26 February 2006

illegal aliens or self-leveraging entrepreneurs?

What does it mean to cross into another country, stay illegally either avoiding border guards in the first place or overstaying a tourist visa, find a series of short-term jobs that pay cash, all while staying out of sight of the government whenever possible? According to a popular NYT article , it means "having international experience under your belt" (about which "employers are enthusiastic"), demonstrating that you are "inquisitive, flexible and adaptive---valuable skills in today's workplace," and, (contrary to what the cynics say), "it's not a money-making move," but rather "It puts you in a position to leverage yourself."

At least for some people. Meanwhile, Congress is starting to consider a guest worker bill for immigrant labor from south of the border. What are some of the key provisions for the budding Mexican entrepreneurs?

Applicants would be sponsored by employers — though they would be allowed to switch employers during their time here — and would undergo background checks and medical screening.


The draft bill would also authorize millions of illegal immigrants who arrived in this country before Jan. 4, 2004 to remain here indefinitely, along with their spouses and children, as long as they registered with the Department of Homeland Security, paid back taxes and remained law-abiding and employed, among other conditions.

Elsewhere in the paper, the Times editorial page argues that in "a nation that insists on paying as little as possible for goods and services, and as long as it remains impractical to send lawns, motel beds and dirty dishes overseas," we need a more humane and reasonable immigration policy. It says that "Congressional action is long overdue," and closes with
Laws that make it a crime to help illegal immigrants find work will make outlaws out of local leaders whose only crime is to want to live in orderly, humane communities.

Setting up a hiring site with bare-bones amenities like benches and bathrooms is not an indulgence of lawlessness. It is a common-sense tactic to help prevent the exploitation of workers, to rein in unscrupulous contractors and to impose some order on the chaos. It is smarter and more humane than the cruelty of harassing legislation that hopes, somehow, to make all those men and women disappear.

In other words, taking a practical approach to migrant labor as a solution to our demand for low wage, unregulated, seasonal work isn't about coddling illegal immigrants; it's the only realistic and humane solution to prevent them turning into a social problem for us and our communities.

(Not that I don't agree with the policy position of the NYT in both cases: I think living abroad as soon as you're able to be independent of your parents is a good idea, and most of the immigration reforms proposed right now would help people. It's just the terms of the debate, and the implicit assumptions that shape them, that are fucked up. This sentence lightly revised 9 July 2008.)

On a vaguely related note, I have at least one more data point supporting this essay: a white Parisian woman I talked to who distinguished the Maghrebians (French citizens living in Paris of N. African descent) from the French. As in, les Maghrebins in this neighborhood of Paris do X, but les Français living there do Y. I still love it here! And in my very limited experience, I still see a decent amount of social mixing between natives and immigrants. But I had to point this out.

1 comment:

ahren said...

i'm stealing the term "self-leveraging entrepreneuers" and using it to replace the one i was previously using-- "free-market vigilantes".

and i'm never going to credit you for the idea, because i'm a self-leveraging asshole... or something.

but really-- i think immigration is where a lot of people who claim to be "free-marketeers" show their true stripes by wanting to close the system to outsiders. these people are cowards.