Wednesday, March 24, 2004

Sometimes, even the lefties notice

John Hawkins points us to an article by "self-proclaimed lefty Marty Nemko" on the myriad problems of illegal immigration - The overwhelming of America. It probably doesn't hurt that Nemko's wife is Napa County (California) Superintendent of Schools, since the schools are very hard hit by the illegals, particularly in California. Hawkins summarizes it nicely and the (long) article has all the details, so I'm going to mention only one part - the effect on American jobs:
Cindy and Ed Kolb used to run a construction service in Hereford, Arizona. On CNN, she said, "We could never win a bid because we paid Americans a living wage. Other firms hire illegals and pay them below minimum wage." The Kolbs have had to close their business.

Of course, the problem also affects employees. The owner of a Bay Area construction company who insisted on anonymity bragged that he used to have to pay carpenters $20 an hour plus benefits but now gets them for $12, no benefits, because of the ready supply of illegal immigrants.

The Center for Immigration Studies has calculated that illegals have already cost American workers $133 billion in salary cuts and job losses. According to a study by the prestigious National Academy of Sciences, illegal immigration combined with the rampant offshoring of US jobs promises to significantly shrink the middle and working class, forcing ever more people into poverty.

Legally residing young adults without college degrees — an already vulnerable group — are being hit particularly hard. Last year, the employment rate for teens reached a record low, down nine percentage points just since 2000.

President Bush, pandering to Corporate America's thirst for cheap labor, is proposing a so-called Guest Worker program that would greatly increase the number of illegal workers. It would provide legal residency for three years (renewable) to all illegals holding US jobs, to their families, and even to those with just a letter stating that an employer promises a job.

The only restriction would be that the employer must first have tried to hire a legal resident. That restriction is practically unenforceable. The cost of investigating each of millions of hiring decisions would be prohibitive. No doubt, as in the 1986 amnesty program for agriculture workers, Bush's Guest Worker program would rely on employers' self-serving attestations. Even that amnesty program's sponsor, Charles Schumer (D-NY) admitted that in that program, fraud occurred in 2/3 of the hires.
I don't know what it's like where you live, but even around here in the sticks, construction is almost solely the province of illegal alien labor except for a few skilled trades like plumbers and electricians, and that is changing too. Do those sound like jobs no American citizens would take?

On a related note, Chip Taylor points to a NY Times piece on machines versus illegals in farming:
Canopy shakers are still an unusual sight in Florida's orange groves. Most of the crop is harvested by hand, mainly by illegal Mexican immigrants. Nylon sacks slung across their backs, perched atop 16-foot ladders, they pluck oranges at a rate of 70 to 90 cents per 90-pound box, or less than $75 a day.

But as globalization creeps into the groves, it is threatening to displace the workers. Facing increased competition from Brazil and a glut of oranges on world markets, alarmed growers here have been turning to labor-saving technology as their best hope for survival.
So even while President Bush advances a plan to invite legal guest workers into American fields, farmers for the first time in a generation are working to replace hand laborers with machines.

"The rest of the world hand-picks everything, but their wage rates are a fraction of ours," said Galen Brown, who led the mechanical harvesting program at the Florida Department of Citrus until his retirement last year. Lee Simpson, a raisin grape grower in California's San Joaquin Valley, is more blunt. "The cheap labor," he said, "isn't cheap enough."
So even the canonical jobs that "citizens don't want to do" are disappearing. Or maybe not:
Investment in technology generally happened when the immigrant spigot was shut. After the bracero program ended and some farm wages began to rise, scientists at the University of California at Davis began work on both a machine to harvest tomatoes mechanically and a tomato better suited to mechanical harvesting.

By 1970, the number of tomato-harvest jobs had been cut by two-thirds. But the tomato harvester's success proved to be a kiss of death for mechanical harvesting. In 1979, the farm worker advocacy group California Rural Legal Assistance, with support from the United Farm Workers union of Cesar Chavez, sued U.C. Davis, charging that it was using public money for research that displaced workers and helped only big growers.

The lawsuit was eventually settled. But even before that, in 1980, President Jimmy Carter's agriculture secretary, Bob Bergland, declared that the government would no longer finance research projects intended to replace "an adequate and willing work force with machines." Today, the Agricultural Research Service employs just one agricultural engineer: Donald Peterson, a longtime researcher at the Appalachian Fruit Research Station in Kearneysville, W.Va.

"At one time I was told to keep a low profile and not to publicize what I was doing," Mr. Peterson said.
Hmm, employment security for illegal aliens. What a concept!

But even that won't save them in the battle of global wage rates for unskilled labor.
Mr. Loukonen, the Barron Collier manager, said the farm workers were right to be anxious. "If there's no demand for labor, supply will end," he said. "They will have to find another place to work, or stay in their country."
Or maybe not - come looking for work, stay for the "benefits". While I don't agree with all of Nemko's conclusions, he's got one thing right:
the US should impose and enforce severe penalties on employers who hire illegals. If an employer cannot find a legal worker, it must improve salaries and working conditions until a legal resident will take the position. The government must also eliminate incentives for foreigners to sneak into the US: no benefits to illegals and their families except for emergency health care.
And a bus ride to the border.