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Thom Hartmann: Reclaiming the Issues: "It's an Illegal Employer Problem"

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Every time the media - or a Democrat - uses the phrase "Illegal Immigration" they are promoting one of Karl Rove's most potent Republican Party frames.

The reality is that we don't have an "Illegal Immigration" problem in America. We have an "Illegal Employer" problem.

Yet it's almost never mentioned in the mainstream media, because to point it out could slightly reduce the profits and CEO salaries of many of America's largest multi-state and multinational corporations - who both own the media and contribute heavily to conservative politicians. Republicans would prefer that the "criminals" covered in the press are working people, and that corporate and CEO criminals not get discussed.

As the Busby/Bilray contest showed, "illegal immigration" is a red-hot issue for American voters. The Democrat Busby was way ahead until she committed a faux pas before a group of Latinos, leading to (false) media reports (particularly on right-wing talk radio) that she was encouraging illegal immigrants to vote for her in the upcoming election. Her Republican opponent seized on this and hammered the district with ads for the last few days of the campaign (while voting machines curiously went home at night with some of the poll workers), and now a Republican lobbyist has taken the seat of a Republican congressman convicted of illegal deals with Republican lobbyists.

Encouraging a rapid increase in the workforce by encouraging companies to hire non-citizens is one of the three most potent tools conservatives since Ronald Reagan have used to convert the American middle class into the American working poor. (The other two are destroying the governmental protections that keep labor unions viable, and ending tariffs while promoting trade deals like NAFTA/WTO/GATT that export manufacturing jobs.)


As David Ricardo pointed out with his "Iron Law of Labor" (published in his 1814 treatise "On Labor") when labor markets are tight, wages go up. When labor markets are awash in workers willing to work at the bottom of the pay scale, unskilled and semi-skilled wages overall will decrease to what Ricardo referred to as "subsistence" levels.



Two years later, in 1816, Ricardo pointed out in his "On Profits" that when the cost of labor goes down, the result usually isn't a decrease in product prices, but, instead, an increase in corporate and CEO profits. (This is because the marketplace sets prices, but the cost of labor helps set profits. For example, when Nike began manufacturing shoes in Third World countries with labor costs below US labor costs, it didn't lead to $15 Nikes - their price held, and even increased, because the market would bear it. Instead, that reduction in labor costs led to Nike CEO Phil Knight becoming a multi-billionaire.)

Republicans understand this very, very well, although they never talk about it. Democrats seem not to have read Ricardo, although the average American gets it at a gut level.

Thus, Americans are concerned that a "flood of illegal immigrants" coming primarily across our southern border is, to paraphrase Lou Dobbs, "wiping out the American middle class." And there is considerable truth to it, as part of the three-part campaign mentioned earlier.

But Dobbs and his fellow Republicans say the solution is to "secure our border" with a fence like that used by East Germany, but that stretches a distance about the same as that from Washington, DC to Chicago. It'll be a multi-billion-dollar boon to Halliburton and Bechtel, who will undoubtedly get the construction and maintenance contracts, but it won't stop illegal immigration. (Instead, people will legally come in on tourist and other visas, and not leave when their visas expire.)

The fact is that we had an open border with Mexico for several centuries, and "illegal immigration" was never a serious problem. Before Reagan's presidency, an estimated million or so people a year came into the US from Mexico - and the same number, more or less, left the US for Mexico at the end of the agricultural harvest season. Very few stayed, because there weren't jobs for them.

Non-citizens didn't have access to the non-agricultural US job market, in large part because of the power of US labor unions (before Reagan 25% of the workforce was unionized; today the private workforce is about 7% unionized), and because companies were unwilling to risk having non-tax-deductible labor expenses on their books by hiring undocumented workers without valid Social Security numbers.

But Reagan put an end to that. His 1986 amnesty program, combined with his aggressive war on organized labor (begun in 1981), in effect told both employers and non-citizens that there would be few penalties and many rewards to increasing the US labor pool (and thus driving down wages) with undocumented immigrants. A million people a year continued to come across our southern border, but they stopped returning to Latin America every fall because instead of seasonal work they were able to find permanent jobs.

The magnet drawing them? Illegal Employers.


Yet in the American media, Illegal Employers are almost never mentioned.

Lou Dobbs, the most visible media champion of this issue, always starts his discussion of the issue with a basic syllogism - 1. Our border is porous. 2. People are coming across our porous border and diluting our labor markets, driving down US wages. 3. Therefore we must make the border less porous.

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http://www.thomhartmann.com

Thom Hartmann is a Project Censored Award-winning New York Times best-selling author, and host of a nationally syndicated daily progressive talk program on the Air America Radio Network, live noon-3 PM ET. www.thomhartmann.com His most recent books are "The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight," "Unequal Protection: The Rise of Corporate Dominance and the Theft of Human Rights," "We The People," "What Would Jefferson Do?," "Screwed: The Undeclared War (more...)
 

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American Dream or American Nightmare Our gove... by Joseph Roland on Thursday, Nov 16, 2006 at 4:18:58 PM
It's unbelievable how precipitous a drop in fines ... by Rob Kall on Thursday, Jul 6, 2006 at 1:14:29 AM
everyone needs to get the semantics on this one st... by terri Kionka on Thursday, Jul 6, 2006 at 4:01:12 PM
My biggest concern with illegal immigration is the... by unlawflcombatnt on Tuesday, Aug 8, 2006 at 7:32:59 PM