Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Immigration Boycott Day

A question, recently fairly asked of me, went a little something like this: Do I think it's fair for immigrant workers to stay away from their jobs en masse, thus betraying an employer who was nice enough to give them a job in the first place?

I suppose I can see the point of view. A workforce is hired by a business owner, and there is the basic presumption that said workforce is going to show up on time, dutifully, for work when they are asked. The dismissive answer is, well, you know, it is a BOYCOTT. It's meant to be a symbolic imposition to prove a larger point. There are other ways to prove the point I suppose, but they lack the short, sharp, shock of a boycott. Nevertheless, if we are talking about basic schoolyard concept of "fairness", the boycott seems to harm a party that has acted in good faith.

The problems, as far as reasoning goes, is that everything tends to break down once you've left the concept of schoolyard fairness. This is the real world, I'm afraid, and it's not designed around the idea of fairness. For example, it's stupid to think of an employer as someone who is "nice enough to give someone a job." I've been hired to do any number of things in my life, and at no point was I ever hired out of "niceness", and, personally, I think only foolish employers do. You get hired because you have got the skillz to pay the billz and the dollars line up right compensation-wise. Any other consideration that might be tangentially in play is just the stuff that people like to think so they can sleep at night.

When we hear politicos debate the future of immigrants, illegal and otherwise, you'll hear a lot of highly quotable talk about the loss of American jobs and the lack of border security. This stuff is just the sideshow. The core of the issue is all straight-up, bloodless economics. It is, I'm a afraid, a no-feeling zone, where your pathos and angst might get you a churro if you happen to be carrying $5.99. And when you examine this boycott in simple economic terms, frankly, my great supply of sympathy for the employers starts drying up like the sands of Sudan.

Here's the thing: we have been told that immigrants, illegal and otherwise, are in America "doing the work that other people won't do." Bush, who seems to want to forge some sort of all-things-for-all-people piece of mamby-pambyism, issues this phrase straight from his word hole. Now, of course, this applies a thick layer of frictionless gloss over the reality of the situation, which is that it's not entirely true that these "other people" "won't" do "the work," exactly. It's that they won't do "the work" for thruppence and a thank you.

The "other people" want to get paid, you see, but we got some employers out there that figure that there's got to be a way out of paying top dollar, and bennies to boot. And that's where this population of immigrant workers come in, "doing the work that other people" want to get paid a few dollars more to do.

But let's remember: no one has a gun to these employers' heads. This is America and they do have a choice. And the owners of the businesses that were impacted negatively by the boycott today made their choice unfettered and in the clear light of day. And by making that choice, they saved money. A lot of money. The difference between the compensatory demands of "other people" and the immigrants that were hired went right onto the balance sheet, they went right to the profit margin, they went right into the employers pockets.

The point is, the choice to not hire the "other people" amounted to money saved. Flash forward to today. Employer comes up to the DCeiver, and the following conversation takes place:

Employer: Woe is me! My workforce didn't show up for work today! I had to close! It's not fair!

DCeiver: Oh, my! Tears as large as yours should be sufficient to move a stone to shudder in sorrow! But, my good man, I'm sorry to say to say that I cannot offer you my sympathy!

Employer: What? Prithee, why not! Bereft of my workforce, I am losing mad ducats with each passing hour! Surely you can see why I am so beweep.

DCeiver: My dear shopkeep! Because of your workforce, you have saved money hand over foot!

Employer: So?

DCeiver: Well, pray tell, where did all that money go?

See what I mean? Sorry, employers of immigrants, but I don't feel your pain. There are ramifications for buying on the cheap, I'm afraid. The money you saved?

Yeah, you should have saved it.


Just My 2 Cents said...

You're glossing over the important difference between immigrants and illegal immigrants; not all immigrants are being paid a pittance for their work. There is a significant work force of immigrants, even Latino immigrants, that are paid fair wages, and yes, even benefits, for their work. Like everything about this issue, folks need to stop glossing over and lumping together. Yes, a lot of employers save a lot of money by hiring illegals, or by hiring recently-legals who are still, because of language and educational limitations, willing to work for less than others would take for a given job. But there were a lot of folks at Malcolm X Park yesterday who are being paid a good wage by good employers. And those employers had to pay them for the "sick day," and/or lose productivity through no fault of their own. I'm just saying, I wouldn't try to make this issue neat, or create a definitive Bad Guy.

Dana said...

Good post.

If it were just "immigrants" I suppose I should go and march too. My family came here from the old world too, a long time ago, but we are still a family that came from immigrants.

This isn't about immigrants rights though, this is about illegal immigrants wanting what they didn't earn, and Mexico still being pissed off that it lost Texas. This is about companies whining that they are losing business if they don't hire people for pennies on the dollar what a naturalized citizen would get paid.

I'm sorry Mexico and South America (in parts) have problems. Does that mean that we should take every single Spanish speaking poor and oppressed person in and give them a home, because Mexico sucks?

Should I feel bad for them because they come here illegally and are treated poorly by employers that exploit them? I do sympathize that their lot in life was bad/crappy/lousy in Mexico. That doesn't mean I think they should get a free ride. My ancestors, the Irish didn't get a free ride, or the Chinese immigrants, or Catholics...

If you came here illegally, you should not be allowed to work here. Respect the rule of law. Companies that hire illegals should be fined. The border should be protected ('cause if the Mexicans can get thru, so can baby bin Ladens). The great and powerful Shrub doesn't get it.

Erin go braugh!


The last time people listened to a talking Bush they ended up wandering forty years in a wilderness,

Yogi said...

In light of today's events, I just can't help but think how was it that the American public did not foresee such a boucott, albeit its mostly absent economic impact to the US markets? Suddenly mainstream America is in a panic over who is going to cut their lawns tomorrow, or who is going to fill those construction jobs, and who is going to farm the fields. Is it possible for these 12 million illegals to lose their jobs and sustain the same level of income they previously enjoyed? The answer is no. This country needs the labor these immigrants provide because it keeps a lot of prices down (i.e. construction, farming, contractors), but all the same, these jobs can be filled by others. For instance, we can create a deficit of illegal aliens from Latin American countries (e.g Mexico) by creating a surplus of Asian Pacific and African aliens. Or, if that sugestion sounds unattainable, let the market work out itself, whereby as labor costs go up, so do prices (thus low demand), but at the very least the costs of maintaining these illegal aliens subsides. I know this may be an oversimplistic viewpoint, but it is an idea - expensive, but workable. There are plenty of other solutions out there, but the fact is that American employers are partly to blame because they have used these illegal aliens as sources of cheap labor therefore they have created a subculture of neo-slavery absent of corporal or mortal threats but substituted with more modern means of persuasion and fear-induction to maintain control.

In the same token one should also consider that these illegal aliens are breaking the law, misdemeanor or not, and they are not justified by mocking American institutions such as the First Amendment (by way of waving the Mexican, and other countries' flags) and changing the lyrics to the national anthem. This is an English speaking country, and they must learn to communicate. No authority in the US will ever forbid them from speaking their own language, but when English is a necessary mode of communication in a public setting, so as not to complicate matters, any other language will not do.

Another drawback to this boycott is the fact that these illegal immigrants are seeking preferential treatment over others who are here or who came before them. Essentially, they are trying to bully a nation into giving them what they want: a legal status. Have they earned it? No, they have not. So what that they have worked the jobs "Americans don't want," as if they have not exacerbated the labor issue themselves by the sheer volume of laborers. Becaus there are so many of them out there, employers do not feel the need to increase wages, de facto creating a higher demand for work for fewer positions. So please, take it easy with this boycott, because you are not special. If you stubbornly insist, why don't you ask the Chinese, the Irish, the Italians, the Poles, the Russians, the Africans, the Koreans, the myriad of Eastern Europeans, the Philippinos, and the many others who came before you and asked nothing special in return. They are the ones that build the railroads, the farms, the tunnels, the damms, the roads, the skyscrapers, the airports, our infrastructure, our factories and our industries. What then, makes you so special? There are millions of others in the world who happen to be farther from the US and who want to come here, if only they had the means to! So again, what makes you so special? They embraced America, with all its splendor and faults, while you mock it!. They spoke the language of the land, while you try to make yours a second one. They assimilated, but you want to change it to suit you. What are you entitled to?

PK said...

Dana - How are today's illegals getting a "free ride" that wasn't offered to the Irish, Italians, etc. in the past? My understanding is that our immigration requirements have stiffened substantially since those days, and it is pretty doubtful that your ancestors did much more than show up at Ellis Island and answer a few questions.

DCeiver - I sort of agree with you, but I don't think Bush is wrong (for once) when he talks about "jobs [Americans] don't want to do". If the price went up for construction or something, there would just be less of it and it would hurt the economy - it's not like local construction contractors are making billions of dollars in pure profit, but rather they're bidding one another's prices down.

One thing I'm struck about in America is the fact that we seem to have less job-related migration than other cultures. I mean, have you run into a lot of people from, say, rural West Virginia who moved here for jobs and send money back to their families? People in West Virginia think they should get jobs just by virtue of being American... people in El Salvador pretty much KNOW they're screwed, and that's why they come here. I don't mean to generalize, but I think a) those really ARE jobs that Americans "won't do", because if they paid better the number of those jobs would decrease dramatically, and b) poor Americans, while they obviously have immensely crappy lots in life, aren't NEARLY as poor as illegal immigrants and do not seem to be willing to make the sacrifices they make.

PK said...

And Yogi - again, there seems to be a huge fallacy in comparing illegal immigrants today with the legal immigrants historically. For the first 150 years of our history, it was EASY to become an American. It is only in the most recent years that immigration quotas and requirements have stiffened. Yes, they're breaking the law to come in now, but let's not get too starry-eyed about the big sacrifices our forefathers made to come here. Our forefathers would probably have broken the law, too, if they had to. What exactly are today's illegal immigrants asking for that's "special" other than the same chance that we used to give those immigrants back in the day?

Gibson said...

I think this debate is being oversimplified when it's conducted in terms of "legal" and "illegal." Plenty of illegal immigrants are serving purposes in the American workforce and American society that legal immigrants don't and vice versa (I work in immigration law and I've seen all types). Here's the thing: what kind of behavior do we want to punish and what kind do we want to reward? We want to punish the guy who breaks the law and doesn't pay taxes and that guy could be legal or illegal. We want to reward the guy who does pay taxes (and parking tickets) and follows the letter of the law. I think that Kennedy and McCain's bill was a good way to do this. Dick Durbin was right when he said that providing a safe road to legalization will bring millions out of the shadows, and that makes the country hella lot safer than building some stupid fence on the Mexican border (admission: I totally f-ing HATE the Minutemen.)

Finally, I am a little tired of hearing people talk say "Oh, why can't they come in legally, my parents were immigrants and they came in legally, blah blah blah." Usually the people saying this are of some sort of European descent and middle-aged. Well, yes, their parents came over legally because IMMIGRATION REGULATIONS MADE IT MUCH EASIER. Those regs matter, and they're different according to what country you're coming from! Talk to a Haitian or a Cuban immigrant and ask them about it- Cubans need only step one foot on solid land in the U.S. and they're fast-tracked to citizenship. A Haitian who may be fleeing from much more dire circumstances is immediately flown back to Port-au-Prince. Some of the people here illegally are in the exact same circumstances as immigrants who came over thirty years ago, only it happens to be the wrong time and they happen to be from the wrong country.

PK said...

THANK YOU, Gibson. My point exactly.

The Deceiver said...

Mind you, I was answering a simple question--what should I say to an employer of immigrants who feels like he or she got shafted by the boycott activities...that being: "Uhm, I don't feel sorry for you, employer. What did you do with all the money you saved."

That said, it's touched off a string a quality comments, topic drift or not. Some pretty good brain food: I'll probably come back and read these over again tonight. So, thanks, commenters! This is really good stuff.

Your Humble Retainer said...

Just so you know, DCeiver, my retaining for you isn't just aboot the compensation. It is aboot justice and it is aboot freedom, and I am NOT just saying that so I can sleep at night.

Red Line said...

PK made already made the point I had planned to. Well said.

Olde Timey shopkeeper seems like a fun guy to have a conversation with.

PK said...

DCeiver, PLEASE don't tell me that your attorney is an illegal Canadian immigrant. People should at LEAST have to learn to speak English - REAL English, without the aboot's and eh's - before practicing law in this country. Why aren't we building a wall on the NORTHERN border?

Gibson said...

If your attorney is Canadian, can I marry him or her? I hear that they have affordable health care and marriage equality up there...

The Deceiver said...

My dear retainer--American yet with Canadian relatives--you are the exception to the rule.

PK said...

You know, I'm reconsidering my position on this one. If allowing low-wage Canadian lawyers to live here and remit half their money back to their poor relatives in Saskatoon would decrease the price of solid legal advice, I'm all for it.

You could say I've done an aboot-face.

(Ouch. Quit it. That hurts.)

Kriston said...

Does that mean that we should take every single Spanish speaking poor and oppressed person in and give them a home, because Mexico sucks?

That's the mission statement of the United States.

Gibson said...

Hmm... well, I guess if we decided to let every Mexican into the US because Mexico sucks it would be sort of like letting the Irish and the Chinese and the Catholics in way back when because their countries sucked...

abe said...

Two more thoughts to reflect on, DCeiver...first, to the extent that illegal immigrants of ANY stripe present adequate documentation to fill out an I-9 form, however false the documentation may actually be, they will have FICA taken out of their checks and will never be in a position to collect on any future benefit, WHILE paying the Social Security benefits of current retirees, this program being a pay-as -you go affair. On a different tack, I wonder if Gibson would post again (because he works in immigration law, as he said) and tell me how long the waiting list for legal entry is for various nationalities that might be representative of folks who are in line, following the legal route to entry. Last night as I watched TV, for instance, it came up that a Filipino was in a line 18 years long if he wanted to come into the US of A legally. Seems he might develop a hell of a resentment if amnesty was granted wholesale to folks who did not get in line legally themselves.

Gibson said...

Abe- do you know what type of visa the Filipino gentleman was trying to obtain? Was it a diversity visa (sorry, I don't mean to turn this into a forum on immigration law)?

The truth is that everybody who jumps through the legal hoops to gain entry into this country will wait an interminably long time to get a green card. I mostly work with refugees and once they've obtained asylum, a process that in and of itself can take years, they can wait up to 15 years to actually get a green card.

The McCain/Kennedy Bill would not grant blanket amnesty. It would put those in the country illegally on an equally long path to green card holdership and/or citizenship. Also, if I'm correct in what Dick Durbin said when he was talking about the bill, those who are in the country illegally who could get on the path to citizenship would stand in line behind others in that line.

Your Humble Retainer said...

I am most definitely not Canadian, although Deceiver is correct when he says I have Canadian relatives. That, woefully, is true. I do, however, envy them their flip-top heads because from what I have seen, it makes brushing one's teeth much easier.

abe said...

Gibson...no, I don't know much more than I said. I was simply astonished at the amount of time quoted on TV for someone doing it the right way...and from the Phillipines as well, a one time American protectorate and the source of many of my shipmates when I was in the U.S. Coast Guard. (Many also serve(d) admirably in the U.S. Navy.) You raise a further interesting point in your post, though. If it can take up to 15 years to gain a green card AFTER asylum is granted to a refugee, how the hell do even these folks, semi-legal, I suppose for lack of a better term, support themselves here without working illegally as well? Maybe I don't understand. I do remain convinced, perhaps because of my military service, that something is wrong if Filipinos must wait 18 years for any reason, if they are doing things the right way, and others might short cut the system simply because they have jumped the border and may gain "amnesty."

DC1974 said...

Oh, I don't know why I'm about to get into this hear but let me just clear up a few things.

1. People who marched and boycotted, myself and friends in DC, in SF, Chicago and LA did so because we support immigration. Period. We have all been touched by immigration. Know that the current system makes criminals out of people that try to do right by the law and arbitrarily draws and redraws the lines in the sand. In fact, I don't know a single person that ever snuck across the border, except for a Canadian, who was then able to marry his American girlfriend and all was forgiven and life went on. No most of my friends are people like Partner of 1974 and I. Same sex couples that met in college and then found out their was NO WAY for us to stay together in the U.S. legally. Others are same-sex couples that have skipped from H1-B visas, to student visas, to tourists visas to eventually run out of options and find out they had to sell their homes and quit their jobs and move to Spain, or Canada, or England, or Israel, or wherever to stay together. Or join the State Department where all of our partners immigration needs are taken care of and to NEVER STEP FOOT IN THE US AGAIN. Most of us that have managed to finagle a visa (gay or straight) are self-aware enough to know that the lines between "legal" and "illegal" change frequently and without warning.

2. Most of the ways that immigrants came to the U.S. would not even count as being close to legal today. My great grandparents just showed up. They were European, so that helped. Had they been Chinese, only the men would have been allowed in. My great grandparents struggled, though, too. My great grandmother dealt with anti-Irish bias. And after she married my great grandfather and took his German-sounding last name (he was Austrian, but Americans have never understood subtle differences, I guess) they found that they couldn't find work in the U.S. during WWI and had to uproot their family and move to Canada for several years. Until everything quieted down.

3. Again and again and again, there are news reports about fields going unpicked and food going bad, because the farmers (particularly in California) who wanted to do right by the law -- couldn't find anyone to pick the crops, even at the kinds of wages that qualify as legal. We have way more to be done in this country then we have people to do it. Period. And those areas that have seen the greatest amounts of illegal immigration -- Southern California, DC, Las Vegas -- have the lowest unemployment rates and the most economic growth. And then there are the employers that have wanted to do right by their employees and TRIED TO GET THEM HERE LEGALLY AND COULD NOT. From farmers on one end to the newspaper that I worked for (a legal newspaper, with a team of legal experts) who couldn't find away to higher a Canadian. COULDN'T DO IT.

So here's the homework assignment I want everyone to round up 20 immigrants and hear all their stories and start listening to how f-ed up the immigration "system" is and learn that it's basically not systemic. At all. And then think about why those of us marched in solidarity with immigrants. That documentation is a wedge that is an attempt to divide us. And on Monday there was an attempt to say back: hell no.

nick said...

my take