Thursday, March 30, 2006

Immigration - An Economic Problem

The illegal immigration problem is fraught with emotion but looking at the facts will help us find a solution. Here are the basic facts:

  • Mexico has a labor force willing to work for less than US citizens (who are protected by law to get a minimum wage.)
  • US employers who want to make more profits take advantage of the illegals who have no protections, and pay them wages below the legal minimum. Employers also avoid payroll taxes and determine the working conditions, which may also violate labor laws.
  • The illegal immigrants use parts of our health, education and welfare systems which are funded by citizens through taxes. The affected systems are stressed and causing increased animosity towards illegal workers.

    Who benefits? Business benefits.

    Who loses? Citizens who pay taxes to support schools, medical facilities and social services which are used by illegal immigrants. The illegals who are vilified while being taken advantage of.

    How to solve this dilemma? The issue is economic. Business wants to make a bigger profit while expecting citizens to bear the expense of illegal workers" social needs. The immigrants are caught in the middle and called "the problem." The real "problem" is that business fails to pay the expense the illegal immigrants cost the society.

    Some way must be found to put funds into the budgets for social services the illegal immigrants use. These funds should come from the businesses that are profiting from their work.

    The alternative is to create laws that encompass a non-citizen temporary work force and makes breaking these laws so expensive that employers won"t take the risk.
    In Switzerland they have workers come in from surrounding countries to "do the work no Swiss will do."

    Workers come to families or businesses and are contracted to do a job for a certain wage. They have papers and have to leave Switzerland on a regular basis. Some are daily workers and others live with their employers and go home on weekends.

    Now the US is not as conveniently tiny as Switzerland, but I think that a system, which allows for immigrant workers but not their citizenship, would be a start in solving this problem.

    Business would get its less expensive labor force and the workers would clearly remain citizens of their home of origin. One solution would be to have employers submit a work contract for temp workers and include the pay rate, job description and length of time contracted for. They could be required to post a voucher fee for each worker they contract which would be paid back either when the worker leaves the country or is reimbursed by an employer who makes a new contract with the worker. Employers would be like "sponsors" and be responsible for workers" medical care while they are here through some kind of insurance program or a tax paid to local services to cover medical care used. Employers should face fines (which go into the local tax fund) and jail (if offences repeated) for using undocumented workers. Only as many workers as are required are allowed in. They must leave the country when their contract expires or obtain a new one with another employer. Temp workers must leave the country at least every six months or at the end of their contract time, if shorter than six months.

    Business benefits, business should pay the increased financial burden society has been subsidizing. The workers are not the problem, the employers who break the law are.
    Shamefully, our lawmakers have legislated for business even when the well being of society is put at risk or diminished. The government is doing a dance around the immigration problem and refusing to face the true issue of economics. Whatever law they pass should address the problem of the increased social costs and get money into those systems. The job of government is to put reasonable laws in place that give businesses the workers they need while making businesses responsible for those workers while they are within our borders. Those laws must also be enforced. When illegal immigrants can no longer find employment, they will stop taking the risk of illegal entry. Perhaps illegals who are here should be allowed to find employer sponsors and to set up worker contracts. Those who have been here for a long time (to be determined), and were free of a criminal record, could be given green cards and be required to participate in the workforce as taxpayers. Once everyone was accounted for according to some status, employers should bear the responsibility of abiding with the law or face heavy penalties.

    In the larger picture, we could insist Congress pull NAFTA and make trade agreements which make wages sustainable on both sides of the border.

    Here again business has undermined the social fabric of both the US and Mexico. NAFTA has driven down wages in Mexico which has caused many of the businesses who employed Americans, to leave here and go there. Unfortunately, the wages those businesses are willing to pay the Mexicans are so low that, to help their families, many risk the frightful journey of becoming an illegal immigrant. Immigration would diminish if a sustainable income at home were available to those seeking work. The true resolution can be found in the bigger picture of trade reform.

    Business is blessed by laws that say that the bottom line for them is to make a profit. They are not required to abide by any social contract. This lack of regulation allows them not only to be bad employers but to freely pollute and diminish resources. Not all business works this way and the doing of business is necessary to our society, but they all must be made to pay for their costs of doing business and not to pass the bill to society.

    Sue Dyer

    Guest Essayist

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