Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Torn between the law and low prices

Does anyone think much about the plight, the personal plight of the undocumented workers among us today?

The debate rages between two waring parties.

On one side there are those who insist on immigrants from south of our border obeying our current, very inadequate legal provisions for allowing eager immigrants to secure legal work.

On the other side are employers--large and small--who argue that we face a growing labor shortage in the U. S. that only these workers will and can fill. We all benefit from this labor supply because it keeps costs down for a growing number of consumer goods and services.

Caught in the middle are real men, women and children. All have names. All have dreams, aspirations and hopes. Each one has an unique story worth hearing.

But, we seldom hear these stories. As a consequence, we seldom pause to understand the human dimensions behind the current debate. We choose to focus on law or labor instead of the people caught in the middle.

The solution will be found when we turn our eyes toward the people. It is usually that way in life. And, in this case, there is something to be gained and won for everyone.

Take the "law and order" folks. Monica and her family need to be provided a pathway to legal residency and, if they desire it, a process that ends in citizenship. It need not be careless or swift. It should require work, sacrifice and diligence--she and her loved ones would want it no other way. But, we need to find a way to allow the law to embrace them fully, as they step up to the process.

Or, consider those who need unskilled laborers. Any reform should make it clear to employers that unfair wages--those below minimum--will not be tolerated. There is a cost of doing business and a price for the goods and services that we all use and consume. Flushing the underground labor market out into the light of day will serve everyone better. Employers or employees that don't abide by the new process should be punished, but the major responsibility should be on business, not labor.

Good people like Monica and her family should not have to live in fear. Their ambitions and hard work should be rewarded. They should abide by the system and the process that is put in place. But, they shouldn't carry the entire burden of blame for our current situation, a situation we've all helped create.

Border security should be addressed in a comprehensive fashion. That's a separate issue that must be faced and its challenges solved.

But, Monica and her family are people, people caught in between. We need to start paying more attention to her, her family and to the millions of others who have served so many of us so well for so long.

It's always about people and all people matter.



faye said...

This is an emotional issue for me, as a middle school ESL teacher, b/c we do forget that there are people in the middle, real people...a lot of the kids I teach have unbelievable responsibilities, b/c their parents work two or three jobs to stay afloat; I shudder to think of the wages they are making...and when a family member is deported, it is like a death sentence to the family, and neither party is allowed to cross the border at all. We are cultivating an interesting climate among our young immigrants and children of immigrants...They grow up feeling unwanted by the country they live in, and that's the truth. The kids don't see any of the politics; they just see racism. I wonder what politics will look like when their generation has the floor.

chris said...

I agree with you, Larry, that something should be done. I think the problem comes when the border is not secured FIRST. People like me feel that they have no real intention of securing the border. Why? Because there are laws now to secure it and it has never been done. If 12-20 million people are legalized today, then what happens to the people who stream across the border tomorrow, next week and next year? Will there be another push 5 years from now to leagalize millions more plus all their relatives they will be allowed to bring in? This has certainly been the pattern of the past. If the people now are legalized, they will and should demand higher wages. The unions will see to that. But there will be a demand for more low wage workers to replace them, that's why the border will not be secured. It's like a revolving door. Why is it so hard to understand that the water should be shut off first, then do something about the flood?

dmowen said...

To Chris:

We do secure our border. It's not exactly easy to get into the US illegally. That's why people pay thousands of dollars and risk their lives to get here, some dying in the process. As long as there are differences in economic opportunity between the US and Mexico, people will come to the US to work. Economic forces are stronger than any law enforcement action. Read Adam Smith or witness the drug trade on this point. The issue is how do we legally fill the jobs that are available. We either need to massively increase legal immigration or legalize the people that are already here, already trained, already doing those jobs. To me it seems less disruptive and more "fair" to legitimize the work that is being done by immigrants that are already here, who already have the family and community support structures.

Karen said...

I have a friend who owns a construction company and hires people from Mexico almost entirely (and he pays them quite well, I'm glad to report.) I don't know their 'legal' status. I'd asked him to hire some friends of mine who need jobs. He said his workforce is unbeatable as it is. Why? Because of their INCREDIBLE work ethic.