Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Illegal immigration.

I have to say that the current US efforts at the Mexican border are quite laughable. For one, it's no secret that there are major industries in the US South that would be bankrupt if not for illegal immigration. (As documented in Fast Food Nation, meat-packing is one.) So, the companies pay the politicians, the politicians deploy Guardsmen and border patrol elsewhere, and the trucks slip across the border with a new load of disposable labour. Furthermore, I doubt that landlords with substandard housing to rent would be terribly eager to undercut the influx of people with no legal status who nonetheless need homes. And, finally, as long as the US continues to allow wealth to concentrate within its borders, while doing nothing to help other countries develop, citizens of those other countries will continue to try to enter the US. (None of these, of course, are US-only problems. Canada has the same issues -- switch, say, Portuguese for Mexican and construction for meat-packing and it's all basically the same.) As a practical matter, there are too many incentives to cross the border illegally for there to ever be much success in trying to hold back the tide. (As Canute found out, the tide doesn't tend to do what it's asked.)

Furthermore, I note that when a corporation runs across a border, not only does it not have to pay much, if anything, to emigrate, but it can even be paid to enter the new country. (Indeed, if the company is significant enough to its current region, a bidding war between the two may erupt in order to convince (meaning bribe) the corporation about where to make its home.) However, if a labourer wants to cross a border, they must either do it illegally -- in which case, they are evil job-stealing rats -- or legally -- in which case they must, in essence, be white, upper middle-class, college-educated, and, for preference, have a family member already in the country. In the former case, they are deprived of most of the benefits of being in the country; in the latter case (and this is much more true of the US than Canada), chances of success are minimal.

In short, we may have global capital, but we do not have global labour. And the justification for this unequal treatment is entirely opaque to me. If we allow the jobs to move from country to country with impunity, even with encouragement, surely immigration policies for individuals need to be sufficiently flexible to reflect this. On the other hand, if we are valuing a sort of patriotic committment to one's "own" country, then it should be much, much harder for jobs to leave.

That is, the rhetoric about illegal immigration overlooks the very unreasonable and unfair demands that are being made of those in the Third World: namely, they are expected to suffer from our depredations, receive only what our corporations condescend to give them, and be punished for complaining about their lot. Until these conditions are repaired, illegal immigration will continue, and all the National Guard in America (and even in Iraq) won't be able to stop it.

No comments: