Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Give me your tired, your poor...

We have been having some discussion over on Facebook with friends debating Arizona's new immigration law. We were asked whether we thought we needed immigration reform and if so what were our thoughts? So what is our answer? Yes. But we probably think of immigration reform differently that most.

First, we believe it's important to acknowledge simple facts. First, this country has an addiction to cheap immigrant labor. From the indentured servants that sailed from Europe, to the slaves that came over on slave ships from Africa, to the masses of Irish and Italians that came wave after wave, to the Chinese that built the transcontinental railroad, to the Southeast Asians who fled communism, to the Mexicans who cross the Rio Grande to pick our vegetables and hang drywall, cheap immigrant labor is our smack. We've been mainlining this dope since our inception and we could not quit now if we wanted to.

And that's the second fact, we are addicted to paying less. It's the Wal-Mart ethos, which has spoiled all of us. We expect everything to be available cheaply and in bulk. That mindset creates two issues in regards to the issue of immigration. First, it means we need cheap labor here in the US to pick our fruit, dig our building footings, cut our yards, care for our children, clean our houses/hotel rooms, and serve our food. Second, it means we have no problems with people in other countries not paying living wages, having horrible working conditions, and doing everything on the cheap as long as it means we can pick up that press-wood entertainment center at Target for 1/4th the price of buying one made here in the US. The practical meaning of this, is that we need labor to exploit here and we don't care if it's exploited south of our border. If you were a Latino, where would rather work?

Yeah, yeah, Pine...but what do you said we need reform. Stop bitching and propose something. Well...we think several things need to be looked at. First, we think it should be opened up more. Allow people to come in and work. Make it easier to do so legally. And no, we don't care if they are already here illegally. Making it illegal has obviously not worked, so why continue a flawed solution. We haven't given a whole hell of a lot of thought to it, simply because we're not sure how it would work best. But some kind of system where an immigrant's work status is tracked for a period of X years and after completion of X years of working and contributing to society they are allowed full citizenship. Hell...we could actually use this to our advantage to shift employees around the workforce as needed. Create "need" jobs where service in those jobs puts one on a faster track to full citizenship.

Two, those who are here in the country have to pay into the system. In our opinion, this is the BIGGEST hurdle in immigration reform. Why? Because it means that those that employ immigrant labor pay for it. There's a reason why the contractors grabbing the temps at the corner groceria pays them in cash at the end of the day. He doesn't have to pay for any comp coverage, unemployment tax, etc. That would have to change. Is there a way to work that so that the labor remains "cheap?" Don't know. But that's the key issue to tackle. As far as the immigrants themselves paying in, if we make it easier to come to work and we're tracking that work, and we're tracking what the employers are doing, then there's no reason we could not track that everyone was paying into the system.

Three, it's time to end "the war on drugs." As Carver and Herc once informed Griggs, "you can't call this shit a war...wars end." What's the war on drugs got to do with immigration? For one thing, we need money to more effectively track immigrant labor and employers who use it. We're throwing billions of dollars a year away fighting this "war." Why? The only thing the war on drugs does is drive up the cost of the drugs, it doesn't stop anyone anywhere in this country from partaking in their particular drug of choice. All it does is raise the cost on the street of dope, which in turn enriches the drug cartels. The fact that these drug cartels have more money than Davey Crockett allows them to run their towns, cities, even countries on the "plata o plomo" philosophy: silver or lead. Take the bribe or get your ass shot. Guess what? That level of violence and corruption sure would make our ass willing to swim a river or two to make a better life for our family.

The AP had a good article recently documenting how badly this "war" had failed.

Using Freedom of Information Act requests, archival records, federal budgets and dozens of interviews with leaders and analysts, the AP tracked where that money went, and found that the United States repeatedly increased budgets for programs that did little to stop the flow of drugs. In 40 years, taxpayers spent more than:

_ $20 billion to fight the drug gangs in their home countries. In Colombia, for example, the United States spent more than $6 billion, while coca cultivation increased and trafficking moved to Mexico — and the violence along with it.

_ $33 billion in marketing "Just Say No"-style messages to America's youth and other prevention programs. High school students report the same rates of illegal drug use as they did in 1970, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says drug overdoses have "risen steadily" since the early 1970s to more than 20,000 last year.

_ $49 billion for law enforcement along America's borders to cut off the flow of illegal drugs. This year, 25 million Americans will snort, swallow, inject and smoke illicit drugs, about 10 million more than in 1970, with the bulk of those drugs imported from Mexico.

_ $121 billion to arrest more than 37 million nonviolent drug offenders, about 10 million of them for possession of marijuana. Studies show that jail time tends to increase drug abuse.

_ $450 billion to lock those people up in federal prisons alone. Last year, half of all federal prisoners in the U.S. were serving sentences for drug offenses.

At the same time, drug abuse is costing the nation in other ways. The Justice Department estimates the consequences of drug abuse — "an overburdened justice system, a strained health care system, lost productivity, and environmental destruction" — cost the United States $215 billion a year.

Harvard University economist Jeffrey Miron says the only sure thing taxpayers get for more spending on police and soldiers is more homicides.

"Current policy is not having an effect of reducing drug use," Miron said, "but it's costing the public a fortune."

In short, we guess our position on immigration reform is, reform is a good idea...but it's got to target the underlying causes. Unfortunately, no one cares to seriously look at reforming these problems. Want to know how comical the immigration debate is in this country? Look at the video that sparked our Book of Face debate: Sen. John McCain's own supporter LAUGHING at McCain's latest campaign commercial because he has so shamelessly switched his position on immigration in an effort to get re-elected. Keep in mind...this is the guy the Republican party nominated to be their presidential candidate in 2008 and now he's a joke because of this issue.

Immigration built this country. We have people we care very much about, who entered this country legally and jumped through all the hoops to secure citizenship. But it wasn't easy then and it has gotten significantly harder with the xenophobia that perpetrated our country after 9/11. It's our opinion that the only way to solve the problem is to remember what has made this country great: the fact that we were the land of the free and we welcomed all. That idea so succinctly described through an engraved bronze plaque on display in the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty:

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
' With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"
At the end of the day, we cannot forget what has made America the country we are today. It was not being a closed shop. It has been our warm embrace of the idea that America represents a better life. Not just for us, but for anyone.

Hattip to KB and Bobby F. for some inspirado.

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