Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Color me insulted...

I take great umbrage at something the Moose posted today:
The other issue that the Moose will keep an eye out for is immigration reform. Immigration is to the Republicans what trade is to the Democrats - it splits the party right down the middle. Nothing fires up the talk show right than this issue - they are on the side the restrictionists. In reaching out to the Latino community, the President has taken a more progressive approach on immigration reform, but has failed to move legislation. Will he make it a priority and take on the restrictionist right?
The Moose will be watching whether the President is in touch with his inner compassionate conservative or whether he will cave to the xenophobes. (emphases mine)

Well, I think the immigration reform plan the President has outlined is a fantastically bad idea. Does that make me a regressive xenophobe? Mr. Moose might be shocked to learn that there is a rational, non-xenophobic, even *gasp* compassionate case to be made against the plan.

There are two essential parts of Bush's plan:
1) Raising the number of green cards given out each year.
2) Creation of a "guest worker" program, wherein foreign workers will be allowed entry into the US for an unspecified length of time to take jobs that can't be filled with domestic labor. Undocumented workers that are already here will have to pay a fee to enter the program, while those outside our borders will not. All participants in the program will be able to apply for citizenship, but there will be no preference for them over non-participants. There will be various incentives for them to eventually return home.

I have no problem at all with issuing more green cards. It's good for our labor needs, and it's what the US is about, so we should go for it. No hard numbers were outlined in the plan, but whatever the administration has in mind, they should double it.

The main problem I have is that the plan does nothing to strengthen our borders. Without stepping up enforcement of existing laws, this plan does less than nothing. Employers that hire undocumented immigrants need to be dealt with harshly-jailed if need be. The border also has to be way more tightly controlled to prevent more undocumented workers from coming in. I understand people living in horrendous poverty wanting to claim better opportunity, and don't begrudge them the attempt to do whatever they can to feed and clothe their families, but they should be made to do it legally. There's nothing xenophobic about wanting workers to be able to avail themselves of the legal protections against exploitation and dangerous working conditions that legal workers have. And the guest worker program won't be enough to stop the exploitation. If we continue to allow as many undocumented workers over the border as we have, and do nothing to enforce the law on the employers, the guest worker program will be a joke. Why would an employer hire a guest worker at a higher wage and with more bothersome paperwork when there are forty laborers with the same skills and no hassles on a local street corner waiting to be picked up?

Tightly controlling the border is the indispensable cornerstone without which any immigration "reform" is nothing. And there's nothing compassionate about allowing people to come in under cover of darkness only to be put to work at near slave wages doing crushing work picking strawberries with no recourse if they are screwed out of their pay or injured.

Clamping the border shut is good fiscal policy besides. The Federation for American Immigration Reform estimates that the cost to California alone from undocumented immigrants is $10.5 billion a year. This may be an oversimplified picture. I'm not well acquainted with their methodology so it's possible that this study fails to take a variety of factors such as social security taxes withheld but never collected, and lower produce prices into account. The fact remains, however, that the affected states are paying the high costs and the federal government is not reimbursing them. For a state like California, in pretty dire financial straits, this is calamitous. And the services that will need to be cut to get the state out of its budgetary hole benefit the poor, including immigrants. Is it xenophobic to be concerned about that?

So yes, there is a principled, dare I say progressive, position to be taken against the President's immigration reform plan. I'm not saying all right-thinking people necessarily agree with it. But, resorting to knee-jerk characterizations of those who oppose it as xenophobes makes Mr. Moose sound like something other than the thoughtful centrist he's always seemed to be.

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