In the late 1800s during heavy industrial surges, exploitation ran wild. Women, children, blacks and immigrants were browbeaten and demoralized in order to line the pockets of the fat cats who ran Big Business. Workers were divided by gender and ethnicity, so camaraderie was severely deficient. Fast-forward about 120 years and worker solidarity is still sadly jeopardized by lax border patrol and vague reforms – the latest by President Bush.
The President recently proposed a temporary worker program for illegal immigrants in the United States. Administered by the Department of Homeland Security, the program would give undocumented workers guaranteed wage and employment rights under a renewable three-year visa. Once their stay is up, workers would be expected to return to their home country or apply for permanent residency in the U.S.
Theoretically, employers who would hire these workers must show that they cannot find native personnel to fill the jobs. However, this process is likely to be rushed or overlooked entirely by employers who would rather pay migrants sub par wages.
The eight million Americans out of work will not benefit from the United States absorbing immigrants, including the millions of Mexicans who have already infiltrated or are working on sneaking past boarder patrol. The ethnic assortment of immigrants stealing American jobs will make it ever so easy for employers to exploit all workers, American or not, by pitting one group against another.
As Raul Yzaguirre, president of the nation’s largest Latino civil rights organization said, the proposal “appears to offer the business community full access to the immigrant workers it needs, while providing very little to the workers themselves.”
Additionally, word of mouth about the proposal has spurred an increase in traffic along the border. The Border Patrol recently released numbers showing a swell in detainments of illegal immigrants over a five-month period. During this time last year the number was 22,375. This year the number has risen to 31,204. Keep in mind; these numbers are for the San Diego sector alone.
Immigrants themselves have even been reporting that Bush’s proposal has enticed them to take their chances at illegally entering the country. A recent study showed that out of 162 refugees stopped at the San Ysidro port of entry, 94 cited the temporary worker program as their primary reason for trying to enter the country.
This is unacceptable. The number of immigrants will continue to rise due to this proposal, and time is not on America’s side. The suggestion by President Bush still needs to be deliberated in Congress, and that process could take over a year.
However, President Bush is likely to capitalize on this political maneuver. By strategically waiting three years to address the issue, it is probable that the president is looking to sway the Latino vote in November’s election.
Florida, which was problematic for the president in 2000, has an increasingly large amount of Hispanic immigrants. In recent elections they have tended to vote Democratic, including an overwhelming 62 percent for candidate Al Gore in the last election. Bush badly needs this vote to trump the opposition come fall.
More so than a political maneuver, this proposal undercuts hardworking American citizens. As mentioned, competition between ethnic groups and resentment toward immigrants will only continue to divide this country. It will do nothing more than revert the nation back to turn of the century politics where workers worried more about the day-to-day then about unionization and wage levels.
As a Wisconsin ironworker complained in the late 1800s, “Immigrants work for almost nothing and seem to be able to live on wind – something which I can not do.”
Brandon Lausch can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.