Sunday, January 27, 2008

My Inaugural Post

This is probably a blog that's going to get me into some trouble, and maybe lose some friends. Immigration is a touchy subject, and I don't intend to steer clear of the controversies, or even the polemics. Yet few subjects cry out with more urgency for clear-sighted policy analysis and stubborn integrity. So we're probably going to rip loose a scab or two.

In my inaugural post, I want to refer you to The Hightower Lowdown, a populist newsletter edited by Phillip Frazier and the ever-quotable Jim Hightower, that attempts in its January 2008 issue (vol.10, no.1) to synthesize a middle-of-the-road position on illegal immigration.

Hightower is of course a ferocious partisan, so he prefaces his serious propositions with the standard accusations of xenophobia, racism and demagoguery that are de rigueur among Open Borders activists. But Lowdown goes on to cite polls that show "deep and genuine alarm about (illegal immigration) among the nonxenophobic, nonracist American majority."

"In particular, workaday families are fearful about what an endless flow of low-wage workers portends for their economic future - and they're not getting good answers from Republicans, Democrats, corporate leaders or the media."

Hightower broadens the discussion beyond mere enforcement of immigration laws. The title of his article, "Immigrants Come Here Because Globalization Took Their Jobs Back There," bears the subtitle "Stop Blaming Workers - the Bosses Made This Mess."

Even if there were no illegal workers in our country, Hightower writes, our economy would remain fragile. It was powerful, well-connected corporate interests, not powerless immigrants, who downsized and offshored our middle-class jobs, rewrote bankruptcy laws to let corporations break their union contracts, turned the National Labor Relations Board into a partisan of employers against workers, reclassified millions of employees as independent contractors to deprive them of labor rights and fringe benefits, and turned a blind eye to the re-emergence of sweatshops and child labor.

"Immigration reform cannot be separated from labor and trade reform," Hightower writes. He coins a new term, "NAFTAfication," to describe what he thinks is causing the rush of illegal immigration, mostly from Mexico.

"We must stop the exploitative NAFTAfication of such aspiring economies as Mexico and instead devolop genuine grassroots investment policies that give people there an ability to remain in their homeland. Then we must enforce our own labor laws - from wage and hour rules to the NLRB."

The Lowdown says if we would "go right at the corporate kleptocracy that now owns Washington and controls the debate," we could eliminate the need to migrate from Mexico and revive the American middle class. This, Hightower writes, is "an immigration policy that will work."

I use the Hightower letter as the starting point for this blog, not because I believe it sets out a realistic program, but because I think it assembles all the elements of the illegal immigration debate. The idea that we can eliminate unskilled Mexican and Central American workers' economic motive to escape their homelands is sheer pie in the sky. Mexico is a sovereign country, and its ruling elites will never consent to the sort of intervencion that that would require.

On the contrary, they seem to feel entitled to intervene in our country, negotiating immigration policy with municipal governments and police organizations, contrary to Article I, Section 8 of our Constitution, objecting - despite Article IV, Section 4 - to our construction of fences on our sovereign territory, issuing identification documents from their consulates in U.S. cities, and supervising the labor laws and enforcement of criminal laws against their citizens residing here. We are confronted with an extraterritorialism that no self-respecting republic can accept.

And so we must learn to respect one another again, beginning with one another's sovereignty. In the words of the poet's stolid Vermonter neighbor, "good fences make good neighbors."

I let my neighbour know beyond the hill
And on a day we meet to walk the line
And set the wall between us once again
We keep the wall between us as we go
To each the boulders that have fallen to each
Mending Wall, Robert Frost

Yet Hightower's class consciousness should not be dismissed. It's true, as he writes, that powerless Mexican immigrants did not engineer our government's disloyalty to the middle class or its indifference to upward mobility.

It is urgent that we fix the illegal immigration problem, but Hightower is right that even if we fix it, it's still going to be a tough, often unfair labor system. U.S. workers shouldn't delude themselves that their future is secure once they put the illegal aliens to flight. If they don't follow up by holding North American elites' feet to the fire on labor reform and trade reform, making the illegals go home will just be an exercise in cruelty.

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