December 24, 2010
What's My Motivation? The Arguments for Immigration ReformBy Mark Browning
A hailstorm brought the useful life of my mother's roof to an end this summer. An acquaintance of mine came to the house, gave Mom a bid, and left with a deposit check. When his crew arrived a few days later, their appearance shocked my mother. Apparently, she had expected the 2010 counterparts of Archie Bunker and Ralph Kramden. Instead, she had six workers, one of whom could speak English -- sort of.
In a recent American Thinker essay, Christopher Chantrill explored the motivations that might lead a new contractor to hire "undocumented" workers rather than tax-paying, on-the-books, legal workers. By tacking on a 32% surcharge in the form of payroll taxes, our government provides a profound disincentive for small-scale employers to play by the rules.
I understand how money matters can lead a roofing contractor to hire the most recent arrivals from Chiapas rather than the most recent graduates of Rydell High School. That 32% could allow our contractor to underbid the rule-followers by 10% and still pocket a lot more in the way of profits. It's not right, but it is understandable.
Similarly, I can understand the forces that would drive a young man from the rural reaches of Mexico over the Rio Grande and onto that roofing crew. If I had the choice between staying home and earning perhaps $500 a month or heading north and earning double that at minimum wage, I'm pretty sure I'd have my bag packed. That's an understandable motivation as well.
Just as easily, I understand the motivation of people like my mother who take advantage of that lower-paid, off-the-books labor. Mom could have insisted on a strictly legal crew. Had she been able to find such a group, she'd have probably paid at least a 20% premium for the privilege of being proper.
While I understand all of these motivations, I cannot wrap my mind around the motivation of those who want to wave a legislative wand and grant amnesty, citizenship, or some other fast-track benefit to vast numbers of illegals.
One of the most common arguments regarding illegals is that they "work jobs that Americans won't do." With 9% unemployment, we have Americans too good to perform certain honorable trades like roofing? Of course, the people who believe this rubbish have good reason. After all, none of the people with whom they hung out with at Berkeley were interested in roofing. The people who staff the NPR fund drive are not looking for jobs as meat cutters. Nobody at Whole Foods seems to want to be a garment worker. Isn't it obvious that Americans don't want the jobs that these kindly pilgrims have come here to work?
If these people lived near me, they'd know the sheetrock finishers, the carpenters, and other manual laborers who have found their livelihood challenged by immigrants.
Of course, that argument is not a motivation for condoning illegal immigration; it's just a rationale, an excuse. Even if no legal worker wanted to put roofs on houses, does that mean we ought to throw open the borders? There are many things that I do not want to do in my life, but necessity forces me to do them. Perhaps we could find some nice Sudanese people to stand in line at the DMV for us.
Many of the illegal immigrant apologists simultaneously argue for the extension of unemployment benefits. Do these people not realize that the illegal immigrants, most of whom are not generating any money for the unemployment benefit fund, are at the same time generating the need for benefits? Let's say we could magically oust a million illegals, replacing them with a million unemployed legal workers. Even at minimum wage, those million legals would generate nearly a billion dollars in unemployment taxes, while saving perhaps $15 billion in benefits. Plus, these people would be paying FICA taxes and would presumably not be sending big chunks of money out of the country to be spent there. Something tells me that this would be more stimulative than most of what Washington has tried in the past two years.
Another apparent motivation of the amnesty crowd is fairness. In their minds, American citizens have no right to say who can and cannot live, work, and die in this country. I notice that these same people have no problem determining who can and cannot live in whatever home they own or rent. Many of this crowd live in exclusive areas where the impact of illegal immigration is very slight. Their fairness argument, then, seems to only extend so far.
Others are motivated by the notion that America has been built by immigrants. While this is true, it's hardly relevant. The nation has also been built by war, slavery, and environmental excess, but nobody wants to perpetuate those things.
Then there's the family compassion motivation, recently foregrounded in the DREAM Act. While it's nice that somebody is thinking about the children, the people who wring their hands over families being "ripped apart" by deportation seem to miss an obvious fact. When illegal dad is deported but native-born Junior is allowed to stay, the compassion crowd insists that Dad must be allowed to remain the U.S. But can Junior not return home with Dad?
These motivations for immigration leniency are embraced mostly by the left. Not surprisingly, they do not endure much close scrutiny. There are, however, motivations that make a measure of sense, even if we find them distasteful.
There is a political motivation involved for some. In the minds of some Democrats, a few million legalized illegals will be a few million Democrat voters. This is a motivation that, while loathsome, I can understand. The problem is that it just doesn't work. As new voters are minted out of the ranks of the illegals, old labor-oriented voters are pushed away.
Another aspect of the political motivation lies in interest groups. Hispanic groups believe (probably with justification) their power will be enhanced if illegals are made legal. What is good for the organization, however, is not necessarily good for its constituents.
Large corporations embrace the legalizing of the masses, as it increases the labor supply. In recent years, nearly all meat-processing has moved from large cities and union labor to smaller towns and lower-paid immigrant labor. Since the employment of illegal workers is a risk for corporations, the mass "legalizing" of them would simplify the labor market.
In the end, we can see that most of the motivations clung to by the rank-and-file leftist are nonsensical. As is so often the case, these people find themselves cluelessly parroting the arguments of their leaders, while the true motivations remain far from selfless. Perhaps if we could clear away the junk thinking about immigration, like that old roof on my mother's house, we can think clearly and honestly about this issue before the entire house collapses around our ears.