Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Bush's Big Gamble

Dubya's oval office primetime speech on immigration reform was his best, ever. Mindful, one assumes, of Lincoln's famous observation that you can fool some folks part of the time, some folks all of the time, but never all the folks all of the time, George II craftily used a carrot and stick approach that allows National Guardsmen to be stationed on the Mexican border at least temporarily, while about 6,000 new customs officers are trained, a provision certain to please the conservatives in hopes they'll go along with the "guest worker" program that will, eventually, legitimate the 11 to 12 million illegals currently living and working in the US. Bush has learned the old adage that politics is the art of compromise, and the fact that there are far right elements resolutely refusing to pass any bill with an "amnesty" program suggests that the Prez is on the right track.

His form of "amnesty" -- it isn't even fair to call it that -- calls for illegals standing in line behind those who are here legally and working on green cards and, ultimately, nationalization, as well as payment of penalties/taxes, making a good faith effort to learn some English, and other demands quite unlike the program set up by Ronald Reagan earlier. Hardliners will continue to insist that amnesty by any other name is still amnesty, but the Bush administration points out that a country founded and developed by immigrants has no business rounding up 11 million people and deporting them wholesale. Bush was so passionate about it, it seemed to me that it was the first and only evidence of his campaign promise/slogan, "compassionate conservatism." Even Karl Rove strode over to the congressional office building to implore votes in favor of the reform proposal.

Unfortunately, the agenda falls short of tackling what I personally feel to be the Number One roadblock -- and it's not on a highway across the Rio Grande. Like drug legislation designed to fight the importation of controlled substances from places like Mexico -- which fails because we spend little or nothing to reduce the demand (e.g. treatment programs) -- illegal immigration mainly exists and grows because there are too many employers here (including major corporations) willing to look the other way when hiring, sometimes with the excuse, "Well, he showed me a Social Security card," a piece of identification so easily forged it might have been dummied up by a blind man. Enforce the permissive hiring laws and word might get around in places like Mexico that the job market is so poor in the US, one might as well stay home.

Conservatives always argue that illegals are taking jobs away from Americans, but liberals -- and Vincente Fox -- insist that Mexican workers come to the US to take jobs we Americans are unwilling to do. This almost always leads to a chicken-egg argument. Do the Mexicans take the jobs because their standard of living is low, allowing them to work for minimum wage (or less!). or have the salaries for like employment dropped to take advantage of the "slave wages"? Labor leaders gripe about illegal immigration lowering the wages of the American worker, but would the employer be able to stay afloat at all without the illegals?

In my posts to egroups devoted to such topics, I have pointed out that a reduced illegals labor force would inevitably increase the cost of goods and some services. I asked fellow members, "Would *you* pick onions, potatoes, or other ground produce bent over all day with a tool guaranteed to give you carpal tunnel syndrome?" It's a rhetorical question but an increasingly important one. All indications are that the spiraling cost of gasoline at the pump is being passed on to the consumer by retailers who utilize the transportation industry (almost everything we buy!), which translates to the most dreaded word in the language: inflation. In turn, inflation is bad for the 401-K. Seems to me, it is the wrong time be reforming immigration. For what most employers are paying the illegals, most American workers could not live, especially when a five-ounce ground sirloin patty selling in a butcher shop here yesterday at 75 cents was going for 79 cents today.

No comments: