Sunday Protest Blogging: No Borders Edition

Los Angeles saw one of it’s biggest protests ever yesterday when between half a million and a million people marched against anti-immigration laws. The laws would make it a felony to be an illegal immigrant, and calls for walls to be built along the border. I understand they’re due to be debated in the Senate on Tuesday.

The mobilisation against this legislation all over America exceeded media expectations (although the organisers seem to have known how important it was to people). I’d like to pay tribute to everyone who atteneded those protests, and particularly those who put in the organising work to make it happen.

I think it’s easy to get complacent about this issue in New Zealand, to assume that just because it’s difficult for illegal immigrants to get here, immigration is less of an important political issue here. We get the occasional high profile refugee case. The most famouse is Ahmed Zaoui, an Algerian who was detained for a number of years, after he was given refugee status, because the SIS didn’t like him. Or when the government sedated a 16 year old girl in order to deport her back to Sri Lanka where she had been repeatedly raped by her family and feared the repercussions (she has since been given refugee status, and is going to Canada). But although dawn raids to get rid of illegal immigrants still happen, more people probably know the band than the practice.

Businesses exploit illegal immigrants, and it is the immigrants who are punished if the businesses are caught. Last year one bakery was caught paying one of their employee’s below the minimum wage and not providing him with holidays for 8 years. He was deported, they were fined $2,000. Employers have huge amounts of power over illegal immigrants, and the only way to change that is to say that those workers should be entitled to live here under the same conditions as everyone else.

I think it’s fantastic that it is a people’s issue in America, although I imagine it’s not for good reasons. My sister met a US border guard at a party (he had brought his border guard badge with him to New Zealand, which was probably the first sign of trouble), he said his job was to shoot Mexicans.

In New Zealand at the moment, the only people who talk about immigration, are people who want it restricted, or businesses who want workers. It’s obviously different in America, you don’t get hundreds of thousands of people on the streets to promote business interests. I think it’s really important to draw a line between people who support a more open immigration policy to suit the needs with business, are confused with people who think that immigration policy should suit the needs of people (so there should be no limits on immigraton)From the Guardian:

Bush sides with business leaders who want to let some of the estimated 12 million undocumented immigrants stay in the country and work for a set period of time. Others, including Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, say national security concerns should drive immigration reform.

By making immigration a tap that gets turned on and off to suit the labour market, employers can try and drive down wages and conditions by treating workers in other countries as a reserve army of labour.

So all power to the protesters, and I’m sure they’ll continue to draw a line between those who put people first, and those who put business first, as well as fighting the racist fucks who put up legislation like that up in the first place.

If you live in America and didn’t make those protests you get another chance, there’s a national day of action on April 10, you can find out more at the immigrant solidarity network.

Also posted on my blog

This entry posted in Economics and the like, Race, racism and related issues, Whatever. Bookmark the permalink. 

31 Responses to Sunday Protest Blogging: No Borders Edition

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  4. 4
    FormerlyLarry says:

    This is an odd issue with strange political bedfellows on all sides. But I have been surprised that many of the people that are vehemently against corporations outsourcing jobs to India and China have no problem with domestic outsourcing to illegal immigrants driving down wages for many Americans. As an example there was a story not too long ago about American roofers that have been getting about $15.00 / hr. are losing their jobs in vast numbers to illegal immigrants that will do the work for $6.00 / hr. So what happens to those middle class roofers or small businesses that actually follow the law?

    Many border towns and states are having deep financial problems partly due to providing services to illegals. Schools, hospitals, and prisons are bursting at the seams. Even the Democrat governors have had to declare emergencies due to illegal immigration economic pressures.

    There is no universal “right” for everyone in the world to come here just because they want to. Even if they don’t recognize our borders the US is a sovereign country with well defined borders and the federal government has both a right and responsibility to determine and enforce immigration law that are in the best interests of its citizens. A world without borders may be a happy thought to some, but its both unworkable and unreasonable for the real world. Even Mexico’s southern border is militarized to enforce its own immigration policies while whining about propositions that we do the same. This issue isn’t so much about race as about economics, security, fairness, and sensibly enforcing the laws (without the wink and nod).

  5. 5
    Robert says:

    If I were an anti-black racist, I would be hugely in favor of opening up immigration from Mexico. Why should blacks of modest educational attainments be able to get jobs, when we can set things up so that it makes more sense to hire Hispanics?

  6. 6
    mythago says:

    Absolutely. Black farm workers have been driven out of California in huge numbers by illegal immigrants taking their strawberry-picking jobs away from them.

    Don’t know about where the rest of you live, but it’s not exactly a secret in California that the restaurant and agricultural industries exist on the backs of illegal labor. If those industries were forced to obey the law, they’d collapse. When your labor force sees $2/hr as a windfall, and won’t complain to OSHA or the DLSE because they might get deported, you can make some money.

    The people who bitch about their tax dollars going to illegal immigration costs are curiously silent about how much money they save not having to purchase produce, restaurant meals, home renovations or yard work at legal-market costs.

    FormerlyLarry’s concern about medium and small business is best addressed by enforcing labor and immigration laws against businesses who hire illegal immigrants. Don’t hold your breath on that one.

  7. 7
    slynne says:

    I dont think the US should have a completely open immigration policy. But I did think it was interesting that NAFTA didnt include the free trade of labor. What would happen in places like California if anyone from Canada or Mexico could come in legally and work for at least minimum wage? Wouldnt they pay taxes then? That would help communities support the infrastructure that such immigrants need.

  8. 8
    mythago says:

    Wouldnt they pay taxes then?

    They do pay taxes.

  9. 9
    Maia says:

    The solution to the problem of illegal immigrants being paid less is to enforce the labour laws.

  10. 10
    Robert says:

    Maia, you can enforce the labor laws all day long. Which will mean that the people coming up to fill the jobs will not be able to get the job, and won’t come across the border in the first place.

    Enforcing the labor law has exactly the same effect as putting up a wall. Which is what is being protested.

  11. 11
    Elena says:

    Mythago- many don’t pay taxes. I work with immigrant populations in my state, and many are hired under the table and paid in cash. No payroll taxes and no workers comp. This has obvious benefits to their employers, and is just as obviously something American workers and the people who hire them can’t compete with.

    The mantra that “they do the jobs Americans don’t want to do” is misleading. It may be true that it would be hard to find Americans willing to work for below minimum wage and without the modest workers rights we have in this country. I’m sure that employers of illegals much prefer the leverage they have over illegals, whom they can threaten with deportation and so forth if they complain about not getting all their wages. Indeed, many employers finally get busted for abusive labor practices when a naive illegal worker complains to the labor department (and then gets deported).

    I don’t understand the particular pro-immigrant argument that posits we should all welcome very cheap labor as it translates to very cheap goods and services for those of us who can afford them. That sounds like Brazilification to me. I’d rather have higher wages and not be able to afford a live in maid, thanks anyway.

  12. 12
    Rock says:

    Every 50 years or so we get a wave of “beware of the immigrant” fear mongering. MFK Fishers defenses still have merit decades later. One of the primary reasons folks are coming to the US is because of economic colonialism that exploits their resources in other countries and keeps things cheap for the US while limiting growth for them. (Not to mention the pollution and poor safety in thier work and living places) Folks want to complain about outsourcing and low wages, but still want to buy lots of stuff “at discount prices.”

    Exploitation here or there is indefensible. However anyone living here that needs food, clothing, Education or medical needs should get it. Folks who say we can’t afford it have a tough time justifying that after dumping hundreds of billions into the military to spread hatred and suffering amongst peoples that never asked for our “help.” (Isn’t that what China said when they rolled over Tibet? They asked for our liberation?) Do you want to slow immigration? Help and encourage folks to have the rule of law and opportunity in the lands they currently live.

    It was awesome in LA (accept for the freeway!)

  13. 13
    RedNova says:

    I think most people in this country would rather have one job with a decent living wage for them & their families (remember those days?) rather than the two or three dead-end low-paying jobs they have to take n0w just to make ends meet.

    The people who can ‘afford’ illegal workers & domestics can also afford to pay them a decent wage but won’t because they don’t have to. The cost of goods & services wouldn’t go up in an honest economy if this were so but the profits would go down. It’s the obscenity of profits-at-any-cost that drives the ‘need’ for an illegal underground workforce, not the need or desire for cheap goods & services.

  14. 14
    slynne says:

    mythago, yes you are right. They do pay taxes. I was thinking specifically of income tax, payroll taxes, etc that dont get paid when a worker gets paid under the table. But, of course, there are many other kinds of taxes. Also, not all illegal immigrants are paid under the table which means they get payroll deductions for things like Social Security that they will never see.

    Allowing labor to be traded like other goods would go a long way towards improving the situation for immigrants. For one thing, workers would not have the threat of deportation if they complained about illegal working conditions.

  15. 15
    Antigone says:

    My dad is a Border Patrol Agent (second generation) and yes, it is probably the most racist branch of American law enforcement.

    But he’ll tell you stories that make mine (and his) blood freeze.

    From the purely injustice: such as ranchers who’ll work an immigrant on his ranch for a month then calling BP when it comes to pay them (they now have changed the law so that the ranch MUST pay them), to the disturbing: finding half-starved, dying of thirst groups of men, women and children wandering in the desert because some pendejo lobo stole all their money, told them they’d get them to the US and then leave them, to the downright viciously cruel: the group of Hispanic girls that were locked in a dark room and raped repeatedly.

    It’s too easy to take advantage of these people. I believe in making it easier to get refugee status, but more than that: US companies should not be allowed to trade with countries that do not meet OSHA and minium wage requirements. No more cheap labor exploitation from China, India, Mexico, Sri Lanka, anything. That is what’s making labor impossible to find in the US. The Free Market is one of the most immoral things devised by man: it is going to address violations of human rights anymore than it allowed civil rights.

  16. 16
    Antigone says:

    IT is NOT going to address violations of human rights any more than it allowed civil rights, I mean (bad Anti, use preview.)

  17. 17
    mythago says:

    They do pay taxes. I was thinking specifically of income tax, payroll taxes, etc that dont get paid when a worker gets paid under the table.

    Right. Also, ‘under the table’ pay does get reported in many cases, when the employer wants to pretend to the government that, gosh, they thought all those folks were legal.

  18. 18
    hf says:

    Robert says: you can enforce the labor laws all day long. Which will mean that the people coming up to fill the jobs will not be able to get the job, and won’t come across the border in the first place.

    Enforcing the labor law has exactly the same effect as putting up a wall.

    No, it doesn’t. The fence would not, by itself, stop people from coming in. It would help people with guns keep people out. In the process, some number of people will presumably die. Certainly it involves the threat of force. By contrast, if people “won’t come across the border in the first place” because they can’t get jobs, then none of them will die on the way and none of us will threaten them with a gun. I don’t know if the assumptions here actually fit the observed facts, but your argument seems absurd as stated.

  19. 19
    Robert says:

    HF, what I meant was this:

    Paolo from Mexico City comes to Texas and works in a restaurant.

    If you build a wall to stop illegal immigration, Paolo won’t be able to get to Texas, and won’t have that job. Maia objects to this.

    If you fully enforce job laws and require the restaurant to pay benefits and all the rest of it, Paolo also will not get the job. Increasing the pay and compensation of the job makes it a more attractive job. That means that Francisco, who lives next door to the restaurant and who is a more attractive job candidate than Paolo, will be interested and will apply.

    Whether you build a wall, or build a law, Paolo will be the one who loses out.

    This may be good or bad or indifferent, depending on your point of view. My point was simply that economic barriers, no less than physical barriers, will block the low-skilled from finding certain types of work.

  20. 20
    Decnavda says:

    Wow, Robert is making a point I agree with 100%. I was esposing the theory only yesterday that undocumented immagration would be significantly reduced if we stopped sending them back and enforced their rights under labor laws, since the inability to exploit them would reduce the demand for undocumented workers. Robert, since you probably have better contacts on the right than most of us, could you please try to explain and sell this idea to anti immigrant organizations? I am sure MALDEF and CRLA would be more than happy to provide you with research back-up, although you might not want to tell any of the anti-immigrant groups that they are helping you.

  21. 21
    Antigone says:

    I agree: we’d significantly reduce illegal immigration if we enforced labor laws. This would be a moral, and more effective solution to stopping illegal immigration.

    I want to take this a step further: stop outsourcing to countries that don’t meet our labor laws. That would solve the problem of outsourcing without being immoral.

  22. 22
    Robert says:

    Decnavda, I’m all for it as a theoretical enterprise. The difficulty is that it’s very, very hard to enforce those laws.

    It’s a lot easier to build a wall.

  23. 23
    Maia says:

    Robert in a practical sense it’s no harder to enforce Labour laws than it is to crack down on illegal immigrants. It’s easier to find employers than people, because employers are more likely to leave some kind of trail.

    The difference is both in terms of political will, and in terms of interests of the ruling class.

    Incidentally I don’t necessarily agree that people wouldn’t hire immigrants if they didn’t have the power over them that comes from them being illegal.

  24. 24
    Robert says:

    Robert in a practical sense it’s no harder to enforce Labour laws than it is to crack down on illegal immigrants. It’s easier to find employers than people, because employers are more likely to leave some kind of trail…The difference is both in terms of political will, and in terms of interests of the ruling class.

    So by “in a practical sense” I take you to mean “in theory”. Because in a practical sense, political will and the interests of the people in charge are operative factors.

    Enforcing immigration laws at the employer level essentially requires widespread local cooperation. And you don’t get the local cooperation, because locally the people are aware that (a) you’re talking about running off Paolo, that nice young fellow, and his wife and their new baby, and (b) that you also mean closing down Hank’s Lawn and Garden, who paid $12,252.23 in taxes to the county last year.

    Practically speaking, it is in essence impossible to enforce immigration law, as things currently stand. Perhaps if it was 1960 and the problem was 1/100th the size it is now – but today, as things are, it’s a non-starter.

    Building the wall is a trivial exercise in comparison.

  25. 25
    kate says:

    Robert, I just don’t see a ‘wall’ as a realistic or truly feasible option. I find it fantasy at best. People will continue to find ways to get around the wall, manipulation, cash and connection will play an even larger role.

    Also, will the wall follow north along the coastline of california? Will the wall snake around the gulf of mexico? Or will the wall just continue out into the sea to the next continent westward and eastward over to Florida. Will it follow along Florida as well because remember, we’ve the boat people from cuba to be worried about too.

    Could we also build a wall between the us and canada to keep out those Canadians with their socialized medicine ideas and their competition with the american pharmecutical companies? Not to mention canada’s notoriously porous borders and how that opens us up to threats of terrorism.

    Oh and speaking of terrorists, can we go ahead and put Reagan’s Star Wars program back on the table, albeit in a more modern form? Possibly a giant air-sheild to prevent future terrorist attacks on our great nation?

    We could skim what’s left from the student loan program, welfare, medicaid and the school lunch programs probably to fund a big part of the project. What the hell, our tax dollars. let’s protect our nation.

    I commend you on your forward thinking Robert.

  26. 26
    Robert says:

    People will continue to find ways to get around the wall, manipulation, cash and connection will play an even larger role.

    Certainly. People find ways to pursue their interests pretty much regardless of what others may do.

    The question, however, is what the costs are for a given activity, and what incentive signals those costs send. Putting up a wall doesn’t stop people from trying to get to the states; it makes it harder for them to try. Some will give up. Others will choose to try to find better work in Mexico. And so forth.

    One indirect, but foreseeable, consequence of making it more difficult to illegally cross the border: increased demographic pressure on Mexico to modernize its economy and reduce the level of taxation and corruption which choke off entrepreneurial activity.

  27. 27
    FormerlyLarry says:

    “Robert, I just don’t see a ‘wall’ as a realistic or truly feasible option. I find it fantasy at best. People will continue to find ways to get around the wall, manipulation, cash and connection will play an even larger role.”

    Here is thing with the wall, yes some determined illegals and traffickers will tunnel, climb, and cut their way through the wall to get here. But consider this question: Do you lock your doors at night? More than likely you do. Even though a determined criminal can fairly easily break a window, cut through a wall, jimmy or break a lock, etc, most people still lock their doors at night. Part of that might be that we simply feel safer, but more I think is the belief that most criminals are less determined than others. I think the double wall would significantly cut down on illegal entry by filtering out all but the most determined border violaters.

    Secondly, the wall would be much easier to police than an open desert. Even more so if they employ certain electronic technologies. And with the added “filtering effect” of the barrier many of people that are determined enough to cross are the exact people you really want to catch. Border patrol can spend more time apprehending drug smugglers, people smugglers, the gang members, would be terrorists, etc and less time chasing the tens of thousands of people just wanting a better job. If the fence can cut down illegal entrants by 80-90% I think that was money well spent.

  28. 28
    mythago says:

    Practically speaking, it is in essence impossible to enforce immigration law, as things currently stand.

    It isn’t, at least not in the sense that you mean. Nobody really cares about Larry’s Garden Shop being run out of business, but large agribusiness and the National Restaurant Association care very much about their labor costs. And they are much more effective than Larry at determining what immigration-enforcement policies will be.

    A wall is a nice fantasy, and will keep many contractors in business for decades, but this is going to be a government project. Do you really think it will be built affordably, reliably and in any of our lifetimes?

  29. 29
    Decnavda says:

    The wall would have to be built and maintained by the federal government. Labor laws can be enforced by plaintiff attorneys. Is Robert actually arguing that the federal building a massive project would be more efficient and effective than independent entruepurnuers (sp?) motivated by greed?

  30. 30
    Robert says:

    That’s the best completely wrong guess as to the spelling of entrepreneur I’ve ever seen, Decnavda. Well done.

    Efficiency would be very hard to compare between the two choices, and effectiveness would be tricky, too, since the choices aren’t the same piece of work being done in two different ways. Which is more efficient, sex or basketball?

    A set of independent contractors, working from greed, would probably build a fence better/faster/cheaper than the federal government. But for obvious reasons, it is usually more practical to do unitary Big Projects with one boss.

  31. 31
    nobody.really says:

    Nobody really cares about Larry’s Garden Shop being run out of business….

    It’s true, I do!