In Monday’s State of the Union address, President Bush stated,
The other pressing challenge is immigration. America needs to secure our borders — and with your help, my administration is taking steps to do so. We’re increasing worksite enforcement, deploying fences and advanced technologies to stop illegal crossings. We’ve effectively ended the policy of “catch and release” at the border, and by the end of this year, we will have doubled the number of border patrol agents. Yet we also need to acknowledge that we will never fully secure our border until we create a lawful way for foreign workers to come here and support our economy.
An Associated Press story in Monday’s Register Guard noted that a group of businesses have united to oppose efforts to address the growing illegal immigration problem in Oregon and the United States. Not surprisingly, this group of businesses is dominated by those businesses benefiting the most from using illegals.
And finally, I recently received a response to my column of several weeks ago relating to the impact of illegal immigration on the working poor. The author noted that there was a recent article claiming that the crack down on illegal immigration might endanger harvest of the asparagus crop in Washington because of a lack of workers.
Therein lies the rub.
By turning our backs on the serious problem of illegal immigration for all of these years and allowing the population of illegals to grow to nearly twenty million people, we have effectively created a “black market” labor economy. Because the illegals are in no position to protest, organize, strike or make demands, they are forced to accept substandard wages and working conditions. I say that they are substandard because, apparently, those using illegal immigrant labor are unable to attract those legally here to perform that work based on the wages offered and the working conditions permitted. And because even these substandard wages and working conditions are better than they can find in their own countries, these illegals continue to enter the United States by the tens of thousands each month.
But the sheer number of illegals and the longevity of these practices by the businesses represented in this new coalition have created a seeming anomaly in the nation’s workforce. These businesses argue that there are insufficient workers without the illegals. I doubt that is true, particularly in Oregon where the state’s unemployment figures remain stubbornly above 5% – over half a point above the national average. The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that there were 110,000 unemployed Oregonians last month and that those numbers hovered around 103,000 to 100,600 during the summer and early fall months of 2007 (the growing and harvesting seasons). There are more than sufficient bodies in Oregon receiving unemployment payments to staff these businesses’ needs.
These businesses also argue that those legally here won’t perform the work — that it is too hard. What that really suggests is that these businesses are unwilling to pay wages sufficient to attract the labor or that unemployment and welfare payments and rules are so generous that it is easier to loaf than to work with no significant economic difference between the choices, or both. The former is a problem for these businesses and they, like all other businesses must pay a wage that allows them to compete for legitimate labor. The latter is a problem for government. I don’t favor a reduction in unemployment benefits or welfare for those actually in need. I do, however, favor a tightening of the rules such that you must work when jobs are available or lose your benefits.
Having said that, I acknowledge that this “black market” labor economy has created an “economic expectation” for these businesses and that they believe that a change in the status quo will be detrimental to their ability to continue profitably. It is that sentiment that underlies President Bush’s comment that, “Yet we also need to acknowledge that we will never fully secure our border until we create a lawful way for foreign workers to come here and support our economy.”
I don’t disagree with the sentiment but I do disagree that such sentiment is justification for not moving forward with serious solutions to the burgeoning illegal immigration problem. We already know that over 150,000 driver’s licenses have been issued to illegals by the State of Oregon and even Gov. Kulongoski acknowledges that Oregon has become a haven for those wishing to falsely obtain identification, including terrorists. It is also reasonable to assume that with the acquisition of those driver’s licenses and the Secretary of State’s well known aversion to enforcing provisions regarding proof of citizenship, that our election system has been corrupted by illegals — usually at the urging of politicians who seek to benefit from such votes. We know that the illegal immigrants impose a significant burden on the welfare system, the education system, the healthcare system and the justice system. (Of course we don’t know the full extent of that impact because the governor, his administration and the legislature have steadfastly refused to investigate or document the size of the problem.)
Those Oregon businesses seeking to resist legitimate efforts to remove the incentives for the entry of illegals by imposing sanctions on employers and denying benefits to illegals (including driver’s licenses) are simply wrong. Forcing the rest of the state’s citizens to bear the burden of illegals so that their business practices are not interrupted is indefensible and immoral. Their efforts would be better spent lobbying Congress for an intelligent and manageable guest workers program as suggested by President Bush than fighting the efforts to stop illegal immigration. If these businesses are right and they cannot survive without foreign workers then a guest worker program will fulfill their needs without continuing the “black market” labor force and all of its attendant problems that currently exist.