Bush touts immigrant slavery by another name
A very pretty piñata with nothing inside. That’s how I would characterize the immigration reform proposal presented by President Bush earlier this year. Hearing Bush speak, you would have thought those fighting for full rights for immigrants had won a new ally.The centerpiece of his proposal is the temporary workers program. Undocumented workers currently in the country would be allowed to apply for this status, which would expire after three years. The president said this status would be renewable, but he did not say for how long or under what conditions.What he was categorical about is that, after the permit expires, the workers would have to return to their native countries, even if the conditions there that had forced them to come to the United States to survive had not improved one iota.This is really just an updated version of the infamous “bracero” program of the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s. Under this program, more than four million Mexican farm laborers came to the United States as temporary workers. “Nothing short of legalized slavery” is how U.S. Department of Labor official Lee G. Williams described it. He would have known. He was the last administrator of the bracero program.Just like what Bush is proposing today, braceros had part of their wages withheld, which were supposedly to be given to them when they returned to Mexico. Most never saw a penny. The purpose of the Bush program is not to end the second-class status of undocumented workers, but to perpetuate it under a new name.What the corporate interests that run the U.S. government want with all their laws against “illegal aliens” is not to drive them out of the country, but precisely to keep them “illegal” – an untouchable caste who, like blacks in the slave era under the Dred Scott decision, had “no rights which any white man was bound to respect.”Bush claims that these workers would have the full protection of U.S. labor laws. That is a lie. By tying your right to remain in the country to employment, all an employer has to do is fire you and have the immigration cops pick you up for deportation.This represents a threat to the standard of living of all working people. Using government-imported temporary workers as a club, the bosses will drive down wages in industry after industry. That is precisely how employers already use undocumented immigrants in industries like agriculture.There are now in the United States between 8 million and 14 million undocumented workers, a figure that is growing by several hundred thousand people a year.If we take the lowest estimate, and assume only one quarter want to stay, it would take nearly 15 years for all of them to get green cards – assuming no one else in the world was allowed to immigrate to the United States in the meantime. So what happens when the temporary work permits expire?The idea that millions of people would simply pack up and leave is ludicrous. If that were to happen, the U.S. economy would be thrown into a terrible crisis, because for all the rhetoric about immigrants “stealing” American jobs, the truth is immigrants create jobs.They, too, have to have a roof over their heads, they eat food, buy clothing, go to movies. Such a drop in consumer demand would send the country into a catastrophic depression. What will really happen is that people will stay, undocumented as they are today, except that the government will know who they are and where they live. Ruthless employers will feel even freer to abuse and exploit them, and the workers will have no choice but to put up with it. Bush in his speech talked about American history, and his proposal would send the country back in time – not to the epoch of the great waves of immigration from Europe but to the days of indentured servitude when workers were treated as slaves.Michael J. McCarthy writes from his home in Breckenridge. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (970) 404-1437.
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