Thursday, April 22, 2010

Why Do We Have This Illegal Immigration Problem?

I read the Macon Telegraph daily when I'm at home in Georgia. It's on the table--why not? I used to read it for the comics, a salad recipe here or there, and Dear Abby. Then, being a vaguely interested liberal, I wondered where Doonesbury had gone, and found it on the "Viewpoints" section, the one in which people get to send in letters about, essentially, about anything they want to, usually political, conservative, and religious.

I'm horrified at America. I'm absolutely horrified. How can such a huge percentage of the population believe that forcibly Christianizing everyone is a good thing? How can people believe that we just need to shunt illegal immigrants back over the border to end the problem! How can people live with themselves while decrying their independence and spewing dislike for the poor, all the while forgetting that their very pledge of allegiance to America includes the words "one nation"?

My point for the day--because it was under discussion in the Macon Telegraph Letters comment section--is illegal immigration. Most people hear about the problem of people crossing the border without official papers and inveigling themselves into American, money-earning society, taking the jobs that out-of-work Americans should have and taking American tax dollars for welfare checks, food stamps, and medical bills. On the face of it, this seems a bit ridiculous. Only someone so blindly compassionate towards all human beings that he or she wouldn't let their little carnivore of a cat eat meat wouldn't have a problem with this scenario.

But here's the thing--it's much, much too simple. Unless you really want to see things this way, you can't buy this story just on that last paragraph.

First of all, why are these immigrants here? Well, why would you want to leave your country? Leave your family, your surroundings, your home, your familiar, native language, your customs, traditions, and way of life?

It could be because you just feel like traveling and leaving all those things behind doesn't really matter to you. Or it's because you're dirt poor. You cannot afford to live this lifestyle anymore. You're destitute. Your family is sick. You're earning 42 cents an hour working in, say, a maquiladora. Your wages have gone down at least 70% since December 1994. You live in a shack in Tijuana, the television-making capital of the world. 42 cents an hour covers 60% of daily necessities. You work in a toxic environment. It's the only place you can get a job. Around you, American tourists are enjoying duty-free shopping, amazing restaurants, music, gambling, and golf. Wouldn't you want to leave? More specifically, wouldn't you want to leave so that you can have that lifestyle in America?

Of course you would. But why on earth are you so poor in the first place? Why in heaven's name are they so rich?

Check out Border Assembly San Diego. This is just one example of a company employing Mexican workers. According to their website, geared towards American manufacturing companies, if you are spending 15% of profits on labor, you are spending too much, and if you want to turn your product manufacturing over to them, they will cut labor by half. You will not have to pay tariffs. They will ship your products cheaply. Your products will not be shoddy: they will be made by "a young, dynamic, and highly skilled workforce", who are also conscientious line workers. Your employees will be treated excellently. Their employees are paid well, get really good benefit packages and are just spectacular at their work. It isn't fair, they say, to assume that just because sweatshops get a bad reputation, their workshops are also run poorly. So come down and visit; you'll have a great time.

Sounds fabulous.

Check out the Support Committee for Maquiladora Workers: Background Information website. The story is slightly different. In order to get all this American business and to enrich those at the top, the government eliminated Article 27 of its constitution which stated that each worker owns a part of the land he or she works on, and, immediately, American rice and corn flooded the Mexican market. The workers--the few who could still get work--had to work for much less--they couldn't accumulate land to pass down through generations and raise self-sufficient families and communities--and they got dirt poor. Many were thrown into unemployment, because Americans had really high-tech machines to do their work. People rushed to the border to try to get across, to escape this hell of a poverty-stricken life.

So American companies rushed to the border. It wasn't a hard concept: it was a blockade. Put up companies, offer jobs, and keep them in Mexico, where the minimum wage is far below $6.25 (or whatever it is in your state of choice). So began the maquiladoras.

The workers, as stated before, work at ludicrous, ever-dropping wages (including monetary inflation in the calculation). They have no or barely any hazard and safety standards, so they deal with toxic waste dumps and toxic, dangerous working conditions. They work 48-60 hours a week without proper safety precautions. They are, naturally, forced into repression by workers who attempt to negotiate an improvement in conditions--and unions are far more dangerous. Maquiladora workers, with the aid of the committee, tried to organize a union, but they called off voting in fear that the elected leaders would be harmed. One woman, one of the candidates, was threatened and her 10-year-old son disappeared.

All of this, naturally, leads to bigger and bigger profits for American companies.

My God. You wonder why we have so many illegal immigrants!

So, essentially, we have three options that I can see. We can do what many Americans want, particularly conservative Americans, and just shove them back over the border where they belong. We can raise taxes to build a really impossible wall around our country, leaving room to only allow tariff-free merchandise through, we can forcibly stop and interrogate or examine any Hispanic-looking person about their right to be here, and we can forcibly deport people back over the border into poverty. By engaging in this essentially racist regime that bears a slight resemblance to Nazi Germany, we can also create hundreds of furious, militant terrorists bent on revenge for their ruined, trapped lives and their poverty. We can spend a really huge amount of money doing this. But how wise is it?

Another option would be to legalize every illegal immigrant and welcome all of Mexico and surrounding areas into America and just turn the abandoned countries into agriculture land. So, for the small taxes they pay (if they do, since American citizens do try to get away without paying taxes), we give them welfare, food stamps, and medical aid until they get on their feet. Without education, this may not happen for years. This will also cost millions of dollars.

Or we could fix things in the country the immigrants are coming from, giving them less of an incentive to come to America.

Think about it. Destroy the illness, and the symptom will subside.

Stop outsourcing, for God's sake. The enormous flat-screen TVs that we can buy at really laughable prices have illegal immigration and exploitation written all over them. So does everything else that comes from a country outside of the one in which you're buying your products. Our insistence on buying cheap products is one of the factors (besides profit and greet) that is making companies use and abuse cheap labor in other countries. If we stop abusing Mexico, our borders will become less attractive. This solution is not cheap, either, but none of them are. This has the potential to fix more than violence or knuckling under.

Stop exploiting people in their own countries for our profits, and they will stop coming to this country to seek those profits.