By Jeff Summerlin-Long
President Bush’s recent proposal for immigration reform is not just a ploy to garner votes from the traditionally Democratic Latino community.
Bush’s idea of “reform”, though couched in remarkably progressive and sympathetic language, is merely a continuation of the longstanding U.S. economic and foreign policy to gain wealth, and therefore power, by exploiting the needs of the poor of other nations.
When the U.S. needed someone to build its railroads to enlarge the market for rising industry, we brought in the Chinese.
When we needed someone willing to work for substandard wages in substandard conditions in order to promote agribusiness, we brought in the Mexicans.
And now that we need someone to manicure our lawns and build our houses, we’re bringing in, well, the Mexicans again. I guess they’re just lucky.
Creating an enlarged guest-worker program, as Bush has proposed, will undoubtedly have a tremendous effect on the U.S. economy.
U.S. employers who have been affronted by the bravado of American workers asking for pay raises and health care now will have a guaranteed pool of labor that will lack the power to ask for such things.
Employers will be able to lower their overhead on labor and increase profits.
At the same time, U.S. employee will be able to carry on their work, secure in the knowledge that their wages will not increase anytime soon.
Meanwhile, the workers participating in the program will create the newest and most vulnerable” underclass” of American society.
In the annals of history, they will join the hallowed path of the Africans, Irish, Chinese, Russians, Italians and Jews who have each comprised the labor force behind the juggernaut of the American economy.
And while we hope they will not face the same deprivations as their predecessors, we do know this: They will have no option to gain permanent residence through their contributions to our economy, and therefore no right to citizenship nor a voice in the governing of the society they will live in.
They will also receive no “handouts” from the government.
When it turns out the wages they are paid won’t even cover rent, food, and clothing for their families, let alone health care, they will be forced to turn to private charities in increasing numbers.
If the newly richer rich do not find it convenient to increase their charitable donations, these organizations will in turn be stressed beyond their already limited resources and find themselves in the position of either closing their doors to some, or closing them to all.
And even if donations do increase, is that the kind of society we want to live in, a society that makes people poor and then pats itself on the back for giving them the scraps from the table?
Jeff Summerlin-Long is an immigration attorney for the Immigrants Legal Assistance Project of the N.C. Justice and Community Development Center in Raleigh.