This space and many other have been full of predictions of the bad legislation and executive maneuvers we can see forthcoming from the incoming Trump administration and the accompanying Republican controlled Congress. My track record has been as poor as almost everyone else’s in predicting Donald Trump the last year or so but the doomsday predictions look pretty accurate at this point. One area nobody has predicted legislation in is immigration reform other than Muslim bans and databases. I’m going to go out on limb and saying comprehensive immigration reform may well happen but it is not going to look like anything liberals or Latinos will be happy with. Let’s explore.
I have often stated that comprehensive immigration reform is the most complex social challenge facing America in the early 21st century. I am also solidly in the camp that feels that a solution must include a path to full citizenship for most undocumented currently living in America who do not have a criminal record unrelated to immigration. Where to draw the lines is the difficult challenge and I leave that to a legitimate national dialog and our elected officials.
In order to be a healthy democracy American cannot have two tiers of citizens; one that can vote and one that is only here to be exploited as cheap labor. We did that once; it was called slavery. While today’s undocumented residents are not owned by their masters they are exploited by their often temporary employers. Like slave labor they often make businesses profitable enabling them to charge less for their goods or services than if they employed American citizens. Many lower paid, unskilled or low skilled American workers lose jobs in the process. That of course just stokes their prejudice and motivates them to vote for the most racist candidates who are generally the Republicans.
Now the business owners who are the benefactors of this exploitable supply of cheap labor just love the system despite lip-service to the contrary. It lowers their cost of doing business and/or increases their profitability. Naturally they will support (often economically) the political Party that perpetuates this system. So far the Republicans look like political geniuses.
The additional social costs incurred by an undocumented immigrant population are transferred to the taxpayers. Of course this includes the benefiting businessperson, but it a shared burden of all taxpayers very much including those who derive no benefit and those who the undocumented displace in the workforce. Privatize the profit and socialize the cost.
The challenge is not to allow the exploited to vote because sooner or later they will figure out who is exploiting them and vote against them. This is the key to why I think comprehensive immigration reform legislation could be introduced, passed and signed in 2017 or 2018. The legislation would provide for some sort of provisional citizenship which would allow the undocumented to be counted in the census, legally employed, yet not have the right to vote (remember the three-fifths clause). This would give the states that exploit the most workers an even larger representation in the House of Representatives and the Electoral College. It would also remove the risk that employers take in employing undocumented workers.
If you challenge my example of the three-fifths clause and slavery saying I’m living in a long gone era, I’ll give you a present day example – mass incarceration. The premier book on the topic is Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow and I can’t possibly go as in-depth as she did in a few sentences. In a nutshell we incarcerate (at a profit to many Republican donors) way too many people and disproportionately young men of color. When they have served their time and are released they are still “branded” for their crimes. They often suffer lifetime ineligibility for many social safety net programs including housing. Often they are prohibited from obtaining most occupational licenses closing many employment doors in the process. Coming out of prison penniless and with a criminal record they are not in a position to hang up a shingle for a non-licensed profession and start their own business. They are forced to try to get a job in what for years has been a challenging labor market especially for men of color. If they want to steer clear of a life of crime they are forced to take low paying jobs without benefits and are often exploited by their employers. It may be a lousy job but it beats nothing. Remember in almost all cases they are ineligible for social safety net programs.
Republican financiers love having a permanent exploitable underclass which serves as a pool of cheap labor. A voter motivated by prejudice and/or feeling displaced by workers of color loves legislation which codifies what they feel is their superiority (even though in reality it ensures a lower cost labor force that will displace them).
So Republican donors and a large part of the base will love this legislation; that is significant incentive for Trump, Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan to get it enacted. This will be a case of something that will sound good – I’m certain the GOP will come up with some apple pie sounding name – and give them something to campaign on but it will be immoral and harmful for America.
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