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Welcoming the huddled masses

By Keith D. Cummings
web posted January 12, 2004

Last week, talk show host Michael Savage announced that he had finally given up on George W. Bush and, while he's a conservative on the far right of the political spectrum, he will support Howard Dean in the 2004 presidential election. The straw that apparently broke Savage's proverbial back was the President's recently announced guest worker program between the United States and Mexico.

There are many reasons for true conservatives, even conservatives like Michael Savage, to turn their backs on President Bush in the coming election. From the "No Child Left Behind Act" to the recent Medicare giveaways, Bush has proven that "compassionate conservative" seems to be another term for "overspending liberal." While Bush is on the stump touting his many programs, it's possible that his administration will be remembered as the "No Dollar Left Unspent" years of American government.

George W. Bush gestures on January 7 in the East Room of the White House, as he called on Congress to approve changes to immigration policy
George W. Bush gestures on January 7 in the East Room of the White House, as he called on Congress to approve changes to immigration policy

The immigration initiative that Bush has announced last week can, at least in part, be understood and even condoned. Removing three million undocumented workers from the shadows of society, thus freeing customs and homeland security officials to focus on the real threats to the country and its people is a valid reason for this policy. In addition, Mr. Bush isn't suggesting that the border between the United States and Mexico be thrown open, but rather that a system be created whereby positions that can't be filled with native workers can be filled with someone.

Is it reasonable, however, to give President Vincente Fox a pass on his responsibilities to his own people? Fox, reported to be close to the President, has not gone out of his way to cultivate a strong strategic relationship with the United States. He has made no effort, since taking office on November 30, 2000, to stop or even reduce the tide of Mexican citizens crossing the border. He failed to stand with the United States in the War on Terror, specifically in the battle against Iraq. Mr. Fox has even intimated that it is somehow the responsibility of the United States to improve the lives of his citizens residing in this country illegally.

There is no doubt that there wouldn't be a problem with massive illegal immigration if U.S. employers were more responsible about the people whom they hire for their lowest paying positions. From farms in the southwestern U.S. that hire illegals as migrant workers, to affluent families that look the other way when hiring domestic help, a large part of the blame for illegal immigration rests on the shoulders of American citizens. The low cost of these "undocumented" workers is too appealing to people willing to take advantage of other people's misfortune.

The illegal workers benefit as well. While many of them don't receive anything close to minimum wage, they can come to the United States, live in conditions at least as good as those in their homeland, and receive in a day the pay that could take them a week or more to earn at home. The situation is symbiotic and, ultimately, no one is losing anything. The claim that this plan would result in a vast loss of jobs for Americans is simply untrue. The fact is that hundreds of thousands of menial jobs go begging every year, in a nation where cleaning toilets and mopping floors is considered by most to be demeaning. Look in the kitchens of America's restaurants and you can see that low-level service jobs are already going to a lower paid, immigrant class.

It's not as if this is a new phenomenon. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, similar situations existed. In New York in the years around the civil war, competition was fierce between a huge wave of Irish immigrants and native free black men for the lowest paying jobs in the city. Both sides accused the other of undercutting their wage demands to secure positions.

Today, we have Americans like Michael Savage screaming that illegal immigrants will take jobs away from Americans, but these are jobs that go begging. Few people with a Master's degree will take a job waiting tables just to be active and earn some income; the job is beneath them. So, we are faced with a situation where jobs go begging and a service class of immigrants is lining up at the border to get those jobs.

The President's plan isn't perfect. It would be nice if Bush put some of the onus on Fox and the Mexican government. While jobs must be first offered to Americans under the plan, there is no clear answer to what happens if the economy should again turn and more Americans, people who once rejected those jobs, are in need. Also, there is no requirement on the part of these guest workers to learn the language of the United States before coming. Finally, there are insufficient safeguards to ensure that these visitors to our shores are prevented from coming here, staying here and becoming recipients of public largess.

Ultimately, as our nation continues to be the most affluent on earth, there are going to remain a class of jobs that machines can't do and Americans won't do. President Bush's proposal is not a perfect solution to this problem; it's not even the best solution currently available. It's not, however, a reason to switch candidates. There are much better ones.

Keith D. Cummings is the author of Opening Bell, a political / financial thriller. His website is http://www.keith-cummings.com.

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