the 60s, when immigration was at an all-time low of just under 5%. At the same time, the “New Deal” policies that followed the Depression encouraged unionism so that during the 1930 and 40s union membership rose from less than 10% to over 25% of employed workers, and remained steady until the late 60s. With the Reagan Revolution, where it became almost un-American to belong to unions, the strength of unions weakened and continues to diminish to this day. Conversely, the percentage of immigrant labor has increased to prior rates of 15%. Why? When Unions were forcing all employers to pay living wages there was no need for exploitable foreign labor. Today, with Unions diminished, employers are free to look for, and competition requires they find, the lowest remunerated employees available; undocumented workers. It should also be noted that there is no better tool to diminishing Unionism in a competitive no-labor-law world then exploitable labor. These numbers do not prove that guest workers are bad for America and not even bad for the American workers; instead it highlights that if guest workers were treated with the same rights as American (union) workers the level of immigration would be more market based and mutually beneficial and consequently more acceptable to the local citizens.
Now no one would question that the Republican Party is the army bent on destroying Unions, but few would go so far as to assert that this Party would purposely compromise the human rights of guest workers so as to decimate the countries workforce into near poverty. For that assertion we need to examine the “Republican Wall” and its effects on immigration; where we find that the Wall is part of the problem and not a solution. For this overlooked phenomena we need to again look at history, the time before we built walls and the changes to the immigrant population that it caused.
Before the border was Walled and when Unions were strong it might fairely be stated that the immigrant population was doing the work that citizens did not want. Indeed traveling seasonal agricultural work is not a highly prized profession. But let’s not fall into that highly racist comment that there is work that Americans will not do because they find it too hard or undignified. It is not the work; but rather the non-livable minimum-wage that citizens find undignified. But for the immigrant, being able to work in a more productive economy and then to take back his earnings to spend in a less productive economy was an advantage. The money from the more productive economy will buy more in the village of less productivity. So while this is a net-bad for the local economy (it losses the labors’ wage as well as increased profits, if the profits are removed from the local economy) there are two winners; both the immigrant and the local business owner or international corporation that was enriched by the lower labor costs.
This is how this unholy alliance worked without the wall. In the late 70s, and with more vigor after the Reagan presidential win in 1980, companies were going non-union. They began hiring unskilled help to increase the productivity of an increasingly shrinking number of high paid workers. Men from all over Mexico and Central America would head north to cross the small river into the US and head for one of many migrant camps throughout the border towns like San Diego. These camps would disappear after the wall but for different reasons then you would think. From these camps the migrants would help the newcomers adjust their lives and find work; without showers they learn to clean themselves with denatured alcohol, they risked dehydration to reduce the need of facilities where none were provided and suffered the indignity of not being allowed in the bathrooms of citizens. Being outside, landscaping and construction were among the skilled trades that they first clustered to. Still today, on construction sites, there is a tradition of bringing a hot plate to work and using the job site electricity to cook burritos during lunch time. Those burritos might have been the only hot meal of their day. And finally once you were paid, if you were paid, you had to hide the cash, and then get the money back home. For regularly employed immigrant the time off to make this trip was generally between the Christmas and New Year holidays.
After a year of abject squalor and hard work, these men would junk there dirty and ill-fitted Good Will clothing and buy new clothing to fit in with normal Mexican citizens on the return trip home. This would include a money belt or other means of hiding cash against the bandits’ peppered all along the routes traveled. If he arrived safely to his village or town, to his loved ones, he was like a ship coming in. A man that had done whatever it took to cast off into a sea of inequity and prejudice, to work for the good people when he could, to navigate around the dangers of the others and return home with a catch that might afford a Christmas celebration and a nest egg for the future of his family. The joy within these homes would be loud and elated but in public and at church subdued for respect to the families whose men had not yet returned.
The best we can say about the builders of the southern walls, like the one in San Diego, was that they had no idea of the unintended consequences. Given the ills just described, for two sets of people, both the immigrant, his families back in Mexico, and the American business owner, the mutual economic rewards forged an ever increasing partnership. With the number of immigrants increasing each year. The local economy lost in two ways; immigrants wages were being sent back home therefore not spent in the local economy and companies were sheltering their their increased profits in offshore offices and thereby not contributing fairly to the taxbase to support the infrastructure. If this arrangement was less visible, it might have continued longer but the returning foot traffic at the border, especially after the New Year, was like a slow rush hour traffic lasting days where literally thousands of humans would gather on the south side of the border, which Mexicans referred to as “La Canela”, and at night, in mass, illegally cross to the other side overwhelming the US authorities. This arrangement needed to be resolved.
It was in this context that the Reagan Republicans, wrote the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1968. At this time, Republican lawmakers could work out legislation with their Democratic partners for the American good. This Act was designed to balance public concerns about increasing illegal immigration with business’s need for cheap labor; a need that was never questioned. The final bill focused less on restricting the numbers of immigrants than on putting existing undocumented aliens on the path to citizenship and on deterring further illegal immigration by strengthening border control and employer sanctions; sanction that, in the final bill, were watered down to be ineffective. It failed to stem immigration and led to the complaint of today’s Republican Party that giving longtime immigrant workers a path to citizenship only encouraged more illegal immigration. We know this is not the case because the majority of illegal workers preferred returning to Mexico prior to the wall. More likely it failed because it failed to adopt employer sanctions that protected jobs for US citizens. The failure of the Republican Party to understand the degradation of values stemming from the corruption of allowing wages to dip below a living standard was then, and is today, the Achilles Heel of the Republican Party.
But, in spite of this blindness, either from ignorance or greed, the Republican Party and Reagan did attempt to address the humanitarian consequences of their laws. Besides a well-earned path to citizenship, and because the Act did not address the status of children of the illegal aliens who were eligible for amnesty, President Reagan used his executive authority to legalize the status of the minor children of parents granted amnesty under the immigration overhaul making them today's “Dreamer” population. This “authority” is exactly the authority that Obama claimed for the “DACA” program that today’s Republican Party finds so unconstitutional. There was also, as a result of this Act and other bipartisan efforts funds made available for border walls. Some fencing was installed in the 80s and double wall and fencing in the 90s.
This did some expected things and some unexpected things. As expected it made it hard to cross the border. This made the returning home for the holidays, or any other family visits, a much more problematic affair. So the first unintended consequence was that not only did untold number of working immigrants decide to stay at their jobs becoming permanent immigrants, but since they could no longer go home, they needed to bring their families north. Even with the wall, everyone gets a one time, dignified, free pass to the U.S. by way of a tourist visa. But, the day after your visa expires, and you are still in the US, you are “illegal”. So no matter how financially advantages the move to the US might be, without a green card or citizenship, every member of the family lives in fear of being separated from each other.. The second unintentional consequence is that it is no longer advantages for the immigrant to stay around the border areas. A worker plus family cannot live in a labor camp and without the need to go back and forth, proximity to the home country is no longer an advantage. Additionally, the large number of immigration enforcement around the border makes it is safer to migrate deeper into the country where there is less enforcement and also a better chance to melt in.
So where before the wall, male immigrants would come to the US to work and send money back home to Mexican towns and villages and perhaps go back himself. Now, with the wall, whole families are migrating deeper into the US. With modern cellphone communication when a single migrant finds a large business willing to hire undocumented workers the cell phone calls goes out to the old neighborhoods. Soon a considerable portion of these extended families from communities in Mexico are now clustering around these businesses in small towns throughout the US. But because their pay is so low they are not contributing much to the local economies or paying taxes. These small communities across the country are feeling this budgetary losses in there city tax base and schools systems and are wrongly blaming the immigrants. It is, in fact, the increased profits leaving the community which is the communal loss. But as long as there is this separation, and an enraged conflict, between the citizens and the “illegals” no one will look that way. This is where the Republican Party comes in.
Some will say that aligning Trump’s assertions that Mexico is sending us rapist and gang members etc. with the Republican Party is not fair. Many Republicans do care about how we treat immigrants. But that his speech could so effectively fall on so many receptive ears is a disheartened depiction of workers who are not clear on the causes of Americans’ low wages. It is hard to believe that so many citizens have been convinced that these exhausted people, just looking for the fresh air of freedom, constitute a monolithic evading army sent by Mexico and other countries to overpower our way of life. This self-serving frightful departure from reality has long roots in the Republican Party. But in the past they were simply not as blatant as Trump. The successful Bush2 campaign focused on elevating the Anglo-Christian base as superior to others and singularly responsible for American values and successes. The demeaning flip of that campaign, that “others” are responsible for our loss of values, need not be spoken openly, but was well understood. To his credit, President Bush, highly concerned about the need for immigration reform, as a once border state governor, and also concerned about the future of the Republican Party, lobbied for immigration reform. It was unsuccessful because his base rebelled. They rightfully quested his sincerity during his campaigning as he courted the White vote. This Republican base was well tuned for the future songs of Trump.
And Trump himself is determined to not let his base feel as if they are just being used, even if that is the obvious truth. And there is no easier sacrificial lamb then immigrants. For Trump, he becomes the savior of American Values, for the industrialist he provides cheap, disposable labor, and for Putin a weakened divided America.
This situation has bred an anti-human element which must be recognized. If we as a country do not like immigration labor we should enact laws that prevent them from being hired. Problem solved; solved without a wall. If we feel a need for immigrant labor, visas should be issued that grants them all rights of a citizen. If they overstay the visa they should be un-hirable. The only reason to keep a working person in an illegal state is to exploit him. Is this the goal? Obama and Clinton faced the issue and at least tried to prioritize immigration enforcement in a more human way. Perhaps the children of the illegal immigrants should be free from fear of being deported? Perhaps, if they work hard and obey the laws, they should be on a path to citizenship? Why not? This is not a political question, it is a human question. Do we believe that children should have an equal opportunity to grow to a life commensurate with their ambition or are we raising a domesticated workforce meant for exploitation? Do we still believe in “inalienable rights”? This issue we are faced with is completely the result of the Republican Party putting the rights of corporations, both foreign and domestic, above the rights of fellow citizens, both foreign and domestic. The proof of the intentions of the Republican Party is that now that they control all three branches of the government what will they do? So far they have blamed the Democrats, who are completely out of power, for not wanting to waste more money on the Wall. That they do nothing, is proof that the Party itself profits from the way it is now; with an ever increasing number of low wage, second class, non-voting, expendable and disposable workers, which can be blamed for the ills of the country so as to hide the plundering of the country by those who own the Republican Party.
Because of this issue alone, every American that can should, as one of the highest of priorities of their life, register to vote and do so that, so at the very least, we can vote out the Republican Party of human exploitation.