Illegal Immigration and the Democrats

(warning - long Sharpe-style political post :) )

I was going to right up a mini-review of Crashing the Gate (super mini-review: short, direct, good summary of current political affairs, well written argument for a bottom up revolution in the Democratic party, very thin on specifics and policy - Sharpe gives it a thumbs up), but then I saw all this hullabaloo about the immigration protests this weekend, and the Democratic response to it. The protests, the Demo reaction, and the recent events in a Congressional replacement election down here in Orange County CA make me think the Demos are pissing away a golden opportunity, both policy wise and politically, to take a stand against illegal employment.

First off, the PC-required disclaimer: I am strongly opposed to illegal immigration, NOT legal immigration (at present levels) and not all immigration combined. Also, this is not a racial- or ethnic-based argument. My core policy position is that the amount of illegal immigration we are experiencing in this country is deeply bad for the American working and middle classes economically: it depresses wages in the lower margins of the labor market, weakens the bargaining power of the working class, empowers exploitative employers, and also has a major impact on housing, transportation, education, and health care resources. And the driving force behind illegal immigration, the strong financial incentive that lures illegals here, is illegal employment, and the fact that we don’t enforce our own laws on illegal employers.

The American beneficiaries of these policies are almost entirely the wealthiest classes: those who own stocks or companies that benefit from illegal immigration’s massive weakening of the low-end labor market. Jason and others have correctly pointed out that one of the biggest and most negative long term economic trends in our current recovery is that a relatively small amount of the growth is flowing to the working and middle classes: this recovery is largely a wealthy-class recovery. (Note - I don’t begrudge the wealthy their success, my beef is that the economy is NOT prospering for a huge chunk of the population.)

Although there are a variety of reasons why the labor market is so weak (production technology, outsourcing, the political weakness of unions, the Bush Administration’s lax enforcement of regulation) I personally believe that illegal immigration is one of the biggest (if not THE biggest) factors. I firmly believe that we are not going to return the economy to promoting a healthy and prosperous middle class until we address the vast and unregulated influx of cheap illegal labor.

Under our current policies we are essentially importing poverty, and creating a class of workers with few rights and almost no bargaining power, which then creates a ripple effect of poverty and labor weakness accross the bottom and middle of the economy. Some on the left argue that the answer is to empower the illegals with labor market protections, and then open the borders. Unfortunately, global demographics make that a completely terrible idea. Right now illegal immigration is around 500,000 per year but we deport attempted illegals to the tune of 4,000,000 plus, each year. In other words, the current flood is only about 10% to 15% of the total attempted illegal entries. And that’s under a system where it is (at least ostensibly) illegal, and quite expensive and often dangerous. If you opened the borders, numbers would increase massively, and we just can’t sustain that, economically or environmentally.

The engine that drives this whole train is illegal employment. Illegals are not legally allowed to work here in the US but many thousands of employers hire them anyway, b/c they work cheap and are often unable to access their legal rights and are thus easily (and cheaply) exploited. And the very worst thing about this whole issue is how crassly the employers break the law. There is essentially NO enforcement against employers. Employers can hire many hundreds of illegals with little to no fear of ANY reprisal, and if they do get caught the worst that happens is typically a minor fine (much cheaper than actually hiring legal labor). If you eliminated the ability of employers to hire illegals without repercussion, the economic engine of this debacle would be cut off at the roots.

And this is a huge potential political football. Illegal employers are essentially “gaming the system”, manipulating the labor market by supporting lax enforcement (or no enforcement) of the law, and by lobbying against any reforms. (I particularly love it when the big employer-exploiters take a stand against enforcement of illegal employment laws, on the grounds that it is a “racist” attack on the poor illegals, whom the employers are ruthlessly exploiting by the standards of an honest labor market.) The Republicans have a huge vulnerability on this issue as despite 12 years of Congressional majorities and 6 years of complete federal supremacy they have done essentially nothing on illegal employment. And when the Republicans do “get tough” on illegal immigration, it is often dangerously close to blaming the victim. Most of the ire fired up on right wing talk radio gets focused on the “damn <insert ethnicity here>”, and on “closing the border” or militarizing the border, etc.

There is a HUGE opportunity for Democrats to take a strong stand in favor of legal employment, in favor of labor protections, in favor of wage and hour laws, and against illegal employment. If the Demos would put forward a real plan to enforce the law against illegal employment in the context of labor protection, it would be a huge boost to the working and middle classes and would also eliminate the economic incentive that draws illegal immigrants here. This could be done in a way that’s not racist, not anti-foreigner, and not militaristic or jingoistic.

But the Demos don’t seem to want to go this way. They seem too caught up in the politically correct spin and are salivating at a chance to attack the Republicans as racist. Looking at the left-ish news media and blogs over this weekend I see the common BS: mis-labelling any anti-illegal-immigrant proposal as merely “anti-immigrant” (there’s a big difference), immediately jumping on the right wing as racist and xenophobic, mis-characterizing all illegals as “economic refugess”, and blaming all this illegal immigration on the perils of free trade (free trade of course plays a role but so do corruption, exploitation, politics and other factors in the home countries of the illegals).

To close off this long post, here’s a recent politcal story that shows the potentials and perils of this issue. Here in Orange Country CA there was a replacement Congressional eleciton last year to fill the seat of Christopher Cox who was put in charge of the SEC by Bush. The district is a “red” district which has gone Republican 60 to 40 in the last several elections. Jim Gilchrist, a Republican who is also the founder of the Minuteman project (a strongly anti-illegal immigration groups which has done grandstanding stunts like citizen patrols of the border etc) joined the race. The local Republican party rejected him (they are firmly in the pocket of the illegal-employers) and so he ran as an independent.

In the first election, Gilchrist got 16% of the vote and helped force a run off. During the run-up to the second election a lot of the left wing blogosphere was salivating at the chance to pick off the Republican front-runner. I saw on Daily Kos and other places the following analysis: the district is 60-40 Republican so if Gilchrist takes 20%, he will take all 20% from the Republicans, and this red Orange County district will go to the Demo candidate. And on election day, Gilchrist got 25% of the vote, a surprisingly strong showing for a candidate with no party backing.

But the Demos didn’t benefit. Nope, the Republicans won by the usual 20 point margin. The Republican candidate lost 13 points from the usual 60 to rack up 47 (a 22% drop). The Demo candidate lost 12 points from the usual 40 to rack up a miserable 28 (a 32% drop). In other words Gilchrist the anti-illegal candidate pulled half of his support form the Repubs and half from the Demos. In terms of relative impact, Gilchrist hurt the Demos WORSE than the Repubs.

Just imagine if this was a normal race with no Gilchrist and the Demo candidate adopted a strong anti-illegal-employment platform.

Yet the Demos seem unable to break out of the PC, play-the-race-card, blame the Republicans mind set. It really pisses me off. The political terrain favors some Demo pick-up this year but if the Demos took a smart stance against illegal employment they would both be doing the right thing in a major way, AND I strongly believe the political benefits would be huge.

And of course, the Demo’s current strategy runs the risk of being slammed by a Republican candidate who can get tough on illegal immigration without getting too far into race baiting.

The only way that the Demos don’t take back the White House in 08 is if they blow this chance on illegal immigration and the Republicans put forward a tough but not too jingoistic anti-illegal platform. Of course, the Demos being who they are, right now they are on track to blow it big time :0.

Personally I feel the only way to solve it is a renewed sense of manifest destiny. We could just annex Canada and Mexico and poof, no more border problems.

As long as the provinces get States rights, this Canuck is all for it.

I totally agree with everything in that post, Sharpe. That was well written and took more time then i’m willing to devote to writing, so i’m glad you brought this subject up.

Ultimately the Democrats are, for a lack of a better description, an “Urban” party. They can’t seem to fathom things except as Urban Renewal/Racial Equality in the old framework of the Seventies. Mexican immigration is a huge factor in large cities like LA, but a proportionately larger influence in the smaller cities and states all along the border.

America was built as a nation of immigrants; and i still support legal immigration. Hell, on my father’s side they were still speaking German until the 1920’s. But the traumatic experience of immigration that immigrants experienced in the past is not the same kind of dislocation. There is also an overwhelming cultural dislocation going on.

But what i find hard to resolve is the seeming lack of nationalism in the new immigrant communities. Waving Mexican flags might seem to be a kind of cultural symbol more then anything, but this “new” immigration America has experienced, in a world with modern transportation and communications, seems much less motivated by ideals then economics. This huge semi-transient workforce; how does it view it’s relationship with America? Sure, it wants to live hear compared to Mexico; but wanting and deserving are different things. I don’t want to deny people’s right to a better life, but at the same time it’s not their right to leach upon our system and reduce, if not in many cases bankrupt, the social nets in the communities where large numbers of them have congregated. Or at least, i should have a right to dispute with this situation.

And considering Mexico’s (un)offical but very public standpoint of being essentially a slow sucking parasite, and the huge, huge amounts of crime and criminal activity the porous border and homoginized ethnicity provides the criminal elements, there are some serious issues. I mean, if we were Russia, we’d be pounding the border cities of Mexico to dust now, considering how much illegal trans-border activity goes through them.

But the main reason the Democrats have so little ability in this area is because they’ve been squeezed into little northern and pacific states that don’t really have to deal with this. A southern Texas Democrat, having the ‘boots on the ground’ could make a strong anti-illegal immigration platform. But alas, they ran them 'fellers out a the state 30 years ago.

The only real hope, unfortunately, for immigration reform will come from the Southern state Republicans. It has too.

There is a HUGE opportunity for Democrats to take a strong stand in favor of legal employment, in favor of labor protections, in favor of wage and hour laws, and against illegal employment. If the Demos would put forward a real plan to enforce the law against illegal employment in the context of labor protection, it would be a huge boost to the working and middle classes and would also eliminate the economic incentive that draws illegal immigrants here. This could be done in a way that’s not racist, not anti-foreigner, and not militaristic or jingoistic.

What would that be, pray tell? If you can craft an ad that goes after illegal employment without pandering to the racist vote, ok, but I don’t see it.

Also note that Southern California is the area of the country where this is the biggest deal; for the country in general, it’s really not an issue.

Jason - you just do an add that focuses on the economic impact of illegal employment and the lack of Republican enforcement. For example you do an add that focuses on the low wages that illegal employers pay, the lack of benefits shifting costs onto local government, and then you point out that local Republican Bob failed to do anything about for many years. You could also do testimonials from employers who do hire legal employees talking about how illegal employers are undercutting them and the Republicans are not doing anything about it. The core focus would something like “illegal employment threatens middle class jobs”. I think that could be done without resorting to jingoistic stereotyping.

The key is to focus on the illegal employment and the illegal employers rather than the illegal workers. The workers are of course part of the problem but I have a LOT more sympathy for the workers (who do for the most part come here out of economic need) than I do for the illegal employers who are gaming the system and manipulating the labor market.

Also, although I didnt go into details in my overly long original post, my concept of illegal immigration reform does allow for some form of amnesty for otherwise non-criminal illegals after a 5 year (or so) “implementation period” where we see if my ideas about cracking down on illegal employment work. If they do work and the level of illegal immigrations ratchets down substantially then I’m willing to grant amnesty to the illegals who are currently here and have put down some roots, so long as they are otherwise law abiding. You could factor that in to your add campaign - a staged amnesty at the end of the road, after illegal immigration falls below certain target goals. The idea being, this is not punitive retaliation against the poor immigrants but is in fact real policy reform.

As to the SoCal issue, you are largely right although I do believe this issue has a growing importance in other parts of the country. The economic impact is really large. It is a big part of what you have been complaining about in terms of a “low-wage-growth” recovery (or arguably, NO-wage-growth recovery, if you assess medians in the bottom 3 quintiles and adjust for inflation). I also think its part of a national trend - the reason that Wal Mart can find people to LINE UP to take the crappy low wage low benefit Wal Mart jobs all over the country is that the labor market is incredibly weak. Illegal employment is a big part of that, and thats a national problem not just a SoCal one.

Hate to tell you, but most immigration to America was motivated by economic rather than ideals. The Irish, the Chinese, and many other groups moved here and maintained their cultural identity separate from their nationalism.

Sharpe, I’m not arguing about the economic impacts; I agree. Ok, I disagree on the scope of impact - I’d say immigrant labor is a rounding error on low wage competition compared to stuff like the fed’s stupid inflation obsession or the death of unions. Yes, it is a factor though.

It’s just that it sounds like consensus good-old-days political policy, and I have no idea how you get that through the partisan landmine field we have now. Note the GOP response would probably be more of the “well just throw all the immigrants in jail” with no enforcement or followup, just like now.

Sharpe - I love your pro-Republican propaganda. However! The truth shows a different story altogether.

Democrats want to import Mexicans because they tend to vote Democrat. They don’t care whether an influx of unskilled, uneducated labor is good or bad for the current residents, as long as it gives them votes.

Republicans want to import Mexicans because corporations (big AND small) and commercial farms bribe them to support Mexican importation. They don’t care whether an influx of unskilled, uneducated labor is good or bad for the current residents, as long as it gives them money that they can turn into votes.

Business owners and corporate farmers want to import Mexicans because they think cheaply hiring Mexicans (subsidized by other people, who pay for their medical care, education, parks, roads, busses, low-income housing, etc) rather than giving real wages to tax-paying US Citizens is somehow a “great deal for everyone”. They can abuse them, fire them, let them get their arms chopped off by dangerous equipment, and guess what - they have no rights! Send 'em back to Mexico, one arm smaller, and import a new one.

Illegal importation of unskilled, uneducated, subsidized labor is unsustainable in any country (unless you kill them before they can reproduce, as with China’s Wall and Egypt’s Pyramids) - this is not an opinion, but a pretty obvious fact; just as the Sun is unsustainable, and agricultural practices that deplete topsoil or subterranian water supplies are unsustainable. Slavery was abhorrent, but it was steady-state for one reason: The children of slaves remained slaves. When you move to a modern, institutionalized slavery system like the modern immigrant system in America and some parts of Europe and the Middle East, the children of slaves are no longer slaves, and the steady-state breaks. In order to to feed (or clean, mow lawns, build houses, and generally do all the dangerous and dirty work for) an entire country with slave labor, while making slave children into educated citizens who want their own slaves, the slave importation rate must increase exponentially with time.

Democrats and Republicans only care about votes. The current institutionalized slavery system in America and other modern countries that have “transcended” ditch-digging, bathroom-cleaning, and fruit-picking is repugnant and ultimately bad for everyone in the long run. In the short run, it is highly beneficial to the children of the immigrants (and often the immigrants themselves), but citizens should not be forced to do things by their politicians (e.g., subsidize Mexicans or Mediterranian North Africans) just to benefit some rich and powerful, or very very poor, third parties. That’s what charities are for.

unless you kill them before they can reproduce, as with China’s Wall and Egypt’s Pyramids

The Pyramids were built by a [probably] conscript work force not slaves/prisoners in some kind of concentration camp (work until you can’t then we’ll kill you) work ethic. I’m not sure whether they received state provided healthcare, vacation days or minimum wage, and I’m sure that health and safety regulations were pretty shoddy by today’s standards but being part of the work force on a pyramid was far from the worst job to have in Pharoah’s Egypt.

Maybe the US can solve it’s immigration problem and raise some money towards paying for the keep of the 2million + population of the Prison system by bringing back chain gang style work forces to do the jobs currently done by Mexicans and other immigrants. You’ve got a massive untapped workforce that doesn’t need directly paying so you can undercut what an illegal immigrant will accept (but a US citizen won’t) for wages. If the jobs aren’t there in the grey sector, why bother to make the journey?

I’ve read somewhere that the pyramids were built by farmers who had nothing else to do during the Nile flood. An employment program if you will. They were decently paid, too.

Saber, I can’t tell if you’re using transcendantly evolved sarcasm or just really hate the political parties.

There were enormous protests this weekend over the house bill making it a felony to be an illegal immigrant. Hmm.

That’s changing, or at least Republicans are making significant inroads using abortion as a wedge issue.

This is odd that this isn’t generating as much interest as other forum topics. This might be one of the biggest events in Mexican-American political history, as it’s the first time that whole community has had a banner to rally around.

Hence the term “illegal”.

Or as Democrats like to call it, “undocumented”.

But but but… these are law-abiding people (tm Katrina van den Heuvel). Apart from being in this country illegally that is.

I’m going to say something that may get me in trouble here, but here goes: so what if you pander to the racist vote? If your newspaper ad says something like “protect American business by ending illegal immigration” (or something equally truthful and without hate), and the “racist vote” supports you, is that bad?

A related question: how is the “racist vote” not, as you might say, a rounding error these days in terms of eligible voters?

Also: Arizona, Texas, Nevada, Florida. So including California, how many electrocal votes is that?

Governor Arnie (a poster-boy Republican) pushed to get driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants in CA.

They’ve also been toying with a law that a baby born in the US (who would currently be given full citizenship regardless) would have his citizenship revoked if both parents were undocumented. That’s some fucked up shit right there.

Yea, sort of. Idealism was a big issue, although freedom=economic prosperity to most, perhaps.

But the disslocation was a huge issue. Many, maybe the vast majority, never heard from the old world again. They got in a boat, and from then on their ancestors would have virtually no information about their European past.

Huge illegal immigrant populations right next door to where they came from is a demographic and political situation America has never faced before. This huge illegal tidal wave has no parallel, other then it being about immigration. And among many Tejano communities, it’s hard to say that they really immigrated at all. I knew and know guys that are hard working and speak good if accented english - but on weekends, they go to Mexico like others go to see Grandma, just no big deal. And to me it’s not the issue of mobility but identity. If the work dried up, would they just head back down south? Easy come, easy go?

[i need some sleep. That was one too many huge-s].

Also, today it doesn’t matter if you came from next door. People can wander all over the globe and never give up the comforts of their country of origin. With the net and satellite TV, you can easily skip the whole melting pot thing. We’re really witnessing the beginning of the end of the nation-state here. Borders are becoming less and less meaningful with each passing year.

Since it’s so easy to not assimilate anymore, surely someone has some numbers showing this?