Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Illegal Immigration

America wants cheap fruits and vegetables, but isn't willing to pay the price for them.

Moving to other countries can be complex, rewarding, challenging, and sometimes illegal. Along with much of the anti-immigrant furor which crops up in countries from time to time — it's cropping up here in the Netherlands and was very common when I lived in the UK¹ — there's also an occasional backlash against illegals.

What always frustrates me about this backlash is that there's often very little rational discussion about the issue. In US President George Bush's 2007 State of the Union Address, he declared a need for a "guest worker" program (he had tried to push it before that). The idea was to allow workers to come to the US, pick the crops and go home. The theory is that since we need laborers willing to work for little money on some of the most difficult and low-paying jobs we need done, why not temporarily allow people in the country who will do those jobs. Republicans are stereotypically anti-immigration and they objected to their own President's proposal, though I will give Bush credit for trying to solve a thorny problem.

Well, the state of Georgia recently tried to solve this problem by passing HB 87, a complicated and expensive "punish the hell out of everyone" law which aimed to stop people from applying for jobs illegally, stop employers from hiring illegals, stop people from transporting illegals, stop illegals from using false documentation, etc. It aimed to gut illegal immigration and at first glance, it appears that it's already achieved one of its major goals: stopping illegal immigrants from taking work.

Though I believe people should have the opportunity to live and work wherever in the world they want to (and I know it's an unrealistic dream), I rather welcome Georgia's law because in accomplishing what it set out to do, it's showing America what's really going on with immigration issues. Just over a month after it was passed, in a state where agriculture is their number one industry, crops are rotting in the field. From that article:

Barely a month ago, you might recall, Gov. Nathan Deal welcomed the TV cameras into his office as he proudly signed HB 87 into law. Two weeks later, with farmers howling, a scrambling Deal ordered a hasty investigation into the impact of the law he had just signed, as if all this had come as quite a surprise to him.
Did you catch the "two weeks later" bit? That's how serious these issues are. They have an immediate and deep impact on us and naïvely pretending that kicking out illegal immigrants and getting worked up over them allegedly stealing jobs doesn't help the situation. Georgia knew very well that they were heavily dependent on illegal immigrants taking up work, but because the Republican legislature valued slogans over reality, Georgia faces having their farm industry crumbling at a time when the economy is already doing very poorly.

The governor is scrambling to fix the mess he's made and he's encouraging farmers to hire "criminal probationers" to replace the illegal aliens. There are plenty of problems with this, not the least of which is that there are only about 2,000 inexperienced workers to replace the estimated 11,000 person shortfall.  And for anyone who says Americans are simply too lazy for this work needs to apply for one of these jobs and try to keep it for a week. It's back-breakingly hard labor under a hot sun, for very little pay. I've read of some encouraging the farms to pay more money for workers (and some have already tried bonuses with little success), but if the farms pay out too much money, their produce will be too expensive relative to other US states who have been a bit more pragmatic about this issue.

It's entirely possible that the courts may shut down this law, or at least put a stay on it, but I hope they don't. Though painful, I want Georgia to see firsthand how complicated immigration issues really are and perhaps the rest of the USA can get an idea that maybe they should think about these issues rather than simply pontificate.

1. One abhorrent woman in the UK kept ranting about needing to keep immigrants out and rather than me bluntly pointing out that she immigrated from Austria, I simply pointed out that I was from the US. She told me I was the "right" kind of immigrant and made it quite clear she wasn't talking about "highly skilled migrant". Sadly, Austria has quite a bad reputation in this area.