You’ve got to hand it to President George Bush. Where lesser mortals simply see a morass of politically sensitive social problems, GW can turn up a way for his friends in big business to reduce labor costs and help him court the Latino vote at the same time.
I guess having a chef on-call 24 hours a day means that Bush doesn’t make too many late-night trips to his local Wal-Mart. If he did, I doubt he would notice who is cleaning the floors and restrooms. Certainly the FBI noticed in October when they raided 61 Wal-Mart stores in 21 different states, arresting 250 contract-cleaning staff suspected of being illegal immigrants.
Under existing law, companies guilty of employing undocumented workers face fines of up to $10,000 per worker. Now Bush is proposing that such practices be legalized, allowing illegal immigrants with valid employment to stay for periods of up to three years.
If Bush’s proposals reveal one thing, it is that his allegiance to big business far outweighs any adherence to traditional Republican philosophy. Bush’s proposals would act as a green light not only for companies employing illegal workers, but also for law-abiding companies to follow suit. Bush said that companies would have to prove that the positions cannot be filled with U.S. citizens, but that could simply be achieved by setting wages at a level unacceptable to most Americans. Companies that were previously farming out jobs to Mexico, India or China would be able to keep tighter tabs on their workers. Still, it is progress of a sort. The workers might not be American, but at least now the jobs will remain on U.S. soil.
You would expect Bush’s proposal to draw criticism from Democrats, but the White House may not have anticipated the vehement criticism the proposals drew from some Republicans, such as Rep. Virgil Goode of Virginia who said “illegals” should leave the country and “get in line.” If Goode’s sentiments prove typical of Republican supporters, then Bush has opened the election year with a major political gaffe.
It is estimated that there are between eight million and 11 million undocumented workers in the United States, many of whom measure their length of stay in decades. The issues facing Congress in implementing such changes are immense. What restrictions will be placed on companies? How will illegal workers receive health care? How will Homeland Security deal with the enormous increase in workload?
It seems quite possible that the implementation of these changes to immigration laws would accelerate the number of people trying to enter the country illegally. The lure of employment for up to three years may well entice people who would previously never have considered hazarding backdoor routes into the United States.
President Bush said the changes are necessary for security reasons, saying they will give the government a better handle on who is entering the country. U.S. citizens deprived of employment can at least console themselves that immigration officials are having an easier time.
The gravest concern stemming from Bush’s proposals is that the availability of cheap labor will drive down wages and increase job insecurity. Not to mention the potential foreign workers existing in a legal limbo. They would face exactly the same living expenses as any U.S. citizen, but, without the right to vote, they would have no political recourse. With the threat of deportation hanging over them, it is unlikely that they would be able to form or join trade unions to improve their conditions. And, adding insult to injury, they may well be expected to pay taxes. Taxation without representation — now where have I heard that before?
Chris O’Donnell is a senior majoring in mass communications and an associate editor for The Oracle.