Both the corporatists and the racists are fond of the mantra, "There are some jobs Americans won't do." It's a lie.
Americans will do virtually any job if they're paid a decent wage. This isn't about immigration - it's about economics. Industry and agriculture won't collapse without illegal labor, but the middle class is being crushed by it.
The reason why thirty years ago United Farm Workers' Union (UFW) founder Caesar Chávez fought against illegal immigration, and the UFW turned in illegals during his tenure as president, was because Chávez, like progressives since the 1870s, understood the simple reality that labor rises and falls in price as a function of availability.
As Wikipedia notes: "In 1969, Chávez and members of the UFW marched through the Imperial and Coachella Valley to the border of Mexico to protest growers' use of illegal aliens as temporary replacement workers during a strike. Joining him on the march were both the Reverend Ralph Abernathy and U.S. Senator Walter Mondale. Chávez and the UFW would often report suspected illegal aliens who served as temporary replacement workers as well as who refused to unionize to the INS."
Working Americans have always known this simple equation: More workers, lower wages. Fewer workers, higher wages.
Progressives fought - and many lost their lives in the battle - to limit the pool of "labor hours" available to the Robber Barons from the 1870s through the 1930s and thus created the modern middle class. They limited labor-hours by pushing for the 50-hour week and the 10-hour day (and then later the 40-hour week and the 8-hour day). They limited labor-hours by pushing for laws against child labor (which competed with adult labor). They limited labor-hours by working for passage of the 1935 Wagner Act that provided for union shops.
And they limited labor-hours by supporting laws that would regulate immigration into the United States to a small enough flow that it wouldn't dilute the unionized labor pool. As Wikipedia notes: "The first laws creating a quota for immigrants were passed in the 1920s, in response to a sense that the country could no longer absorb large numbers of unskilled workers, despite pleas by big business that it wanted the new workers."
Do a little math. The Bureau of Labor Statistics says there are 7.6 million unemployed Americans right now. Another 1.5 million Americans are no longer counted because they've become "long term" or "discouraged" unemployed workers. And although various groups have different ways of measuring it, most agree that at least another five to ten million Americans are either working part-time when they want to work full-time, or are "underemployed," doing jobs below their level of training, education, or experience. That's between eight and twenty million un- and under-employed Americans, many unable to find above-poverty-level work.
At the same time, there are between seven and fifteen million working illegal immigrants diluting our labor pool.
If illegal immigrants could no longer work, unions would flourish, the minimum wage would rise, and oligarchic nations to our south would have to confront and fix their corrupt ways.
Between the Reagan years - when there were only around 1 to 2 million illegal aliens in our workforce - and today, we've gone from about 25 percent of our private workforce being unionized to around seven percent. Much of this is the direct result - a Caesar Chávez predicted - of illegal immigrants competing directly with unionized and legal labor. Although it's most obvious in the construction trades over the past 30 years, it's hit all sectors of our economy.
Democratic Party strategist Ann Lewis just sent out a mass email on behalf of former Wal-Mart Board of Directors member and now US Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton. In it, Lewis noted that Clinton suggests we should have: "An earned path to citizenship for those already here working hard, paying taxes, respecting the law, and willing to meet a high bar for becoming a citizen." Sounds nice. The same day, on his radio program, Rush Limbaugh told a woman whose husband is an illegal immigrant that she had nothing to worry about with regard to deportation of him or their children because all he'd have to do - under the new law under consideration - is pay a small fine and learn English.
The current Directors of Wal-Mart are smiling.
Meanwhile, the millions of American citizens who came to this nation as legal immigrants, who waited in line for years, who did the hard work to become citizens, are feeling insulted, humiliated, and conned.
Shouldn't we be compassionate? Of course.