Wednesday, March 29, 2006

HR 4437 is a disaster of a bill

In the last week the nation has begun to debate immigration. Currently, there are 12 million undocumented workers in the country. The House of Representatives has passed HR 4437. What HR 4437 does is scapegoat Mexican workers for the failures of the United States economy. HR 4437 makes it a felony to be an undocumented worker it this country, and also criminalizes the act of helping undocumented people. The bill also includes provision to build a 700-mile wall along the border.

I heard a pro-HR 4437 spokesman say that that illegal immigrants take away the jobs of Americans. It is untrue that illegal immigrants take away anyone's jobs. HR 4437 will never improve the number of jobs available nor will it increase the wages of jobs. HR 4437 will, in fact, do the opposite, helping to drive down wages. The results of HR 4437 will be more job insecurity and lower wages.

How will that happen? The quickest growing part of the trade union movement is immigrant workers. Attacking immigrant workers will only hurt trade unions which fight every day to improve wages. Hurting trade unions helps to drive down wages. If people want to raise wages, they should work for an amnesty for undocumented workers. An amnesty would help immigrant workers work with workers born in the United States to raise wages for all.

Undocumented workers do some of the worst paid, most dangerous jobs in this country. Currently undocumented workers make the bulk of the agricultural workforce, picking fruits and vegetables that the rest of the country eats for incredibly low wages, and much of their working conditions are extremely dangerous. Many live in the worst kind of housing--chicken shacks and shanties. If HR4437 passes, it makes the lives of workers even worse. Worse means slavery such as the Mexican Zapoteca Indians who were brought over the border in 1984 and enslaved in Somis, California, to a flower grower. When people allow some workers to be pushed down to below minimum wage, that starts a downward press on wages. Having a section of the labor force making incredibly low wages totally dependant on their employers will help increase the movement to push wages down for workers born here.

HR 4437 supposedly will make the border more secure through the 700-mile wall, but the 9/11 hijackers flew into the country on tourist visas rather than come across the Mexican border. Terrorists have never crossed from Mexico to the United States across the Mexican-U.S. border. One terrorist did get caught crossing into the U.S. from Canada. It makes more sense then to put a wall across the Canadian-U.S. border, but then terrorists could just fly into the country. It's simply absurd to put think by putting up a wall on the border it will protect the U.S. from terrorists.

HR 4437 also makes it a crime to help undocumented workers. Thus priests, nuns, doctors, nurses, teachers, social workers who help illegal immigrants could be arrested for giving mass or running a food bank or teaching a class. Also threatening people helping illegal immigrants with arrest would produce incredible social divisions in this country. Criminalizing being an undocumented worker would produce great social divisions. Already undocumented workers do the worse jobs, live in some of the worst housing, and have the worst medical care. Making the harsh lives even harder would produce great anger. Nobody will be any safer if this law is passed.

Another myth is that undocumented workers cause great increase in government spending. Most undocumented workers pay taxes just like documented workers, but never get tax refunds. Study after study has found that they put much more money into government through their taxes they pay than they take out. Scapegoating will never improve the United States economy but is a fantasy solution causing great harm.

Finally, what hasn't been discussed is how United States trade policy starting with NAFTA helps produce undocumented immigrants in this country. NAFTA not only allowed factories to move out of the U.S. to Mexico but also deluged Mexico with agricultural produce from U.S. agricultural corporations. Small Mexican farmers couldn't compete with US agro-corporations and were bankrupted. When our corporations bankrupt Mexican farmers, then farmers if they stay will starve, so instead they move north to the United States working at pitiful wages for these same agricultural corporations. NAFTA gave free movement to corporations but not to the workers whose livelihood was destroyed.

If people want to improve the economy in the United States, they can begin by modifying NAFTA until it is like the trade agreements of the European Union. Within the European Union (EU) both workers and companies can move across borders. If NAFTA were like the EU, then all those workers from Mexico would be legally in the United States. Further, the EU invested into poorer countries like Ireland helping to improve its transportation system which was crucial to producing the boom in the Irish economy in the United States. As the Irish economy improved, then Irish in exile returned to live in Ireland because they could finally make a living in their home. If the United States actually helped improve the Mexican economy rather than act to destroy whole parts of its rural economy, then Mexican workers would be more likely to stay in Mexico. The Irish example shows that such a strategy can work.

Throughout the 19th century and 20th century in California through every economic recession people blamed the recession on immigrant groups, starting with the Chinese, the Japanese, the Mexicans etc. Blaming an immigrant group for a recession never helped 1 person get a job, never stopped any economic recession or depression, never did anything but scapegoat a completely innocent group. We shoud learn from our past mistakes and not blame Mexican and any other undocumented worker for the job problems in this country: that's scaepgoating. It's wrong.


sara said...

Ms. Stein,
My name is Sara Vogel and I am a student at Columbia University. I am
currently writing a short paper about the role of art movements in
activist campaigns against sweatshop labor. In my preliminary
research, I have read texts that posit that in attempting to
understand the complexity of sweatshop issues, intellectuals and
artists often separate themselves from the work of activists-- that
artists and intellectuals tend to approach large questions like
sweatshop labor from false positions of moral authority that do not
initiate and often hinder action.

As I was crawling the web, I found an account you wrote several years
ago about the work you did to help organize literary and poetic
movements against the Guess corporation. The ramifications of the work
you did seem to disprove many of these arguments. I would love to
speak with you about how, as a poet/activist, you view yourself within
such complex debates, how art inspires action for you and vice-versa,
and how your experiences have defined your opinions about activism and

If over the next few days, you have any time at all for a short phone
interview, please let me know. I would very much like to meet you!

Thank you for your time

Sara Vogel

American w/o job said...

I am a hispanic american. I do not speak spanish. Why should I be turned down a job because I cant speak Spanish. Yes, Mexicans are stealing jobs away from americans. Employers would rather hire a Mexican that can barely speak english than a person with a college degree. I know the experience personally.