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From LABOR-L@YorkU.CA Thu Feb 24 08:20:03 2000
Date: Wed, 23 Feb 2000 15:43:27 -0500
Reply-To: Forum on Labor in the Global Economy <LABOR-L@YorkU.CA>
Sender: Forum on Labor in the Global Economy <LABOR-L@YorkU.CA>
From: Charles Brown <CharlesB@CNCL.CI.DETROIT.MI.US>
Subject: Response to editorial on immigration
X-UIDL: 2f06c8e6db5cc3a11499f70fd1e53d9c

From: David Bacon <dbacon@igc.org>
Subject: response to NYT editorial

Response to NYT editorial

By David Bacon <dbacon@igc.org", 23 February 2000

Dear editor,

The New York Times editorial criticising the recent change in position by the AFL-CIO on immigration is factually wrong on a number of counts, and in its conclusion, would perpetuate the discrimination and second-class status suffered by millions of people.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees estimates that over 80 million people today live outside their countries of origin. This is a permanent, global phenomenon, and the U.S. is home to only a small percentage of those migrating people. This migration is overwhelmingly due to increasing economic inequality on a global scale, between the world's rich and poor countries. When people cannot survive and feed their families in their home communities, they will leave and seek that survival elsewhere, come what may.

In many cases, economic survival has become difficult because of structural adjustment and other economic and trade policies imposed by wealthier countries, the U.S. in particular, as well as by international financial institutions such as the International Monetary Fund and World Bank. It is shortsighted, if not hypocritical, for the Times to support these programs and institutions on the one hand, and then ignore their consequences, condemning those they dispossess when they migrate to the U.S. and other wealthy countries looking for work and survival.

Amnesty did not cause people to immigrate to the U.S. That migration was taking place long before that amnesty took effect, and takes place in other countries which have no amnesty programs. The cut-off date for the amnesty contained in the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act was January, 1982. It is ridiculous to imagine, 18 years later, that the millions of people currently in the U.S. without documents arrived thinking that all they had to do was wait for the next amnesty to have their status normalized.

It is clear that building walls along the border and militarizing it cannot halt this flow of people. It has only resulted in the deaths of 400 desperate people trying to survive the dangerous border-crossing in the last year alone. Nor can passing draconian anti-immigrant legislation, whether California's Proposition 187 or the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act. The AFL-CIO's new position has recognized this fact, one which is accepted by most authorities on migration and by those who work in immigrant communities and those communities which are the sources of migration.

The AFL-CIO also recognizes that these laws and policies have had a profound effect on the rights and wellbeing of people once they are here, an effect the editorial simply ignores. Thousands of workers have been fired from their jobs as a result of sanctions, hardly making the law a joke. How ironic -- that our current political climate removes welfare and social benefits in the name of the work ethic (with the support of the Times), and then punishes the undocumented for the crime of working.

Immigration enforcement actions haven't improved the lives and job prospects for other workers either, and in fact have undermined wages and working conditions. The more fearful undocumented workers have become of losing their jobs as a result of INS actions, the more employers have been able to impose lower wages and worse conditions. As the AFL-CIO correctly notes, those enforcement actions have also undermined the ability of immigrant workers to organize unions to improve those same conditions. That has not only hurt the undocumented themselves, but other workers as well, immigrant and native-born alike. The penalties against employers have always been minor, while the economic benefit of making workers vulnerable has been, in effect, a giant sweatshop subsidy.

Professor Borjas would blame immigrants for the decline in income and living standards for unskilled workers. He conveniently ignores the impact of plant closures and industrial restructuring, which have cost the jobs of millions of unskilled workers, the growth of service-sector, minimum-wage jobs and contract and temporary employment, and the steep obstacles facing workers who try to organize unions. These are the real, structural causes for declining wages.

While certain industries hire immigrant workers in an effort to keep wages down, it is an illusion to imagine that simply by replacing those immigrant workers with native-born ones, that those same employers will voluntarily raise salaries. Workers will have to struggle to force an increase in living standards, just as they have always done. The unity and cooperation of workers in that struggle is an important advantage, which the AFL-CIO is right to try to protect.

It is a tribute to the courage and anger of immigrant workers throughout the country that they have successfully organized unions and struck by the thousands, despite the risks presented by INS enforcement actions in the workplace. Instead of attacking them for doing so, the Times should congratulate and support them for choosing the path many generations of immigrants have chosen before them. Perhaps the Times doesn't really favor workers organizing unions.

We need to create a human community in this country in which people do not have to live in fear, and are not subject to discrimination. What undermines the integrity of our country's immigration laws is their use to keep millions of people in a state of vulnerability and illegality. Our laws should start with the intention of protecting the human rights of migrants. One first step might be to ratify the convention of the International Labor Organization on the Rights of Migrants and Their Families, as many other countries have done.

But we must also face reality, and deal with the world as it really is. NAFTA and free trade have created profitable conditions for corporate investment in Mexico and other developing countries, and freed the movement of capital and goods. But these agreements haven't taken responsibility for their disastrous effect on poor communities, or freed the movement of the people they've displaced.

Some have begun proposing a NAFTA visa, which would allow workers much more freedom of movement across borders. Others propose expanding the number of visas to accommodate the real number of people moving back and forth. Our current visa and immigration restrictions force millions of people into an illegal status, and trap people on this side of the border who want to work here, but who might otherwise choose to maintain their permanent residence in their country of origin.

We need a new amnesty to guarantee basic human and labor rights to the people who live in this country, both now and in the future. Undocumented immigrants will not simply disappear, nor should they. They are productive members of our communities, they enrich our culture, and they are part of the hope for our future.

The AFL-CIO is right. David Bacon, co-chair, Northern California Coalition for Immigrant Rights

The New York Times editorial

The New York Times
February 22, 2000
Hasty Call for Amnesty ned the ability of immigrant

The A.F.L.-C.I.O.'s call for the government to grant amnesty to an estimated six million illegal immigrants currently living in the United States and to eliminate most sanctions on employers who hire them in the future was a surprising turnabout. Until now, organized labor has fought hard to keep illegal workers from taking jobs from higher-paid union workers.

The A.F.L.-C.I.O.'s proposal is attractive to many groups. Unions welcome the chance to go after a huge new pool of unorganized workers. Employers welcome the chance to hire cheap labor without fear of criminal liability. And illegal immigrants who have worked hard for years and raised families under harrowing circumstances would welcome access to medical care and other services denied to illegal aliens.

But the A.F.L.-C.I.O.'s proposal should be rejected. Amnesty would undermine the integrity of the country's immigration laws and would depress the wages of its lowest-paid native-born workers.

Back in 1986, Congress granted amnesty to an estimated three million illegal immigrants as part of a law that also promised to crack down on further illegal immigration by imposing sanctions on employers who knowingly violated the law. At that time, this page endorsed amnesty because it was tied to measures that promised to keep further rounds of illegal immigration in check. But 14 years later there are twice as many illegal workers, and employer sanctions are widely deemed a joke. Workers pretend to show employers proof of citizenship or work visas and employers pretend they do not know the proof is fake.

The primary problem with amnesties is that they beget more illegal immigration. Demographers trace the doubling of the number of Mexican immigrants since 1990 in part to the amnesty of the 1980's. Amnesties signal foreign workers that American citizenship can be had by sneaking across the border, or staying beyond the term of one's visa, and hiding out until Congress passes the next amnesty. The 1980's amnesty also attracted a large flow of illegal relatives of those workers who became newly legal. All that is unfair to those who play by the immigration rules and wait years to gain legal admission.

It is also unfair to unskilled workers already in the United States. Between about 1980 and 1995, the gap between the wages of high school dropouts and all other workers widened substantially. Prof. George Borjas of Harvard estimates that almost half of this trend can be traced to immigration of unskilled workers. Illegal immigration of unskilled workers induced by another amnesty would make matters worse. The better course of action is to honor America's proud tradition by continuing to welcome legal immigrants and find ways to punish employers who refuse to obey the law.