Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Just finished Schlosser's Reefer Madness - and here's a conglomeration of quotes and my own thoughts about why this is so important and what we must change with the way we deal with illegal immigration. Disclaimer - much is pulled directly from the book.

The growth of the underground, of using illegal labor, has lowered wages, eliminated benefits and reduced job security in the meatpacking, construction, gardening, garment manufacturing, picking and growing industries.

The migrant work force is poor, lives on the fringes in illegal housing and drives illegally, and is easily exploited. Immigrants live in ditches, hidden on private property, or sleep on the ground by roadsides and at orchards. They must do battle with unsafe working conditions, wages far below the national minimum wage and zero job security day to day.

They should be given the chance to come to America, to work, but not like this. Every day they remain illegal another immigrant is exploited, the state agencies and hospitals are overtaxed and overburdened, Emercency rooms are crowded and taxpayers pay for the benefits that corporations and growers reap. Cheap labor delays mechanization or puts it off entirely.

"Companies are willing to break the law to gain a competitive advantage over those that employ legal residents, that pay good wages and that fully pay their taxes. Employers who cheat are rewarded. There are 200 federal inspectors for workplace violations ... and a million private employers in California alone. A first federal offense of employing an illegal immigrant is a fine of $250, a third offense, $3,000."

"Michael Allen Lee recruited migrants at homeless shelters in Florida, charged them for room, board, transportation and cigarettes, loaded them with debt, gave them as little as $10 a day for a day's work in the fields, sometimes paid them in crack cocaine and alcohol instead of cash, and threatened to harm anyone who ran off. He beat one of his farmworkers severely, then made him scrub his own blood off the walls. In August 2001, a federal judge sentenced Lee to four years in prision after a plea bargain. Had he been convicted of growing 100 marijuana plants, he would have faced a mandatory minimum sentence of five years in prison."

"In December, 2002, Helion Cruz, a pastor from a church in Wimauma, Florida, discovered a trailer full of young migrant workers - the door was chained shut. "

"Adjusted for inflation, the wages of tomato pickers have fallen by more than 50 percent over the past 25 years." Workers generally develop back problems and cannot work past their mid-thirties.

Sharecropping - basic indentured servitude - should not exist in this country. Hard work should be rewarded and these immigrants should be given a chance to earn a fair and decent wage, rather than existing as they do at the borders of our society, a set-up that benefits only the businesses that save money on labor costs.

Guest-worker programs are unworkable in practice - because the desire to move and immigrate to this country is so great, policing all of those workers would be impossible and hundreds if not millions would simply use it as a means of immigration - illegally - which will again deprive them of their rights as human beings. It would be more of the status quo. Although it could afford more rights to those already here, and provide some sort of legal (and moral) framework for bringing these immigrants into American society, rather than treating them like second-class citizens.

The government should either legalize immigration and the illegal immigrants currently in the country should be given full rights and legal status, or they should enforce the labor laws on the books and crack down on the businesses that hire illegal immigrants, including contractors, sharecroppers and growers who are used as a legal dodge by so many in these industries. They must make a decision. I advocate legalization; we have, de facto, an open border, and the only one benefiting from the status quo are the industries undercutting labor costs. The ones losing in the current paradigm are the immigrants (who are often exploited and exposed to horrible working conditions, and have no rights whatsoever) and the taxpayers and state services, which must provide what the industry will not - health care and social services that should be built in to their employment.

But honestly, the chances of anything happening at the federal level are slight - we will argue about a guest worker program for years, and tighten the border perhaps, but other than that, even the waves of anti-immigrant and pro-immigrant sentiment will fall on dull ears. At the state and local level, you can expect business interests to be protected and entrenched - like they are in Florida - and public (and mostly white) opinion to be turned against legalizing the people who wash, cook and clean for the legal citizens of the United States. We must continue to advocate for worker's rights and better wages, for some sort of watchful gaze, but we cannot expect things to change anytime soon.