The "Enforcement Only" Approach: Be Careful What You Wish For, You Just Might Get It.
The Los Angeles Times ran an article in their September 24th edition under the title, "Enforcement Works". It was written by Mark Krikorian, who is the Executive Director of the Center for Immigration Studies, an entity that describes itself as "a think tank that supports tighter controls on immigration". The article's heading proffers the argument that the "Crackdowns on Illegal Immigrants Have Opened up Jobs for Americans". In truth, this article serves as a textbook example of why the myopically short sighted anti-immigration reformers simply don't have a clue as to how the economy works in the real world, and furthermore, exposes the dangers that the enforcement only approach posses to not only our economy here at home, but to the economic stability of our entire region of the World.
The central thesis of the article is that, despite the Director of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff's dire yet understated warning that "there will be some unhappy consequences for the economy out of doing this", it is Mr. Krikorian's assertion that, "while the enforcement climate is still too new to show results in Government data one way or the other", he nevertheless assumes through "anecdotal" evidence that the enforcement only approach is working.
To back up his position, he sites that when Hazelton, Pennsylvania officials created the nation's first ordinance aimed at driving away undocumented residents, thousands of people apparently packed up and left. He also touts as good news for the economy that when illegal aliens were removed from a poultry plant in Georgia, the plant, in order to recruit the workers that it needed to stay in business, had to resort to not only raising wages significantly, but also had to offer free shuttles from nearby towns, and also to provide free rooms in a company owned dormitory. The company, for the first time, had to hire applicants from the state unemployment office, and began hiring probationers and men from a local homeless mission.
No doubt, the "enforcement only" good 'ole boys will read the above paragraph, and think, "Well, what's wrong with that?" Well, I'm going to tell you exactly what's wrong with that, and why. For starters, does anybody really think that because Hazelton passed a bunch of racist ordinances, (which of course later proved to be illegal), which ultimately drove away most of their undocumented laborers, that these people simply gave up and moved back home? Or did Hazelton simply kick the problem down the road, and that the laborers simply went in search of a less racist environment to work and raise their families? I'm going to go out on a limb and say that the vast majority stayed in the United States.
More pointedly, I suspect that Hazelton is now feeling the same effects as those towns in Colorado did this spring, that also drove the undocumented aliens out of their counties through racist local legislation. In Colorado, (the domain of the lead anti-immigrant proponent Tom Tancredo), farmers and other labor intensive businesses were scrambling for workers as their crops rotted in their fields, and car washes went out of business. Farmers had to resort to using prisoners to tend their fields, to a most unsatisfying and ineffectual end.
In addition, if anyone thinks that what happened to that Georgia poultry plant was good for our economy, let me tell you a story. A few years ago, a garment factory that I worked with received an anonymous call. The caller claimed that he knew that there were illegal workers working at the factory, and that the INS was going to raid the facility to arrest and deport all of the illegal workers. At the time, the factory was employing about 120 Hispanic workers. While the factory was complying with the letter of the law, (it had documentation of legal residence from all of the employees), there really was no reliable method at the time of knowing for sure if the documentation was official.
The factory hired an outside Human Resources expert to investigate if, in fact, there were illegal workers among the employees, and then terminated those workers. In order to replace those long time, well trained, and faithful employees that were let go, the company was forced to resort to some of the same things that the Georgia Poultry plant was forced to do. It began hiring employees from the state unemployment office.
Here is exactly how that worked out: Out of 52 employees hired through the State Unemployment Office over a 12 month period, (and please note that only the best prospects interviewed were hired), 27 reported back to work after the first week, 9 were still employed after one month, and 2 after one year. That's roughly a 4% success rate, or more accurately a 96% non-success rate. Not only that, but you have to understand that the factory was highly motivated to try to keep these employees, because in addition to the needed labor, the state was offering a very generous tax incentive for each employee hired through the unemployment office that was still employed after six months.
Perhaps the residents of Georgia don't mind subsidizing with their tax money the businesses devastated by the Federal Government's ill advised enforcement only experiment, (although if they understood exactly what's going on the most assuredly would). However, I do suspect that they won't be too pleased with the inevitable rise in the cost of chicken at their local markets. Does anyone think that the Georgia poultry plant can afford to just absorb all of the additional costs thrust upon them by the government's arbitrary raid of their work force? Of course they will try their best to pass the additional costs on to their consumers. They will probably have only limited success, because the arbitrary nature of the crackdown won't allow for market forces to adjust enough for this particular plant to sufficiently raise it's prices when their competitors, (who no doubt also have illegal workers, possibly even some of the ones that the raided plant had to fire), will be able to afford to hold down their prices at current levels.
The true danger will come when and if the government decides to crack down on every business. The enforcement only approach can perhaps fool the people that want to be fooled when it's done randomly like it has been to date. However, even the most die-hard anti-immigrationists will feel the pinch, and realize the folly of this approach if it becomes institutionalized. A true crackdown would be massively inflationary, while at the same time crippling to our economy.
Furthermore, if Mr. Krikorian were to get his wish, and the undocumented workforce were to give up and leave, it would create devastating geopolitical and economic complications that clearly he hasn't had the foresight to comprehend. His assertion that, "attrition is the real alternative to amnesty", is frankly scary in it's dangerous naiveté.
The plight of the poverty ravaged working class in Latin America has been well documented. It is why these people have escaped that crushing, meager, and hopeless subsistence to come to our country in the first place. What makes people like Mr. Krikorian think that by sending these people back to those countries, we can just forget about those economies, as if we exist in some sort of fantasy bubble here in the United States? Why can't he understand that in a global economy, all nations, particularly nations in close proximity to each other, are inexorably interconnected to each other?
If we were to either send through deportation, or through attrition, all or most of our undocumented workforce back to their Latin American home countries, it would only add to the already huge unemployment ranks of those countries. At the same time, it would cut off the flow of remittances back to those countries from the workers here in the U.S. to their families in Latin America. Those funds are the lifeblood of most of those nation's economies, and are their largest source of revenue after oil and/or tourism.
Why should we care? Well, for one thing, because of the economic hardships suffered by the citizens of Latin American countries, we see that inroads are being made by leftist influences in many of these countries. Much of the leftist activity has been instigated by socialists and communists such as Hugo Chavez, the strongman leader of Venezuela. It is alarming that these leftist radicals are operating with impunity and increasing regularity as far north as Mexico, on our southern border. What will the influx of some 12,000,000 disenfranchised and newly unemployed former undocumented U.S. workers, (no doubt harboring well deserved resentments against the United States), add to the mix? These additional unemployed people, coupled with the drying up of U.S. dollar remittances, will certainly add to the leftist pressure on these countries, (our neighbors and allies), political systems.
Do we really want to be in the business of alienating our allies and neighbors after eight years of the Bush administration? Can any good come of that?
The facts are simple enough if one bothers to think them through. Our economy might be slowing a little, but unemployment is still at almost historic lows, (which is why that Georgia poultry plant had to go to such extreme, costly, and I predict ultimately unsuccessful measures to find replacement workers). If we were to lose workers at the unprecedented level that Mr. Krikorian and others of his ilk advocate, we would have massive work shortages in virtually every vital level of our economic system. Inflation would initially skyrocket, that is until the inevitable recession due to massive work interruption and loss of productivity causes our GNP to plummet.
It's really time for the Krikorians of the World to get off their high horses, and look reality squarely in the eye. You don't like foreigners? Get over it. This country was founded on the bedrock principal of inclusion, not exclusion. If we want to enjoy the freedom that comes with economic prosperity, then I say it is time to face the fact that we need to embrace the very workers that are affording us that prosperity. To recognize their contribution is just and fair, to deny it to embrace ignorance and bigotry.
About The Author
Robert Gittelson has been a garment manufacturer in the Los Angeles area for over 25 years. His wife, Patricia Gittelson, is an immigration attorney with offices in Van Nuys and Oxnard, California. Robert also works closely with Patricia on the administrative side of her immigration practice. Throughout his career, Mr. Gittelson has developed practical, first hand experience in dealing with the immigration issues that are challenging our country today.
The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinion of ILW.COM.