"Illegal" immigrantion is becoming a front burner issue here in Colorado. What follows are my thoughts on undocumented workers and what could be done to mitigate the problem. A Dave Chandler, Green Party candidacy for U.S. House of Representatives in the Seventh Congressional District, will emphasize dignity and respect for ALL human beings ... and be a strong counter to the demagogic, rising xenophobia being pushed by politicians on the extreme right.
There is nothing so disgusting as the political exploitation of tragedy by craven politicians. Yet since the murder of Denver police officer Donnie Young by alleged suspect Raul Garcia-Gomez, an illegal worker from Mexico ... that is precisely what we have had to bear here in Colorado.
There is nothing so disgusting as the exploitation of tragedy by craven politicians. Yet since the murder of Denver police officer Donnie Young by alleged suspect Raul Garcia-Gomez, an illegal worker from Mexico ... that is precisely what we have had to bear here in Colorado.
Most notorious is Tom Tancredo, who is trying to go national with his political career by engendering hate and fear towards the 'different' people coming to work in this country. His pal, Peter Boyles on radio station KHOW, is Tancredo's broadcast puppy, often using his program to nuzzle xenophobia into some kind of outrage over undocumented restaurant dishwashers.
In the Seventh Congressional District, possible candidate Mark Paschall is pushing the immigration hot button, making it the number one issue on his list in a recent letter.
What these these guys and their supporters also haven't done is propose any kind of workable concept of how to begin solving the 'illegal' immigrant problem. Mostly they want to scapegoat and lay the 'blame' on the individual Mexican or Bulgarian or Guatemalan that is simply looking for a way, anyway, to provide for themselves and their families.
But it seems to me that there is a relatively simple idea to limit illegal immigration. What I am articulating here is not an original idea from me, but what a little thinking shows to be a potentially effective and humane and fair way of dealing with this issue without stoking the fires of suspicion, hate and fear.
Most human beings will do what is necessary to survive and thrive. Mexican nationals cross the border with the U.S. primarily to get jobs, work, and earn money. That is a laudable value. But they wouldn't be crossing the Rio Grande if the jobs did not exist or were unobtainable without documentation. Illegal immigration is a demand problem ... they keep coming because they know they'll find what they are looking for. They also know that they are in demand precisely because they are illegal, that lower wages and no benefits are the qualities they have that make them desirable to certain employers in the United States.
Those of us who believe strongly in the dignity of all individuals and want basic respect for all human beings - as explained in the Declaration of Independence - deplore the exploitation of undocumented workers by unscrupulous and greedy employers. We should welcome these potential workers when they are accorded a legal wage and treated the same as all of us born here want to be treated.
Therefore, new immigration laws should be enacted that revolve around this fundamental principle: employers who hire undocumented workers should do prison time - let me repeat that, PRISON TIME - and pay big fines. These laws need to be constructed in such a way as to prevent company executives from avoiding prosecution by contracting out labor. In other words, the CEO of a house building company cannot avoid culpability by hiring an independent roofing contractor who then recruits undocumented foreign workers. Think about this ... if the chief executive officer of Wal-Mart were to face ten years in prison for allowing his corporation to contract out janitorial services that hire undocumented workers for some of his stores -- the demand for exploited labor would dry up in a micro-second.
Now, we must then change the laws so that it is simpler and easier for Mexicans or Bulgarians or Guatemalans to obtain documentation. But with the sanction of the federal government, all labor laws, minimum wage laws, tax laws, etc., will have to apply to everyone working in the U.S., citizen or non-citizen. If all workers have to be treated the same under the law, the wish of some to create a low-wage workforce will be foiled -- that would be good news for all Americans who want to support themselves and their families.
Of course, it is this last point that is the 'fly in the ointment' for the corporate elite, including George W. Bush. A low-wage, no benefits, subservient labor pool is exactly what they are angling for because all they care about are profits and share value. They'll whine mightily about a plan that puts the responsibility on illegal employers, claiming that it puts too much of a burden on business. But in this internet age, how hard can it be to check-out a person's credentials to work legally. Take a look at this web site that makes it easy to verify Social Security numbers. And, by contrast, what about the present burden on the American taxpayer? Surely it will be much less expensive to hire agents to enforce the law on businesses that have physical addresses, than it would be to employ an army of ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) officers to track down thousands and thousands of migrating individuals; or to deploy thousands and thousands of military personel on the U.S.-Mexican border (which with recruiting goals unmet and 200,000 American troops in the Middle East might be impossible to do anyway).
The other people who will not like this idea are those who really don't want a workable solution because it serves their political or radio ratings purpose to engender suspicion and hate towards "illegal immigrants" ... those who would have Americans fear that every Spanish-speaking, Mexican-looking person is a potential cop-killer or terrorist. The best thing for this country would be for us to defeat those kind of demagogues at the polls and stop listening to those radio shows.
This proposal to punish illegal employers is pretty basic in its concept, but it does contain the germ of a principle that could deal with perhaps eighty percent of the illegal immigration dilemma for the United States. Unfortunately, it is my belief, that in a world of six billion people, trying to control the movement of human beings trying to better themselves is ultimately an intractable problem. But we can find ways to mitigate the more localized impacts of immigration. We should ask Congress to enact some version of this plan, it is better than the alternative of fear and hate that the xenophobes would bring upon us.
UPDATE: August 30, 2005 -- I want to clarify a couple of points on this idea. First, I want to emphasize the aspect that documented foreign workers in this country must be accorded human dignity, their rights under the law, and the responsiblities that citzen employees are given and must accept. This not only preserves a commitment to human rights, but economically levels the playing field for employers. All house builders, for instance, must live under the law -- there cannot be a competitive advantage for the unscrupulous contractor that hires undocumented workers and pays them an exploitive wage ... thereby undercutting the responsible builder that accepts less profit because she or he obeys the law.
Second, by having an employment law that provides dignity and fairness and realistic enforcement potential, we can put at a higher priority patrolling the borders to stop real bad people from seeking illegal entry into the United States. Drug smugglers, terrorists, criminals, etc., should be stopped -- and that should be what border officers should be free to look for and detain.
The immigration issue is becoming a front burner topic. There is not a black-and-white answer ... on the other hand, I do not believe that solutions need to be over complicated. However, the simplistic notion that just stationing thousands and thousands of troops on our borders is too expensive, impractical with all of Bush's wars going on, and raises serious questions about the use of military force inside our own borders. I think I have presented an idea that tries to achieve a workable remedy.
I certainly am open to altering my ideas and thoughts on this 'hot' issue of the day ... the dogmatic approach will lead to inaction. Please feel free to offer your opinions.