Michael: Frist's Compassionate BordersSenator Bill Frist is positioning himslf for a run at the Presidency in 2008 by swinging at another of the low-hanging policy pinatas Bush has left hanging during his Presidency: immigration. After a very good start of asking the GAO to investigate and track deaths of entrants along our borders, a job now only being done by our own Arizona Daily Star, believe it or not, Frist wanders off into Minuteman Project territory - more enforcement, more jails, fancier equipment for more deterance.
Let me first give praise where it is due. Frist leads off with a concern for the immorality of allowing needless, and even criminal deaths of entrants along our borders. Illegal immigration is a crime, but it certainly doesn't warrant a death sentence. I believe that Frist acknowledges this fact and he is at least talking about taking action to prevent innocent lives from being lost. It's somewhat sad that the GOP's priorities have become so upside-down that it seems somewhat extraordinary when a GOP polititician acknowledges such an obvious moral imperative, but there it is.
The 'tough on crime' rhetoric Frist follows with might well position Frist for the GOP primary, but it will not help help fix America's immigration problems. In fact, Frist makes clear by who he does not mention as a legislative ally in fixing immigration that he has no intention of creating a legal and safe illegal immigration alternative for supplying America's insatiable demand for low-wage labor. I'm surprised Frist didn't announce one of his colleagues in reforming immigration would be Tom Tancredo.
Until Frist and the rest of the GOP acknowledge that border enforcement is not an answer to the wave of illegal immigration coming into this country, we will make as much progress in the War on Mexican Peasants as we have made on the War on Recreational Drugs. Frist does not mention even once increasing enforment or penalties on the companies and industries which hire illegal immigrants illegally, which is the incentive that draws these immigrants to our country.
Starving and desperate people have little to lose, other than their lives, to keep them from trying to grab a peice of the American Dream. 5000 more border control agents won't make any difference. Spy drones and fancy cameras won't make any difference. More jails won't make any difference. Not having readily available jobs to support themselves when they arrive is the only thing that will make a difference. Until we get serious about cracking down on the industries that are using illegal entrants as a pool of peonage labor, or even as endentured servants, or in some rare cases, as slaves, the tide of illegal entrants is only likely to rise higher. You won't hear sensible talk about going after those who employ illegal laborers from the GOP because illegal labor has become integral to our economy in many industries.
Unsurprisingly, industries in which illegal labor is most prevalent are those requiring less education and providing lower wages. Use of illegal labor has two effects; increasing profits for the industry, especially where price is highly inelastic or where price competition is extreme, and depressing wages in the sector, by wage competition and keeping the workforce disorganized. Poor people in this country vote at extraordinary low levels, so most politicians aren't terribly worried about paying an electoral price for forcing poor Americans to compete with poor illegal Mexican immigrants on wages. It's widely said that the jobs illegal immigrants take aren't ones that Americans will do, but that only half the truth; they are jobs that Americans won't do at the price illegal immigrants will do them.
Many of these industries represent major fractions of the American economy, and they don't like to have their boats rocked. Since illegal immigration (especially from Mexico) took off in the 1970's these industries have become very comfortable with the power they have over a labor force that essentially exists on sufferage and cannot organize a union. Any movement by either party to vigorously enforce labor laws regarding citizenship, or to significantly curtail industry's access to a large pool of illegal labor is going to met with hostility. This is why you will seldom see a politician, especially one from the GOP, make serious proposals which will put a significant dent in the flow of illegal labor from Mexico or elsewhere. Pols may flap their gums about increasing border enforcement, but they know just as well as I that such measures will have only marginal effects, at best. If our government is serious about shutting down illegal immigration, the top of the agenda would be enforcing labor law enforcement vigorously in the industries which use illegal labor most heavily. Both Bush and Kolbe have put forth guest-worker programs, to their credit.
Enventually the compromise position between border enforcement and labor law enforcement will likely prevail and a new Bracero-style immigrant labor program will emerge. Industry will get their cheap labor, labor advocates will have a chance to affect the terms of the labor contract or even unionize the guest-workers, homeland security will get a chance to know who the new people in the neighborhood are, and illegal movement into the United States will abate because there will be a legal route to our labor market offering greater labor law protections, better wages, and possibly a path to citizenship. Everyone will be happy, except the poor Minutemen, who just want all the brown people to go home.