Thursday, May 17, 2007

BREAKTHROUGH AGREEMENT IN IMMIGRATION BILL: AGRIBUSINESS AND CHEAP EMPLOYERS BREATH A SIGH OF RELIEF

"It is not amnesty. This will restore the rule of law." --Sen. Arlen Specter today, on the "compromise." (AP, 05.17.2007)

WashIntUhN d.C.--It's hard to feel good or bad about this agreement over the McCain/Kennedy proposal. Most illegales will get a fine of $5,000 (where will they earn enough to pay for this?), and it should take 8-13 years for naturalization as an American citizen. The question is: how will this affect the status of these migrant workers as far as how much they make, whether they have legal-protections so they cannot be blackmailed by employers who have hired them illegally (then, exploiting them with low-wages, undercutting them and American workers), and whether companies who employ illegales will have to finally bear-the-brunt of legal violations. As it stands, illegales bear this brunt.

One could readily expect that this legislation protects the status quo of employing illegal aliens from Mexico and Latin America, but the details coming-out are vague. A "temporary worker" program just means these unsavory employers in agribusiness and manufacturing get their free-pass, but they usually do. This is all to ensure that the pressure on American workers is maintained, keeping wages as low as possible. Really, all this amounts to is a proposal, and a symbolic agreement. No bill has been passed yet, but the hoopla could easily give one the impression that one has.

The key breakthrough came when negotiators struck a bargain on a so-called "point system" that prioritizes immigrants' education and skill level over family connections in deciding how to award green cards. ...The proposed agreement would allow illegal immigrants to come forward and obtain a "Z visa" and — after paying fees and a $5,000 fine — ultimately get on track for permanent residency, which could take between eight and 13 years. Heads of household would have to return to their home countries first. They could come forward right away to claim a probationary card that would let them live and work legally in the U.S., but could not begin the path to permanent residency or citizenship until border security improvements and the high-tech worker identification program were completed. (AP, 05.17.2007)

For illegal immigrants, it sounds like a raw deal. It's also a raw deal for the American worker. Interestingly, Democrats seem to be siding-with those sundry employers who covet those illegales for cheap labor to exploit. It's unsurprising, as interests overlap, coupled with the fact that many political donors give to both parties. What's missing from all of this coverage is the influence of lobbying (see the business press for candor in this area). To be fair, many Democrats simply want a direct path to citizenship, allowing aliens to reside permanently within the continental United States. That's just facing the reality that they aren't going anywhere, and it's more pragmatic. The problem is reactionaries in both parties.

Today was a first-step--a baby-step--but a step forward nonetheless. In that sense it can lauded as a good move, and the only area of the Bush legacy that has shown any enlightenment or pragmatism--but the votes of all these future citizens are coveted. Thankfully, the GOP is obsessed with blowing its own foot off. It's unlikely they will ever recover from last year's call for making all illegal aliens felons under H.R. 4437 of the do-nothing 109th Congress, and that the Democratic Party has those votes in the bag. H.R. 4437 passed the House (239-182), but never made it to the Senate. Again, the future voters are coveted.

This was wise, considering the national protests it stimulated, as well as casting the GOP in the adversarial-role with the Hispanic community in the United States. But that was late-2005, and much has changed since then. But what hasn't changed is the bizarre commitment to constructing the 700 mile Hadrian's wall between Mexico and the US, as well as increased funds from Homeland Security to patrol and surveil the border. These sections of H.R. 4437 are likely to remain intact with the new compromises, and are a saddening waste of tax-dollars that could be used to meet human needs.

The temporary worker program is pretty awful: it's going to break-up Mexican families, which is a big-deal in their culture. There will be very serious repercussions in the future over it, and they'll be political ones. George W. Bush wasn't the first American politician calling for amnesty and citizenship for illegales, there were many activists within the Hispanic community who have for decades (even before Caesar Chavez). This has happened before with the Bracero Treaty during WWII when the labor was badly-needed:

The Great Depression saw a heightening of discrimination as people viewed Mexicans as a drain to the economy. In response, the U.S. and Mexican governments co-sponsored a repatriation program that returned thousands of immigrants to Mexico. Approximately one-sixth of all people of Mexican descent living in the U.S. in 1930, were repatriated by 1939. The tide turned when the U.S. entered World War II in 1942 and labor was siphoned from all sectors of U.S. industry. The U.S. signed a formal Bracero Treaty, allowing approximately 5 million Mexicans into the U.S. with temporary contracts to work for American growers and ranchers. (ailf.org, updated 05.14.2006)

Then the war ended, but the immigration kept coming, and many people just atayed in the US. By the 1980s, there was more clamoring from the public for controls, and Reagan and Congress agreed on The Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, which was just another quick-fix (keeping employers satisfied). One has to be curious whether any new legislation will be anything more than another short-term solution. Question: where the hell are the unions?

This is a golden opportunity to change the dynamic in this country for the average worker--including Mexicans--giving us all the upper-hand over employers. Perhaps they were blinded by all their honey-deals with the boss, because a ten-year-old could tell you unionizing Mexican workers will change everything. It would raise the wages of Hispanics, Blacks, Whites, and everyone else who works for a living. Not to court them is incredibly stupid, but that's a labor boss for you. Bloomberg actually noted some of the pressures coming from lobbying, being more honest than Reuters and AP:

Farm owners and restaurants have backed legislation to let immigrants at least temporarily take jobs in the U.S. that might otherwise go unfilled. The Chamber of Commerce, the nation's largest business federation, supports "an earned pathway to legalization'' and a "carefully monitored guest or essential worker program,'' according to a statement on its Web site. ...Outlines of a possible deal hinge on the willingness of Republicans to compromise over a guest-worker program and on concessions from Democrats on reunification of immigrant families, lawmakers said. (Bloomberg, 05.16.2007)

Maybe they all prefer wildcat and general strikes that nobody can control through official-channels, and demonstrations over families that have been split-up. 8-13 years is too-long for naturalization, as well the "points system," it solves nothing about the overall demographic picture. It all seems a little too-early to announce this, but the "breakthrough" must be pretty real in the Senate. We can only wait-and-see what it finally entails. A bourgeois-hoot.

AP Today: http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20070517/ap_on_go_co/immigration_congress

"Mexican Voices, American Dreams:A Celebration of Mexican Immigration": http://www.ailf.org/exhibit/ex_mexican_files/mexicans04exhibit.asp

December 2005, text of H.R. 4437 (of the 109th Congress): http://www.govtrack.us/congress/billtext.xpd?bill=h109-4437

Bloomberg, 05.13.2007: http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601103&sid=aDV9WZg_GLlA&refer=us

Justice for Immigrants: http://www.justiceforimmigrants.org/