Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Bush to Illegals: Bring it On

The president gave a speech last night outlining his immigration plan. I missed it because I was golfing but that doesn’t mean I don’t care! I heard the highlights and analysis on National Public Radio afterwards. The major component of his speech was already known to all: that he wants to use the National Guard in some kind of assistance role to help secure the border. My reaction contained two thoughts. One: there’s the president, reaching for his hammer again, and two: oh God, Bill O’Reilly was right!

First of all, about the hammer. Abraham Maslow was fond of saying “If you only have a hammer you tend to see every problem as a nail.” His point was how you deal with problems often distorts your perception of problems. You might remember a previous post in-which I wrote about Condi Rice versus Iran. My take was that the White House really has only has one tool in its tool box—the military--and it sees every problem as an object requiring brute force. Terrorism? Get the hammer. Bird Flu? We’ll enforce quarantine with the hammer. Hurricane recovery? Where’s my hammer? Iran? Don’t make me get my hammer! Immigration? Hammer time.

And then there’s Bill O’Reilly. I really don’t mind O’Reilly. In fact, from 2000-2001 I watched his show quite a bit. Sure, he’s a strident conservative but I don’t put him in the knee-jerk category. One thing I remember is he always advocated using the military on the border. It looks like his ship finally came in and yesterday he let us know that because we did not heed his wisdom millions of illegal workers have crossed into our country. Bill also said nothing was done sooner because of pressure from big business.

What Bill is referring to are businesses which profit off of exploiting desperate and illegal workers from Mexico. Since those workers are not citizens they do not have to pay them minimum wage or offer them benefits. They can coerce them with the threat of deportation. All of this is well-known, but the employers aren’t worried. It’s good for business. They’ve gotten away with it for years. How much have you heard about their role in this immigration affair? But, sometimes what’s good for business is also a human rights violation. The results are the immigration marches you’ve been seeing on the news. This problem will be silent no more.

Now we’re getting serious about solving it. You know we are because we’re pulling the hammer out and putting troops on the border. But this will not solve the problem. Their presence may help a little but until we address the root causes of the immigration it will be largely a wasted effort. The root causes are found in the equation that there is little economic opportunity in Mexico and so the workers come here to work. They can’t get in the country legally, so we hire them illegally for all of the reasons I outlined above. Why grant them citizenship when that would hurt our bottom line? Until we address the issues of employers hiring illegal workers and our sting immigration laws, we’ll always have an illegal immigration problem.

O’Reilly said last night that the liberal press has “no solution to anything” and if you don’t know that by now “you never will.” But maybe the liberal press has more tools in its box than just a hammer. Maybe that’s what conservatives don’t understand.

Cracking down on those businesses that employ illegal workers is absolutely necessary. They’re creating the demand Mexicans are coming over to fill and exploiting them in the process. We should also expand our immigration laws so that business can get the workers they need legally. This also ensures that the workers have rights and can’t be underpaid and mistreated. Yeah, that might mean that businesses who once relied on cheap labor to produce their products might take a hit in the form of higher operating expenses. But I’ll bet we can overcome this problem. Cotton is still produced in the south without the help of free slave labor.

Admittedly, this solution is not as sexy as bringing out the hammer and putting troops in armored Hummers along the border. I’m as American as the next person, and I know how we all love a good military presence. I served in the Air Force, and I also know capable the military is. The National Guard will go help on the border, even if they are stretched incredibly thin. But this is not the solution to illegal immigration. If they will risk their lives to cross the desert to get here to work then fences and troops will not stop them.

It comes down to what is right. It starts by honoring human rights, by making sure businesses follow the law, and by not withholding citizenship to because they are willing to work for less than minimum wage. I’m sure we have smart people in influential positions who can put this into action. We did put a man on the moon, right? We conjured up the idea of a free and Democratic Iraq. We’re asked to believe that seed will bloom in the hash desert sand. Imagine what we can accomplish when we stop viewing every problem as a nail.

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