For the past two weeks the country has seemingly been overwhelmed with the topic of immigration -- illegal immigration to be more precise. You see, the Senate is currently debating various proposals, which would as they see it, solve the problem of thousands of illegal immigrants annually crossing the southern border of the United States.
The House of Representatives already came up with their resolution last December -- tighter border security, turning undocumented immigrants into Class-A felons and criminalizing the act of knowingly assisting the law-breakers. Some say that last part goes way too far because assistance is defined to broadly and would turn non-profits, church organizations and other charity groups into criminals for giving them housing assistance, work training, food and seeing to their health. Hillary Clinton had the best line of the week when she said, "this would probably make Jesus a criminal."
Undoubtedly, there is a problem. the growth of illegal immigrants coming into the U.S. has expanded nearly four-fold since 1980. More than 20 years ago there were just over 3 million undocumented immigrants in the country and now the rate is generally seen at close to 12 million (although some say it may be closer to 20 million -- but that is hard stretch).
One can ask, so what's the problem, If they broke the law and bypassed pre-existing policies and jumped in front of thousands of other immigrants who are trying to enter this country legally, then why shouldn't they all be rounded up, taken to jail and shipped back to whatever country they came from?
That's a fair question -- and a complicated one, too. Senator John McCain, a Republican from Arizona has been begging for months for someone to explain to him how that can be done? What makes this a more complicated question though is the fact that illegal immigrants represent nearly 6 percent of the American workforce.
We see them every day in restaurants, in hotels, on construction sites, on America's farms and in textile factories. Because of low wages, less than satisfactory work conditions, no health benefits or job security Americans -- for good reason -- have said no way Jose! to these non-career building positions.
This dilemma leaves us with thousands of essential and vital jobs, which would go undone and cause a complete stall and perhaps derailment of the United States economy if these industries depended on Americans to do these jobs. To solve the quandary, the Senate has come up with a so-called "Guest Worker Program." This initiative would offer immigrants the opportunity to come to this country to do these jobs on a temporary basis -- as long as they went back across the border when the job was done. The Senate is also considering policies which would allow the 12 million illegal immigrants already hear a "path to so earned citizenship."
Many hard core conservatives are calling that last point amnesty -- a free ride. Hmm, hiding in the shadows of society, afraid to seek health care in an emergency, working for less than minimum wage just to save and send the money back to their home country and living in unkempt conditions without a voice if an employer stiffs them on a hard days work is a ride I'm sure most of us don't think even belongs at a Six Flags amusement park.
This bitter debate has born two cliches which have come to be quite annoying. First, "these are jobs Americans have refused to do?' the second,"we are a nation of immigrants."
Let's deal with the latter cliche first. Those who say we are a nation of immigrants seemingly have forgotten oh, about 400 years of American history. 13% of the American population is no where near in the category of "immigrant" -- its more like kidnapped victim.
Which brings me to the other phrase, Up until about the early 1950s the jobs Americans refused to do were being done by those kidnapped victims. The maids in the hotels and homes, the workers in the fields,the nannies, the farm hands were all positions met at the front door with the familiar phrase, "Colored Only." In fact the entire institution of slavery was born out of the fact tending to the tobacco and cotton fields of the South were jobs the majority population didn't want to do.
While it's important to recognize there needs to be some change in policy to control the borders (did someone say Al Qaeda?) and offset the increasing influx of illegal immigrants, this debate shouldn't be held in a vacuum. We've certainly identified the jobs American won't do but we have turned a blind eye to the most important W -- the why.
This is important not just for the immigrant worker -- but the unemployed and disenfranchised born here in the inner cities, the Mississippi Delta or the hills of West Virginia.
Perhaps if Congress dealt with the stagnant pay, work conditions and lack of modern protections affording almost every other worker, the jobs illegal immigrants are flocking to would be limited because the poor, disenfranchised citizen would already have it. Why should major industries get away with reducing their workers to mere indentured servants -- afraid to speak of any injustice due to the fear of deportation?
No wonder major businesses are backing the guest worker plan. It gets the government off their backs while maintaining their modern day slave labor force. Is the low-wage, low-skilled, limited education worker not worthy enough to be protected by OSHA, EEOC and any other alphabet-souped protection agency?
Unemployment in the African-American community is more than 8 percent and in some cities the rate of black males with no jobs is nearly 20%. Yet, they are left to wallow on street corners with nothing -- but the hopelessness their often less than high school education provides. Wouldn't it serve the greater society to have these so-called less than desirable jobs in the hands of some of these potential workers?
If American businesses want to keep a permanent underclass, which is forced to make pennies a day with little hope for tomorrow, at least be honest about it. Let's not cloud the issue by ignoring the basic problems facing low wage workers and masquerading the solution in a veil of human and social interest It's disingenuous to the entire conversation to believe the only interest at hand is ensuring Big Business keeps churning.
Yet, it's hard to fault these industries for pushing such proposals without having to give up anything in return... after all, servitude definitely served most of them pretty well for a few centuries -- but if we recall history, those labor policies ended in a Civil War. And you know what they say about those who don't learn from history.
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NOTE: Special Edition Coming - African-Americans & Marriage