March 27th, 2006

Brad @ Burning Man

Si on HR4437

For those of you who don't follow the news at all and aren't from one of the affected cities, something on the order of one million people, mostly all Latin American, and who knows how many of them illegal immigrants themselves, marched peacefully to protest 109 US House Resolution 4437 (HR 4437). (I'd link to the bill, but the House of Representatives computer system for some weird reason won't generate permanent links to the current version of bills in progress. Go to the Library of Congress's THOMAS system, click Bill Number, and enter HR4437.) HR 4437's becoming something of a grab bag bill, and the odds are that the Senate (which takes up debate of it this week, hence the protests) will almost certainly change it before passing it themselves, so the exact contents of the proposed law won't be known until it comes out of conference committee. But the intent is clear, unambiguous, and (as you'd expect me to say if you followed what I write about US immigration policy) a pretty nearly 100% perfect collection of ideas that I am enthusiastically in favor of. The main thrust of HR 4437 is that the United States is, over President Bush's strenuous objections and those of the US Chamber of Commerce,finally proposing to seriously step up the pressure on illegal immigration to the US.

Among the common sense proposals are to build a fence across the southern border. This won't actually stop anyone, and nobody expects it to, but it makes slowing them down perceptibly easier and, more importantly, sends a clear signal. The bill also creates the presumption that people with tattoos identifying themselves as members of some of the most notorious and deadly drug cartels in the western hemisphere are completely ineligible to enter the United States, not even as refugees. By making the actual act of illegal immigration a felony, it finally gives La Migra the legal status to immediately deport any illegal immigrant or permanently detain them until their final status hearing; it also makes it clear and unambiguous that illegally entering the United States permanently screws up any chance you had to ever enter the US legally. And it makes finding work with a fake US social security card a lot harder, by expanding a current pilot program to require all businesses to verify prospective employees names and social security numbers online through the Social Security Administration; if the SSA shows no such number, or a number that doesn't match the name, then getting caught having hired that employee will cost your company $10k per illegal immigrant hired. And perhaps most controversially, in recognition of the fact that a lot of charities are just fine with then 12 million illegal immigrants in the USA and think we ought to have even more illegal immigrants, they've made it a crime for those charities to assist illegal immigrants in entering the US or remaining here. They've also added a 6 month mandatory minimum sentence to all immigration felonies.

Now, back before the "pilot program," back before real-time Social Security validation was technologically plausible, legal US citizens and legal immigrant workers who looked Hispanic or Asian had a legitimate beef with some of these ideas, and that's one of the reasons why we've never had a serious crack down on employers. If it's almost impossible, or even reasonably difficult, for an employer to be confident that the Asian-looking or Hispanic-looking applicant across the desk from them is a legal employee, then in the face of a serious crackdown on employers it would have created a powerful incentive to hire the white guy or the black guy instead. Similarly, they had a legitimate reason to beef about immigration sweeps aimed at weeding out illegal immigrants from industries like fruit picking, meat packing, and day labor. Perhaps as many as a third of the people in those industries are US citizens or legal immigrants, and it would have been a serious imposition on the legal workers who looked like illegals to be constantly searched and hassled. And the experience of being suspected of being an illegal immigrant is one of the only common threads in the politics of the many otherwise varied Latin American immigrant communities in the US. This created a plausible impression that it's not rage at what illegal transient immigrants are doing to our economy and our communities that motivates the sweeps, but racism against people who came here from Latin America or southeast Asia.

I had no idea that there was so much such suspicion that it would make it possible for them to gather between 500,000 and 1,000,000 of them in Los Angeles, and tens of thousands of them in several other cities, to protest HR 4437. (See Peter Prengaman, "Size of L.A. March Surprises Authorities," AP, 3/26, and Dave Bullock, "Largest Protest Ever in Los Angeles: Gran Marcha 2006," Metroblogging LA, 3/25.) And frankly, when any constituency can gather one million people at a time, one third of a percent of the whole US population in a single weekend specifically to demand that we continue to extend to them the "right" to egregiously and in increasing numbers and to increasingly publicly violate US law, it makes me nervous in ways that are hard for me to explain. Nor does my nervousness abate when the protests show signs of continuing to expand; I saw a flier over the weekend that's apparently being passed from hand to hand encouraging all Latin-American students all over the country, legal or illegal, to boycott school today and join the protests. (I'd show you the link, but the LJ entry I saw it in has since friends-locked it.) The US is also facing intensifying pressure from the frankly racist governments of most of Latin America, who are subtly threatening everything from diplomatic repercussions up to (say it softly) turning a blind eye to drug smugglers and terrorists who might want to attack us from their countries, if we don't allow them to continue to export their most ambitious darker-skinned population so that the local tiny white-skinned minorities can continue to own and control the less ambitious brown-skinned poor as little better than plantation slaves on a single glorified plantation the size of two continents, rather than actually make it possible for those countries' darker-skinned majorities to start and operate their own businesses and hire each other. (That they accuse us in the US of racism, while going easy on the centuries-long and on-going blatant racism of their own home countries' governments, increasingly enrages me.)

What are they marching for? The same thing that the President wants, the same thing that the US Chamber of Commerce wants: for us to grant "temporary worker" visas to all twelve million of them. That way they can continue to work at half the wages anybody else would because they're not investing in their local communities, because they're packed six and ten and twelve to an apartment so all the money can be sent home to pay for the groceries (and line the pockets of their white owners) back in Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, and so on. And, more importantly, by moving them into the legal economy without doing anything serious to deter yet more illegal immigration, so that the same industries can recruit yet another ten to twelve million illegals to do the work that they refuse to pay minimum wage for, refuse to obey safety and health laws for, and so on. And that, frankly, is why I don't care how many millions of people march this week, they're not going to get their worker amnesty program. Bush's guest worker program is as dead as his social security privatization scheme. He knows it, too. It was all over last week's news that there's nobody in the White House even in charge of trying to pass that proposal. They're in hunkered down mode, concentrating entirely on Iraq and the fall elections. But it's not just dead because Bush doesn't have the political capital to get his way.

It's dead because some of us are old enough to remember the last amnesty for illegal aliens. The Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 granted permanent worker status to virtually every illegal immigrant who'd been inside the US for 4 years or more as of that date, in exchange for a series of measures designed to draw the line and say "this many, but no more." The pro-illegal-immigrant lobby at the time promised us that the 1986 law would solve the problem once and for all, and that illegal immigration would slow to a trickle. Instead, it ballooned, from a few million twenty years ago to over ten million, now.

The marchers say that the US needs those twelve million people. They're right about that, or right about nearly all of them anyway. But we need them as legal citizens. We need those people to want to become Americans, we need those people to move into our increasingly empty cities, buy properties long vacant and fix them up, open the boarded up stores, and buy up the tons of goods that are rotting in warehouses all over America because the people already here have enough of them. We need them to not only take jobs, which they're already doing, we need them to create jobs, which is something that no illegal immigrant or guest worker can do. America as a nation is facing a serious shortage of both workers and customers. We could almost certainly integrate at least ten million of those twelve million people into our society today, or at most over a couple of years' time. But because of the fiasco that was the Immigration Act of 1986, we are not going to even have that debate until the illegals are gone.