Partial Solutions to the Immigration Problem

Its been awhile since I've contributed anything to my small series on illegal immigration (see here and here, for the precursors to this current discussion.) But today I was having a conversation about earlier views of immigration, and how the current bunch of Latin Americans are different from more classical (but at the time equally reviled) immigration groups, such as the Irish or Italians. These differences are, for the most part, irrelevant, but this conversation did lead to a partial solution to the immigration problem, that caters to both the humanitarian problem, and the economic problems.

This solution is equality. I propose a law that forces U.S. employers, and local governments, to treat their illegal employees the same as legal U.S. citizens. Illegal immigrants should have the same minimum wage and insurance laws, and the same taxation, as the rest of the legal American workforce. This may seem like a simple solution, that would do little to help the actual problem, but it would have beneficial consequences for both the illegal worker population, and the public services straining under high number of poor immigrants.

By forcing the minimum wage on all workers in the U.S. we would remove the incentive to hire illegal immigrants. Illegal immigrants are hired because, simply, they cost less than American workers who are both legally entitled too, and expect, higher wages. By enforcing a universal minimum wage, hiring illegals would loose much of its grounds, there would be very little gain in staffing an illegal workforce over a legal one. Yes, immigrants would still be more willing to work for a minimum wage than non-immigrants, but with coming minimum wage laws this becomes less an issue. Forcing employers to give all employees insurance, too, would increase (or equalize) the overhead to hiring illegals, while giving the added benefit to opening up paid healthcare to the immigrant community. This measure is largely win-win, and is strictly a matter of enforcement, and not new legislation.

Included in this is opening up “workers rights” to all employees, regardless of citizenship. By workers rights, I mean primarily the right and protection of workers to form unions and go on strike. Protection being the primary concept, illegal workers must feel safe in protesting unfair work conditions in order to protest at all, since the consequences are higher for them that for unionized legal workers who do not have deportation hanging over their heads. This is problematic, since they are illegal regardless of what protections are granted to them in the workplace, meaning visibility and speaking out will always be problematic. For this problem I propose a (very) limited amnesty, only applicable to workers rights situations, this aspect would require legislation.

Employers who do not grant the above policies to all workers, regardless of citizenship status should be prosecuted and fined, as would any legitimate business employing legal workers. To remove the immigrant question for the moment, all we are talking about now is harsher enforcement on employers employing employees “off the book”, or “under the table”, which already is illegal, but with some added protection for illegals, whose situation is different.

Along with fair wages, insurance, and rights, illegal immigrants should pay taxes, both for income and property. This would both cover the services used by illegal immigrants (schools, hospitals, etc...), and bring more legal power to bear on employers, and other services that turn a blind eye to tax law when it comes to immigration (apartment complexes used by ‘coyotes’ in the Southwest). This is a solution to the humanitarian issue, where it is wrong to deny health care and education to those who need it, ethically, which is complicated by the financial reasons (large percentage of unpaying patients lead to decreased availability of healthcare to those who pay via taxes and fees), by forcing illegal immigrants to cover some of their expenses through taxation. This also addresses the problem with schools throughout the American Southwest, where teachers cannot keep up with the amount of students requiring ESL education, causing them to neglect English speakers in poorer schools.

Required universal taxation would also create a better registry, and documentation, of illegals, and allow a better method for judging their population, and distribution, which would increase the ability, and accuracy, of further legislation.

I realize that all of these solutions are already in the books, so this becomes a matter of enforcement, and not legislation. In the end this only amounts to a way to help the problem, while avoiding the problems with passing legislation, and keeping a civil face on the problem.

These minor solutions also address a contemporary problem in political ethics, the double standard modern society applies to themselves and others. I purposely omitted the word “American” from the previous sentence, since this is not a uniquely American problem, all cultures and governments. In the U.S., though, this is evident by the recent removal of the fundamental right of habeas corpus (by the Military Commissions Act of 2006) from foreign peoples suspected of “terrorist tendencies”, or in modern newspeak “enemy combatants”. Which seems a violation of Kant’s categorical imperative, and Jesus’ “Golden Rule”. Granted the previous two moral philosophies are simplistic and dated, it does make a certain amount of sense to regard others with the same expectations as yourself, and accord them the same rights, and ethical standards, you hold yourself too.

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asparagus said...

I think that you make some very interesting points in this. I do like the idea of simply enforcing what is already law; yes, make illegals pay taxes, make employers pay the same wages to illegals as legal residents (in terms of paying at least minimum wage).

The one problem that I really see with this is the enforcement, it seems that there will still be problems enforcing the laws that are already in place-- there will still be illegal immigrants that would work for less than minimum wage if given the opportunity, and surely there are people still willing to hire them. The under the table payments could potentially reduce in certain businesses (i.e. restaurants, fast food), but I am not sure that business practices would change in day labor (i.e. construction, produce handlers). There obviously needs to be a crackdown in day labor hiring, but, sadly, we do not seem to have the man-power for it. And until those that are intentionally choosing to use day laborers make the decision to stop paying under the table, I'm afraid that nothing will change because even though day laborers are making less money, there is still a demand for off the records employment (due to concerns over government, finances, immediacy).

I do not mean to seem overly conservative about this, as it does sound like a very good start to the problem.

Omestes said...

Thats why we need draconian enforcement, including heavy fines, jail time for employers, and possibly the risk of losing ones business license. Employers CAUSE the illegal immigration problem, the only solution is to bring it back to their doorsteps. And in the spirit of equality, this would be a protection for ALL works, legal or not, regardless of nationality.

A novel solution for day-labor (and largely fantastic) would be to offer amnesty to illegals who rat out their under the table employers.

DarkWood said...

What? You mean we should actually take stock of the laws we already have and enforce them rather than continue to legislate ourselves into the bog of eternal stench?

Seriously, though, you make many excellent points. Finding ways to make existing laws work before implementing even more would certainly do much towards resuscitating my ever spiraling faith in our government. The fact that I'm not the only one who can see this does help.

"The United States is a nation of laws: badly written and randomly enforced."
- Frank Zappa

Jennifer said...

While I agree with you, it seems the real problem is getting people to enfore these laws- as so often seems the problem with so many issues. So, how do we get congress, both state and federal, to enforce these laws? Public outcry? Most people, including myself, are not even aware that these laws exist, so how do you get people up in arms, if they aren't informed? And then to get the people to understand why it's a good idea to enforce these laws...well, I'm pretty sure you'll lose half your audience. So I guess I'm just wondering how you would do this? Not to mention the problem of the businesses. I'm sure they are aware of these laws, but it would seem to me that they would be the ones trying to prevent enforcement. Small business typically seems to lament the rise of minimum wage as killing their ability to employ and still compete with the Wal-Marts of the world. So how do we get them to care?

asparagus said...

That makes sense. I would really like to see the day when we offer amnesty to illegals who rat out off the books employers. It sounds like a good idea... so, therefore, it'll never go over?

defender said...

US immigration has been a concern of mine for quite some time. I am American and my wife is from Venezuela… so I am very familiar with the racial profiling that occurs when crossing US Borders. This country is far from being the “land of the free”. I created a 5 minute short film that deals with the anxiety and frustration created when passing through US Customs. Please view and share comments: