Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Illegal Immigration. You Know You Want It.

You want it. You know you want it. You want it bad.

You know what I'm talking about.

That's right. I'm talking about illegal immigration.

Not even immigration in general, but illegal immigration.

Agribusiness in particular, construction, meatpacking, landscaping, restaurant work, sweatshops - all these businesses rely on illegal immigration to stay fat and happy. Why illegals? Why not hire citizens?

It's no secret that the minimum wage is not a living wage. You can work full-time - forty hours a week - and not make enough money to survive. Survive - not prosper; survive. Unless by 'survive' you mean living 12 to a room in a dirty, crime-ridden, dangerous neighborhood. Or some kind of 'company' shack. So when illegals work, they are not "taking work away from Americans". ("Hey, Pedro - I could have had that shack!")

What it is, essentially, is indentured servitude not much above slavery. One difference, of course, is that a slave-owner is responsible for the maintenance and upkeep of his property. The employer of illegals has no such obligation or expense. Just picture it - all the benefits of slavery, and none of the responsibilities! These employers offer no medical, no pension, no benefits of any kind. And, these are jobs much more grueling and physically demanding than jobs that do pay benefits. Then, of course, you can complain loudly when illegals use public services.

But how about Social Security? Most illegals are required to show some kind of ID, always forged, to get a job. This is so that the employer can 'get off the hook' (wink, wink). And when you show a Social Security card, Social Security is withheld from your paycheck.

According to an article in the New York Times in April of 2005 by Eduardo Porter,

It is impossible to know exactly how many illegal immigrant workers pay taxes. But according to specialists, most of them do. Since 1986, when the Immigration Reform and Control Act set penalties for employers who knowingly hire illegal immigrants, most such workers have been forced to buy fake ID's to get a job.

Currently available for about $150 on street corners in just about any immigrant neighborhood in California, a typical fake ID package includes a green card and a Social Security card. It provides cover for employers, who, if asked, can plausibly assert that they believe all their workers are legal. It also means that workers must be paid by the book - with payroll tax deductions.

IRCA, as the immigration act is known, did little to deter employers from hiring illegal immigrants or to discourage them from working. But for Social Security's finances, it was a great piece of legislation.

Starting in the late 1980's, the Social Security Administration received a flood of W-2 earnings reports with incorrect - sometimes simply fictitious - Social Security numbers. It stashed them in what it calls the "earnings suspense file" in the hope that someday it would figure out whom they belonged to.

The file has been mushrooming ever since: $189 billion worth of wages ended up recorded in the suspense file over the 1990's, two and a half times the amount of the 1980's.

In the current decade, the file is growing, on average, by more than $50 billion a year, generating $6 billion to $7 billion in Social Security tax revenue and about $1.5 billion in Medicare taxes.

In 2002 alone, the last year with figures released by the Social Security Administration, nine million W-2's with incorrect Social Security numbers landed in the suspense file, accounting for $56 billion in earnings, or about 1.5 percent of total reported wages.

Social Security officials do not know what fraction of the suspense file corresponds to the earnings of illegal immigrants. But they suspect that the portion is significant.
"Our assumption is that about three-quarters of other-than-legal immigrants pay payroll taxes," said Stephen C. Goss, Social Security's chief actuary, using the agency's term for illegal immigration.

Other researchers say illegal immigrants are the main contributors to the suspense file. "Illegal immigrants account for the vast majority of the suspense file," said Nick Theodore, the director of the Center for Urban Economic Development at the University of Illinois at Chicago. "Especially its growth over the 1990's, as more and more undocumented immigrants entered the work force."

Using data from the Census Bureau's current population survey, Steven Camarota, director of research at the Center for Immigration Studies, an advocacy group in Washington that favors more limits on immigration, estimated that 3.8 million households headed by illegal immigrants generated $6.4 billion in Social Security taxes in 2002.
But the people whose paychecks this money is deducted from will never see it. No security for them. And with the Resident with his panties in a bunch about Social Security going broke, imagine how more broke it would be without the tax money brought in by illegals?

If you are illegal, there are no protections for you. No workplace standards have to be enforced. You have to be silent about any mistreatment or injury, or you're in danger of being turned in. So why bother with expensive, restrictive safety standards when you have a 'captive audience'?

So what do we do?

How about a Living Wage plan? In the short run, prices of certain items would go up. But I think it would be worth it.

How about really cracking down on the employers who hire illegals, starting with the CEOs? No more wink-wink, slap-on-the-wrist stuff.

How about rethinking NAFTA and CAFTA and BAFTA and HAFTA? Let's find a way to boost the economy south of the border as well as north. An interesting article in the Washington Post estimates that, with a $20 billion-a-year investment in Mexico's infrastructure and economy, within 10 years Mexicans would be well-off enough to...stay home! And it would be an investment, not a giveaway. The rewards would come to us in the form of less illegals and a better trade partner and useful ally. Compare that with the near-half-trillion we're spending on the present war in Iraq., and it's a bargain. Instead of 'racing to the bottom' in terms of wages, we could really have a 'rising tide that lifts all boats'.

Let's get some kind of decent health care for all. I know that the idea of 'universal health care' sends conservatives into paroxysms, but I think it really is the only way to go. I don't think that businesses should have to be in the job of providing it. Years ago, when people worked at one job for an entire career, it made more sense, but now with people changing jobs so often, it's not fair to either the employer or the employee. Free up the businesses - take that burden off of them. With this patchwork of managed care, HMOs, PPOs and the like, all the things they worry about with universal health care are already here. No doctor choice? We don't have that now! Waste? Bureaucracy? Fully one-third of employees in the medical field are paper-pushers, trying to manage the mish-mash of thousands of conflicting insurance plans. In fact, the only people who have really great government health insurance are the people who want to make sure the rest of us don't get it!

But don't let the rhetoric and chest-thumping fool you. "Beer Guts Across America" notwithstanding, if actually confronted with losing those valuable serfs - I mean illegals - the people who profit from them will fight you tooth and nail. The last thing they want to do is have to hire citizens, with rights and all that expensive, inconvenient stuff.

You just watch if you think I'm kidding.


jakejacobsen said...

I'm with you a hundred percent except for one thing. How many of those billions we pour into Mexico will disappear into the endemic corruption that rules down there?

Until we have the political will to attach strings to aid we're merely smoking happy juice to think it'll do any good.

Great post!

Alicia Morgan said...

I agree. We have to be comprehensive, we have to be coherent and consistent. I am not talking about 'throwing money at the problem' (as conservatives like to say), I'm talking about getting serious, coordinated and committed. We need a real plan, and experts, and competence. But considering what we squander every day, it would be worth it. Otherwise you end up with Katrina or Iraq, or, God forbid, Iran...