Why Illegal Immigrants Are Indespensible to The Economy
The Knights of Labor and The American Federation of Labor, both formed in the 1880's In response to the Industrial Revolution were the seminal organizations that put the ability to collectively bargain for decent wages, safe-working conditions, and access to employer provided benefits into the hands of the exploited proletariat classes of Western Society. Although certain unions have grown to grotesque levels of power and others have been vilified by neoconservatives plutocrats, the formation of unions are responsible for much of the social progress witnessed in the 20th century.
When illegal immigrants arrive in the U.S. with little but their labor and a strong work ethic to offer. The agenda to block them from obtaining working papers thus making any labor they do perform a crime is a carefully calculated means toward the exploitation of their labor. With the inability to organize and collectively bargain comes the inability to obtain job security, a livable wage, medical benefits, and unemployment benefits. They ironically end up working at the lowest echelons of the same corporations whose foreign labor policies have driven them to make the perilous trek across our border.
When unfetter capitalism results in a shrinking tax-base and massive lay-offs corporations readily serve up illegal immigrants as a scapegoat for our economic woes instead of taking responsibility for the their economically devastating policies.
The Hidden Agenda of Immigration Legislation
While immigration bills brought before state and federal legislating bodies are ostensively concerned with border control they more actively serve to prevent the legitimatization of long term immigrant residents as part of the U.S. labor force, thus controlling the price of labor.
This legislation is meant to keep undocumented workers here, with no collective bargaining rights, so they can displace more expensive citizen laborers who have the means through their legal status of organizing and demanding a basic, yet more expensive, bedrock of reasonable labor conditions and benefits from their corporate employers.
The anti-immigrant sentiments fostered during the cold war resulted in the immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, which made simply working as an undocumented laborer a crime. When simply working is a crime the ability to organize, strike, or assert your basic interests becomes an impossibility.
In Washington and Nebraska the arbitrary application of these laws in 1999, served to decimate a meatpackers strike and a teamsters union drive by requiring immigration agents to check the documentation of all involved workers and subsequently requiring employers to fire all workers with questionable documentation.
Since the passing of the Immigration Reform Bill, immigrants' wages have fallen between 1986 and the new millennia in both constructions and the garment industry.
Corporate sponsored legislation, purporting to be paths to Citizenship, are now allowing immigrant workers to remain in the U.S. as contract workers threatened with deportation if they engage in collectivist bargaining or unions activities of any kind. With the election of the new AFL-CIO leaders in 1995, American union members have begun to recognize that promoting immigrant labor rights is directly related to improving their own work conditions. As such the AFL-CIO convention in 1999 called for changes in immigration policies including the cessation of employer sanctions and new legalization programs.
And immigrant works are beginning to spontaneously and autonomously organize through strikes and labor drives. This can be seen as a result in shifting demographics. Immigrant workers are responsible for a major, if not majority share in many industries, including construction, hotel and restaurant service, food processing, textile and garment production, food service, and itinerant agricultural labor.
The Fallout of Disenfranchising Immigrant Workers
In 2011, HB-56 passed in Alabama was intended to effect “every aspect of an illegal alien’s life,” and “make it difficult for them to live here so they will deport themselves,” Republican House sponsor Micky Hammon reported. The Poultry Industry in Birmingham had too few native Alabamian replacement workers following the enactment of this law. The company had to spend $5 million to train and replace new workers then experienced a turnover rate beginning at 50% and climbing to 90%.
In Prince County Virginia in 2007 anti-immigration laws targeting illegal immigrants led to the driving out of many citizens and legal immigrant minorities. The result was a flood of real estate saturating the market and depreciating home values, and the temporary shut-down of consumer service jobs that could not be filled. A once vibrant ethnic community became a boarded up ghost town over night.
In Riverside New Jersey, a similar set of laws had the same effect. Whole neighborhoods shut down and the municipalities strained budget could not handle the multitude of lawsuits resulting from the ordinance.
In Colorado state immigration laws have cost millions in agricultural production and resulted in such a dearth of immigrant workers that the state has considered using prison inmates to fill the need. The projected cost of supervising and implementing this program is expected to cost more than the immigrant labor did.
There are easily found dozens if not hundreds of such examples of legislation targeting suspected illegal workers resulting in industrial failures. This legislation is often local because the advantage of using exploitable immigrant workers is plain to the corporations and special interest groups orchestrating immigration policy on a federal level. Without the option to employ immigrants for a pittance, while offering no benefits or job security, corporations would have to contend with the more expensive costs associated with employing legal citizens at a livable wage and reasonable benefits.