Monday, May 01, 2006

Americans Would Too Do the Work!

Do illegal immigrants really perform work no Americans are willing to do? Consider some of the jobs Americans do every day:

Americans go down into deadly mines, breathing coal dust that steals years from their lives. Americans climb down manholes and trudge through sewers carrying human excrement, rotted food and a noxious mix of chemicals. They collect garbage and clean up toxic waste. They face possible death and dismemberment serving in dangerous jobs like commercial fishing, timber cutting, and military service. Americans do back breaking labor on construction sites and in steel mills. They drive long haul trucks far from family and friends. Americans perform menial tasks, such as rustling shopping carts and flipping hamburgers. A black American near my apartment kneels down at people’s feet to shine their shoes.

The fact is Americans work their asses off in positions high and low, prestigious and humble. It’s a colossal insult to our people to say we think ourselves above any task needing to be done. And it’s just as insulting to say there are immigrants low enough to do that labor that is beneath us. It is patronizing and ultimately racist.

Of course, increasingly, illegal immigrants are taking over many of the lowest paid professions noted here, but not because Americans won’t do the work. Illegals are taking over because they’ll do the work for unfair wages. They’ll tolerate more abusive bosses and won’t make a fuss over safety codes and working conditions. Why should a business hire a black, white or other American who will then demand fair wages, safe conditions, and other legal labor and business practices, when they can instead hire vulnerable illegal immigrants at a fraction of the cost? Americans have been replaced in janitorial positions, factories and on farms not because they refuse to do the work, but because they refuse to work for the near slave wages and in the sweat shop conditions that illegals gratefully accept.

A perverse aspect of the illegal immigration debate is that it pits economic progressives against social progressives. People who care deeply about the plight of workers and who want to preserve living wages and good conditions are opposed by other people who care deeply about a vulnerable underclass of people who just want a better life. It really is a shame that some demonize illegal immigrants and paint them as wanton criminals. In desperation for a better life, would we all not cross a border and pursue it? However, the fact remains that by tolerating illegal immigration we are depressing wages for the entire society, keeping many poor children in poverty, and creating a large (and growing) underclass of informal workerbots who toil hopelessly for ever shrinking wages.

As I’ve written before, America needs immigrants – maybe even more than the 11 million or so who are estimated to be here illegally. But we need them to go through the legal process of immigration. That would provide additional security for our borders, and it would ensure that no one works in a Vietnam-style sweat shop or toils for less than the minimum wage. That might mean a more expensive head of lettuce, but it’s worth the cost to preserve the middle class that is being destroyed by what is essentially unrestricted laissez faire capitalism in the labor market.

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