Ways and Wills

A commenter to the last post wrote “If there is a will to stop illegal immigration, then there is a way to do it. The trouble is that there is no will to do it.” For the record, I don’t buy into the “if there’s a will, there’s a way” notion. It may be that illegal immigration can be much reduced, but when you are dealing with human behaviors absolute control is never possible. As long as there’s a will to enter the U.S. illegally, someone will find a way.

Seems to me the key to reducing illegal immigration is to focus on the “will” part of the equation. As long as illegals can get jobs more easily here than they can at home, they’ll have the will. Ah, but that’s the rub. Money is being made on the backs of illegals, m’dears, and where money is involved all that homeland, mother, God and flag stuff flies out the window.

Illegal labor is not some rogue thing outside the system. Illegal labor is built into the system. “The System” has decided we need those people to pick fruit and watch the kids. “The System” turned a blind eye when federal contractors recruited illegal aliens to do the dirty work in New Orleans for slave wages.

Paul Krugman wrote in his March 27 column

…many of the worst-off native-born Americans are hurt by immigration — especially immigration from Mexico. Because Mexican immigrants have much less education than the average U.S. worker, they increase the supply of less-skilled labor, driving down the wages of the worst-paid Americans. The most authoritative recent study of this effect, by George Borjas and Lawrence Katz of Harvard, estimates that U.S. high school dropouts would earn as much as 8 percent more if it weren’t for Mexican immigration.

That’s why it’s intellectually dishonest to say, as President Bush does, that immigrants do ”jobs that Americans will not do.” The willingness of Americans to do a job depends on how much that job pays — and the reason some jobs pay too little to attract native-born Americans is competition from poorly paid immigrants.

And we’re all complicit in this, y’know. I remember a few months ago, during a crackdown on illegal aliens, there were news stories about fruit orchard owners watching their lovely crop rot, unpicked, because there were no illegal aliens to pick the fruit. I assume if they’d rounded up legal workers and paid them minimum wage, the orchard owners would have suffered a net loss. This is basic Wal Mart economics; you offer lower prices in exchange for lower wages.

Howard Fineman made an interesting observation last week. No, really. He wrote,

Though I’ve never heard him use the term, my guess is that George W. Bush sees himself as a hacendado, an estate owner in Old Mexico.

That would give him a sense of Southwestern noblesse, duty-bound not just to work “his” people, but to protect them as well.

His advisor, Carlo Rove, has explained that a system called “democracy” now gives peasants something called “the vote.” It would be shrewd, Rove said, for hacendados to grant their workers’ citizenship.

That’s the best explanation I have for why Bush is in the midst of what may be a suicide mission on immigration policy—embarrassing for him and ruinous for his party.

I suspect there’s something to that. For all his affected folksiness, Dubya is the child of privilege. He sees illegal immigrants as a resource to be exploited, not as competition for his wages. He probably doesn’t comprehend why the base is so up in arms about illegal immigration.

But for many, many years — going back at least to the 1960s and the revolt of white southern Democrats against the Civil Rights movement — the Republican Party has oh, so carefully nurtured its base by cultivating racism and xenophobia. And you can’t feed something for fifty years and then expect it to turn off like an electric lamp. Digby wrote,

All the gains that Bush made over the years to securing the Latino population with appeals to traditional values are being wiped out by the racist id of the Republican base.

But what did he expect? That they would sit still for his “compassionate” outreach to a bunch of brown people just because the corporations want cheap labor? Of course not. Live by racism, die by racism. But they had no choice, really. Karl Rove knows that without being able to carry at least a large minority of Latino votes, they cannot cobble together a majority. As Florida goes … well, let’s just say they have a problem. George Bush is not desperately pushing this bill just because of big agriculture or the restaurant lobby. He’s pushing it on behalf of all big business — his real base — because if the neanderthals in the GOP base are successful at seriously alienating the Latino vote, the ship is going down

And if the GOP loses the knee jerk loyalty of racists and xenophobes, the ship also is going down. In short, the GOP is wedging itself.

Give Up

Congress is going to take another shot at a comprehensive immigration bill next week. This is mostly because President Bush wants them to. But no good will come of this, unless it’s a total revolt of the Right against Bush.

No sensible immigration bill can be written in the current political climate. There is way too much hysteria coming from the Right. As it says in an editorial in today’s New York Times:

Congress’s struggle with immigration reform has been a horror movie, with one false ending after another, and there is still no telling what the monster will look like when the lights finally come up. People who have been watching through their fingers are right to be worried; the bill was harsh and has gotten harsher, a reflection of the rigidity of those who have vowed to kill any reform they consider amnesty.

Republicans are playing immigration bill poker, upping the ante by tossing harsher and harsher amendment proposals into the pot.

Lindsey Graham, who has spoken movingly about the need for reasonable, decent treatment of immigrants, especially immigrant families, has been trying to take the debate back to the dark days of Representative Jim Sensenbrenner’s anti-immigrant bill, with an amendment that would turn people who overstay their visas into criminals subject to minimum 60-day prison sentences.

It seems likely that Mr. Graham, who is one of the “grand bargainers” and is up for re-election next year, has been burned by the uproar on the hard right and feels the need to act tough, lest he be saddled — as Representative Steve King of Iowa has urged — with the scarlet letter A, for amnesty.

Any comprehensive immigration bill written by the current Congress is likely to be a monstrosity that future congresses will have dismantle.

CNN reports that rightie bloggers are in maximum snit mode, which of course we all knew. Some of them are asking Congress to secure the borders first, before going on to other immigration measures. That might not be a bad idea. Although normally I’d advocate tackling an issue comprehensively, if that’s not possible now (and it isn’t) it would be better to bite of whatever piece of the bill Congress is able to chew. And rightie fantasies about the Open Borders Lobby aside, securing the borders is, in principle, something both parties can agree on.

How to secure the borders is another matter, of course. But even a stupid border security bill would be less damaging to the nation, long-term, than whatever legislative atrocity the comprehensive immigration bill is likely to become now.

Then, we can hope, in a little while the hysteria will die down and Dems will have a larger majority in Congress. And then maybe it will be possible to create an immigration policy that is not a reflection of our worst xenophobic impulses.

Paternity Tests

First, if by chance any journalists drop by here, I have a complaint. I’ve been surfing around this morning looking for a news story that explains the main provisions of the immigration bill, in its current form, and the various amendments the Republicans want to attach to it. Haven’t found one.

This is news reporting 101, people. Yes, the lead grafs should be about how the bill was killed in the Senate and how there’s this big political fight over it, but at some point the story should move into an explanation of what’s in the bleeping bill.

The Dallas Morning News offers a sentence:

The legislation would tighten borders and institute a new system to prevent employers from hiring undocumented workers, in addition to giving up to 12 million illegal immigrants a pathway to legal status.

Somehow, I think there’s more to it than that.

Here’s the text of the actual bill if you want to slog through it. I’m a bit short of time this morning and cannot, which is why I was looking for a news story that digested it for me. And then there are the several amendments, which include one sponsored by Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) to “declare English as the national language of the Government of the United States, and for other purposes,” one from Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) requiring that voters must present a photo ID before they’re allowed into the voting booth, and one from Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) preventing some temporary workers and the former illegals receiving amnesty from claiming an earned income tax credit.

I haven’t heard from anyone who actually likes this bill. I’m told by other liberals that the bill’s guest worker program would have instituted a new class of worker with virtually no bargaining powers, and that this almost certainly would suppress the wages of many citizens. Conservatives don’t like the bill because the notion of amnesty for illegal aliens sticks in their craw, and of course they want big fences along the Rio Grande.

The fence issue illustrates how the damnfool politicians can’t even agree on the stuff they agree on. Everyone wants more secure borders. Some on the extreme right claim the Democrats and President Bush are tools of the Open Borders Lobby, but in fact, no one in Congress — not even Ted Kennedy — is in favor of open borders.

The argument is not whether the borders should be more secure, but how to go about making them more secure. My understandng is that the Dems in general favor making smarter use of surveillance technologies. But that will not do for conservatives; they want a fence. I’m sure you already know how that would turn out. We’d spend billions on the bleeping fence, and then in a few months’ time the coyotes will have figured out how to get through it. Then we’d need the surveillance technologies to look for holes in the fence. The fence obviously represents something in rightie minds — something primitive and hostile, of course — that eludes the rest of us.

But President Bush had made a Big Bleeping Deal about immigration reform. So a bipartisan group of a dozen Senators got together a few months ago and wrote a bill that sort of satisfied what Bush wanted and also had a shot, they thought, at passing.

Carl Hulse and Robert Pear write for the New York Times:

The compromise legislation was announced on May 17 by authors who hailed it as a “grand bargain.” It held together through much of the debate because the negotiators — embodied on the right by Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona, a Republican, and on the left by Mr. Kennedy — agreed to block proposals they thought would sink the measure. That led to such odd moments as when Mr. Kyl on Wednesday opposed an amendment he had helped write for last year’s unsuccessful immigration measure.

But the legislation began running into problems late Wednesday night and early Thursday morning as the Senate approved a Democratic proposal to limit a guest-worker program sought by business interests and backed by Republicans. Backers of the bill hoped to reverse that result if the measure moved forward. …

… Democrats were growing increasingly uneasy.

Senator Robert Menendez, Democrat of New Jersey, said the bill had become “more punitive and more onerous” because of amendments adopted in the last few days. Mr. Menendez pointed, for example, to one that denied the earned-income tax credit to illegal immigrants who gain legal status under the bill.

Republicans kept throwing nastier and more punitive amendments at the bill, and Harry Reid thought if the thing had any chance at all of passing he’d better cut off more amendments and try to get the bill voted on. What happened yesterday was that the bill flunked a procedural test that would have allowed it to move forward toward a vote.

After a day of tension and fruitless maneuvering, senators rejected a Democratic call to move toward a final vote on the compromise legislation after Republicans complained that they had not been given enough opportunity to reshape the sprawling bill. Supporters of cutting off debate got only 45 of the 60 votes they needed; 50 senators opposed the cutoff.

“We are finished with this for the time being,” said Senator Harry Reid, Democrat of Nevada and the majority leader, as he turned the Senate to work on energy legislation.

An “inside story” post by rightie blogger John Hawkins suggests that conservative Republicans were trying deliberately to “gum up the works,” and it seems they succeeded.

It gets weirder. This bill was Bush’s baby. But apparently neither he nor anyone else in the White House tried to help it get passed. This week Harry Reid sent all kinds of signals to Bush that if he wanted his bill passed he had better put some pressure on Republican senators. But Bush is in Europe and the G8 summit, and apparently he doesn’t know that you can make overseas phone calls these days.

Some righties, meanwhile, interpreted Reid’s messages to Bush as pleas to help Reid get the bill passed, and yesterday I bounced into all manner of rightie bloggers who referred to the measure as “Reid’s bill.” The other allegations of paternity were made about Ted Kennedy, who is the Author of All Evil, and since Kennedy was one of the senators who worked on the original bill it must have been his fault. In fact, Little Lulu is now referring to Senator Ted as Bush’s “pal.” This is sort of like saying the President is in league with the Devil.

The righties really don’t like Bush any more.

Getting Up With Fleas

I know I spend way too much time reading rightie blogs than is good for me. But I did get a kick out of this post at the rightie blog Jawa Report.

On May 29, in Glynco, Georgia, George W. Bush made the following statement, hammering hard against the opponents of his immigration bill, most of whom are on the Republican side of the aisle:

    “If you want to kill the bill, if you don’t want to do what’s right for America, you can pick one little aspect out of it, you can use it to frighten people. Or you can show leadership and solve this problem once and for all.”

These words and sentences are not complicated. The inferences are pretty clear. Let’s break it down:

    …if you don’t want to do what’s right for America…

The logic: The President’s way is what’s right for America. If you Republicans and Democrats do not agree with the President’s way, you are personally against what’s right for America.

The inference: No matter who you are, Republican or Democrat, if you are against the President’s way, you are against the best interests of this country (or maybe this continent).

Well yes, exactly. But the thing is, m’love, he’s been doing this same song and dance for almost six years now. You’re just now noticing?

There’s an old saying, Lie down with dogs, get up with fleas. I’d say the entire Republican Party needs a good soak in Frontline Plus.

Those of us who criticized the President’s other policies were shouted down and called haters, weasels, even traitors. Our concerns were dismissed as lunatic ravings; our expressions of dismay and disgust were considered proof that we hated America. (See, for example, this vintage Ted Barlow post, “Since the beginning of time, liberals have yearned to destroy the sun.”)

So now some of you are getting the same treatment you’ve been shoveling on us, and you don’t like it. Boo bleeping hoo.

Glenn Greenwald writes,

It is vital to emphasize repeatedly that the havoc wreaked on this country by George W. Bush is, first and foremost, the work of America’s so-called “conservative” movement, which venerated Bush to a degree unseen in the modern presidential era. Here was not a mere President, but “our” Commander-in-Chief during a Time of War, and to criticize him was to criticize America. There were multiple culprits-in-arms along the way — principally the news media — but the right-wing movement now seeking to re-invent itself as dissatisfied victims of the Bush presidency in search of a “Real Conservative” to lead it are the ones who bear full responsibility for the devastation this presidency has wreaked on the country.

In times past, there was a general understanding between the two major parties that everyone wanted what was best for America. Our disagreements were over what that best thing was and how to go about obtaining it. But for the past few years — predating the Bush presidency, actually — Republicans have taken the attitude that they were America, and everyone else was apostate.

The idea that someone could sincerely love America and, for example, be opposed to the war in Iraq was utterly outside the rightie conceptual universe. We couldn’t even get righties to see the inherent contradiction in warrantless wiretapping to preserve “freedom.” Those with concerns about violation of the Fourth Amendment were painted as terrorist sympathizers.

But now righties who criticize Bush’s immigration policy are getting just a little taste of what they’ve been dishing out to us lo these many years, and they don’t like it. And Bush himself, accustomed as he is to his security blanket of absolute sycophant-ism, is astonished that Republicans don’t like it.

President Bush did not intend to single out his conservative supporters for criticism in a speech on immigration reform last week and was “surprised” that his remarks angered Republicans, White House spokesman Tony Snow said today.

“He was surprised by the reaction,” Mr. Snow said of Mr. Bush’s speech in Glynco, Ga., last week. “The speech in Georgia was, ‘We’ve got a serious problem and we need to fix it.’ It was not in any way designed to be pointed at Republicans.” …

… Some Republicans on Capitol Hill said that Mr. Bush seemed to be questioning their patriotism, and several conservative activists said the president was splitting the Republican Party by insulting those who have been his most loyal supporters.

Mr. Snow yesterday said the immigration dispute between the president and conservatives “does not mark a point of disjunction,” and emphasized that the White House recognizes and is responding to conservative opposition to the measure.

“We understand if you’re going to get this thing done, you’re gonna need Republicans,” Mr. Snow said. “It’s important to build a large coalition, including our conservative base.”

But Bush’s idea of coalition building is to expect everyone to fall in line behind whatever he wants. Otherwise, you are being “partisan.” He does cave in occasionally — Harriet Miers’s SCOTUS nomination comes to mind — but don’t expect him to compromise. Bush doesn’t do compromise. He either gets his way, or he takes his ball and goes home.

Hey, righties — itching, much?

America Says No to Wedgies

I’m still trying to wrap my head around the results of the midterm elections. But one result I hope I’m seeing is the beginning of the end of “wedge issue” campaigns that get right-wing extremists elected.

Consider same-sex marriage. It’s true that seven of eight states passed same-sex marriage bans on Tuesday. However, these ballot initiatives — which in the past brought enough hard-Right voters out of the woodwork to swing elections — seem not to have impacted House or Senate races at all. Andrew Romano, Lee Hudson Teslik and Steve Tuttle write for Newsweek.com:

Three of those states—South Carolina, Idaho and South Dakota, all of which voted for bans—were reliably Red, and no Republican candidates needed the boost. In Wisconsin (which voted 59 percent to 41 percent in favor), gay marriage had no bearing on the outcome: incumbents won across the board, with a Democrat, Steven Kagen, taking the only contested House race. A similar story played out in Colorado, which voted 56 percent to 44 percent for the ban: the lone Republican to win a key race was an incumbent. In Tennessee (80 percent to 20 percent in favor), the measure wasn’t much of a wedge, despite a crucial Senate win for Republican Bob Corker. Both he and his Democratic opponent, Harold Ford, opposed gay marriage.

Another ban passed in Virginia, but it appears Virginians elected Jim Webb anyway. In the House, Virginia incumbents, mostly Republican, all won; no seats changed parties. Perhaps the ban impacted some close House races and kept the Webb-Allen contest closer than it might have been, and had a more liberal Democrat been running against Allen the wedge tactic might have worked. But you know what they say — woulda, shoulda, coulda.

And Arizona narrowly rejected a same-sex marriage ban. If “gay marriage” has lost its usefulness as a wedge issue, I predict the national Republican Party is going to be far less interested in it in the future.

Arizona also rejected a slate of immigration hard-liners in favor of candidates with more moderate positions on immigration. This is from an editorial in today’s Los Angeles Times:

… voters in the state demanded a more nuanced and pragmatic solution than that being offered by the most virulently anti-illegal immigration candidates. The best illustrations came in the races for two House seats, one representing the sparsely populated border counties in southeastern Arizona and the other representing some upscale suburbs east of Phoenix. A six-term Republican incumbent, J.D. Hayworth, and a former Republican state representative, Randy Graf — both known for their firebrand stances on border security — lost to Democrats Harry Mitchell and Gabrielle Giffords, who had aligned themselves on immigration with McCain.

Make no mistake; Arizonans have not gone “soft” on immigration. The editorial says Arizona voters —

… overwhelming support Tuesday for ballot initiatives to deny bail, curtail subsidies for education and childcare, limit civil damage awards for illegal immigrants and make English the state’s official language. Voters backed all these proposals, reflecting a widespread belief that illegal immigrants impose a variety of burdens on taxpayers.

But the voters might have had enough of the bullying extremists. Via David Neiwert, Kynn Bartlett reports,

In the morning on voting day, two men — anti-immigrant crusader Russ Dove and his cameraman — showed up at precinct 49 in Tucson, at the Iglesia Bautista church, 4502 S. 12th St. Their plan: To harass and intimidate Spanish-speaking voters by using an “English-only” petition to screen for “illegal immigrants” trying to vote, videotape them, and post their likenesses on the Internet. Roy Warden also came, armed with a gun — as he usually does — and the trio started approaching a small number of people. MALDEF monitors were there, to observe the effect of Arizona’s new requirement for ID to vote, and observed the attempted intimidation tactics.

The trio left around noon to head to other polling places, then gave up after talking to only a few people. MALDEF reported this to the authorities, who are investigating; MALDEF has photographs of the men from when they were there.

MALDEF (the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund) reports other intimidation tactics at the polls. Be sure to read all of David’s and Kynn Bartlett’s posts to get the full picture. (And may I say the thought of some extremist thug showing up at a polling place with a gun gives me the willies.)

In Missouri, the embryonic stem cell initiative worked as a wedge issue in Claire McCaskill’s favor. As the Newsweek.com article linked above says, “The issue divided Talent’s Republican supporters, many of whom favor stem-cell research for its potential to boost a local economy increasingly reliant on biotechnology firms.” Since a big majority of Americans nationwide support federal funding of embryonic stem-cell research, I believe the national Republican party will be very cautious with this issue going forward. (They should have known better than to cross Nancy Reagan.)

South Dakota voters handily defeated SD’s draconian abortion law, which banned all abortions with no exceptions for rape and incest and only the flimsiest thread of an exception for a woman’s health. In spite of this, SD’s whackjob Republican governor, who was behind the ban, was re-elected by a wide margin. Still-red SD also voted to ban same-sex marriage and rejected a medicinal marijuana initiative. The Fetus People vow to continue the fight in SD and re-introduce the abortion ban in the future. But the several other state legislatures considering similar bans may be having second thoughts. Meanwhile, Oregon and California voted no on proposed laws that would have required parental notification when minors seek abortions.

In California, voters dumped an anti-environment extremist incumbent. Michael Doyle reports for McClatchy newspapers:

The “Western rebellion” that propelled California Republican Rep. Richard Pombo to power now has receded, leaving many of its most important goals unmet and possibly beyond reach. …

… The Western rebellion, also known as the Sagebrush rebellion, involves people in the West who think that the federal government oversteps itself on property rights issues, especially regarding enforcement of the Endangered Species Act. They also chafe over the fact that half the West is owned by the federal government instead of privately.

Pombo’s surprisingly resounding loss to wind energy consultant Jerry McNerney, 53 percent to 47 percent, made the onetime rancher the only one of 19 Republican committee chairmen in the House of Representatives to go down in defeat Tuesday.

Nationwide —

Of 13 lawmakers identified by the League of Conservation Voters’ “Dirty Dozen” campaign, nine lost Tuesday. They included Rep. Charles Taylor of North Carolina, whose Democratic opponent, Heath Shuler, likewise benefited from the organization’s ads. Pennsylvania Republican Sen. Rick Santorum, another ad target, also lost.

Why electing a Democratic majority matters:

The probable new chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee is California Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer. She’s one of the Senate’s most liberal members; the current chair, Oklahoma Republican James Inhofe, is among the most conservative.

The changing cast of characters will play out in many ways:

The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge oil-and-gas drilling perennially championed by House Republicans won’t go anywhere in the next Congress. Drilling off the coast of Florida or other states becomes a real long shot.

Other controversial ideas that Pombo once toyed with – such as selling 15 little-visited National Park Service sites, including playwright Eugene O’Neill’s home in the California city of Danville – are down for the count.

The Endangered Species Act, which Pombo built his career on combating, has a new lease on life. The Democrat who’s poised to become House Resources Committee chairman, Rep. Nick Rahall of West Virginia, voted against Pombo’s Endangered Species Act legislation. The League of Conservation Voters gave Rahall a vote ranking of 92, compared with Pombo’s score of 17.

Take that, Naderites!

Minimum wage increases passed in all six states it appeared on the ballots. However, Tuesday was not a sweep for liberalism. Per the Newsweek.com story linked above, Michigan banned affirmative action. Initiatives in Colorado and Nevada that would have decriminalized private possession of small amounts of marijuana were defeated. But on the whole, Tuesday’s elections did more than turn the House and Senate over to the Dems. It also took the wind out of the extreme Right’s sails.

See also: The “Top Five Winners and Losers.” The article actually lists the top six winners and losers, but there’s plenty of winning and losing to go around this week.

Junk Email

I just got this —

You are invited to join this discussion group:

The Second Mexican-American War


This group is to discuss the forthcoming Second Mexican-American War. We acknowledge the following points:

1) America is being invaded by Mexico
2) Mexicans are aiding Islamic terrorists to sneak into the United States
3) Mexicans intend to reclaim the Southwestern United States

We also acknowledge that many of our leaders have committed treason and impeachable offenses by:

1) Refusing to secure the border
2) Supporting the “Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America” and the NAFTA Super-Highway, and thus undermining the independence and sovereignty of the United States
3) Refusing to deport illegal aliens
4) Catering to international corporations and international multicultural organizations at the expense of American wages, American interests, American security and American independence.

The Second Mexican American War is inevitable. Stop the invasion!

At this group we shall engage in polite scholarly discussions regarding when, if and how war with Mexico will take place.

To join, send an email to: [email address]

Reminds me a bit of the old John Birchers, updated.

GOP: The Cheap Labor Party

This morning while cruising the blogosphere I stumbled on a comment in which a fellow declared he sided with conservatives on the immigration issue. He is, he said, against illegal immigration. I inferred he thinks liberals are for illegal immigration.

Not that I’d noticed. There may be some immigration activists promoting open U.S. borders, but liberals on the whole are more focused on globalization and the exploitation of workers worldwide, and loosening U.S. border restrictions won’t have an impact on that problem, I don’t believe. In our current political climate, and at a time when U.S. manufacturing jobs are dwindling, flooding the U.S. job market with undocumented (and cheap, and exploitable) workers could erode pay and working conditions for native-born workers. This is not where American liberals want to go.

I suspect lots of righties assume liberals are “for” illegal immigration, or at least aren’t as against it as they are. IMO this is symptomatic of the dumbing down of American political discourse; it’s assumed that every issue has only two opposing and absolute sides, and if conservatives claim one side, liberals will take the other side out of sheer perversity. This is one of the many reasons we can’t talk to righties.

Both Democrats and Republicans in Congress are in favor of securing the borders and reducing, if not eliminating, the number of people entering America illegally. The disagreements are over how best to do that, and what to do about the undocumented immigrants already here (amnesty, deportation, or other).

One way to reduce the number of undocumented immigrants is to take away their incentive to immigrate here. And the incentive for most is the promise of a job. Yet Spencer S. Hsu and Kari Lydersen tell us in today’s Washington Post that the Bush Administration hasn’t been all that vigilant about cracking down on hiring undocumented workers.

The Bush administration, which is vowing to crack down on U.S. companies that hire illegal workers, virtually abandoned such employer sanctions before it began pushing to overhaul U.S. immigration laws last year, government statistics show.

Between 1999 and 2003, work-site enforcement operations were scaled back 95 percent by the Immigration and Naturalization Service, which subsequently was merged into the Homeland Security Department. The number of employers prosecuted for unlawfully employing immigrants dropped from 182 in 1999 to four in 2003, and fines collected declined from $3.6 million to $212,000, according to federal statistics.

In 1999, the United States initiated fines against 417 companies. In 2004, it issued fine notices to three.

I’m not even going to start on how national security might be compromised if undocumented people from anywhere can show up here and get work.

The government’s steady retreat from workplace enforcement in the 20 years since it became illegal to hire undocumented workers is the result of fierce political pressure from business lobbies, immigrant rights groups and members of Congress, according to law enforcement veterans. Punishing employers also was de-emphasized as the government recognized that it lacks the tools to do the job well, and as the Department of Homeland Security shifted resources to combat terrorism.

OK, so maybe I will say something about compromising national security. Isn’t border security an important part of national security? Oh, wait, I forgot … we’ve got to put all of our resources into Iraq because we started a war there for no logical reason. Never mind.

The administration says it is learning from past failures,

Yeah, and I’m Long John Silver.

and switching to a strategy of building more criminal cases, instead of relying on ineffective administrative fines or pinprick raids against individual businesses by outnumbered agents. …

This is droll —

Still, in light of the government’s record, experts on all sides of the debate are skeptical that the administration will be able to remove the job magnet that attracts illegal immigrants.

Translation: This is the Bush Administration we’re talkin’ about, folks, so don’t expect them to do anything competent.

“The claims of this administration and its commitment to interior enforcement of immigration laws are laughable,” said Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, an advocacy group that favors tougher workplace enforcement, among other measures. “The administration only discovered immigration enforcement over the past few months, five years into its existence, and only then because they realized that a pro-enforcement pose was necessary to get their amnesty plan approved.”

Hsu and Lydersen note that while the Bushies and congressional Republicans talk about getting tough at the borders, “about 40 percent of the nearly 12 million illegal immigrants living in the United States entered the country legally on visas and simply stayed.” They also describe Clinton administration crackdowns on undocumented people working in Georgia onion fields and midwestern meatpacking plants. The immigration raids drew the ire of farmers and meatpackers when onions remain unharvested and meatpacking plants shut down.

Politicians in both parties have bought into Bush’s “guest worker” program that would allow documented temporary workers into the country to do jobs “Americans won’t do.” But unless there are very strict limits put on such a program, if it becomes reality expect employers to clamor for guest workers to take jobs Americans are doing now, and still would do, but not for slave wages and medieval working conditions.

Today Bob Herbert wrote about some meatpacking jobs that native-born Americans are doing:

Life inside the Smithfield plant can border on the otherworldly. To get a sense of what conditions are like on the killing floor, where 32,000 hogs are slaughtered each day, listen to the comments of a former Smithfield worker, Edward Morrison, whose job required him to flip 200- and 300-pound hog carcasses, hour after hour:

“Going to work on the kill floor was like walking into the pit of hell. They have these fire chambers, big fires going, and this fierce boiling water solution. That’s all part of the process that the carcasses have to go through after they’re killed. It’s so hot in there. And it’s dark and noisy, with the supervisors screaming, and that de-hair machine is so loud. Some people can’t take it.

“I would go home at night and my body would be all locked up because I was dehydrated. All your fluids would just sweat out of you on your shift. I don’t think the company cared. Their thing was just get that hog out the door by any means necessary.”

Frankly, I think that if Smithfield can find native-born Americans to work in the pit of hell, it’s hard to imagine what sort of job no American would do. And if some jobs are so onerous or ill paid that Americans won’t take them, what is our moral justification for importing “guest workers” to take them?

The Smithfield plant workers have been trying to unionize for years, but the NLRB determined that the owners had not allowed the workers to hold fair elections. Recently, Herbert said, Smithfield agreed to abide by NLRB rules. Maybe Smithfield figures it eventually it will bust the union with “guest workers.”

I do prefer documented guest workers to undocumented illegal workers. But care must be taken that the guest workers are not exploited and abused and that they aren’t being used as a means to bust unions or lower wages.

Further, “guest worker” programs in Europe have not exactly worked well. The “temporary” workers were not as temporary as originally intended, yet they were given no means to assimilate into the “host” nation. From an editorial in The New Republic, April 17 issue:

… the workers, while remaining in those European countries, never became of them. Consider Germany, for instance, where more than two million Muslims of Turkish origin–whose families came as guest workers four decades ago–live today. They live in Germany not as Germans, but in a strange sort of nationless limbo–afforded certain benefits of citizenship (such as health care) but denied the privilege of actually being citizens. Which, of course, denies them any incentive to assimilate to their new country. The prospect of such a thing happening in the United States with Mexican guest workers is only too real.

Colin Nickerson wrote for the Boston Globe (April 19),

For decades, there were no efforts to integrate the newcomers. They were entitled to social benefits, but not citizenship. Their children could attend schools, but little effort was made to give them language skills. Far from a melting pot, Europe in the post-World War II era became the realm of ”parallel societies,” in which native and immigrant populations occupied the same countries but shared little common ground.

Now, the presence of millions of largely unassimilated newcomers, coupled with terrorist attacks in London and Madrid, has triggered furious debates in Europe over national identity and the future of immigration.

Europeans thought the guest worker programs would provide needed labor without having to assimilate non-European workers. It didn’t work that way, and the non-assimilated ethnic minorities are creating huge social problems — the same kind of problems that righties fear from illegal immigrants.

(Isn’t it interesting how being tough and mean often creates the very problems the toughness and meanness are supposed to eliminate?)

The European experience shows us that “temporary” workers are not always temporary. And if the programs discourage assimilation and block the “guests” from ever seeking citizenship — well, don’t expect a good outcome.

Last April Taylor Marsh wrote,

I believe in a guest worker plan that includes fines, paying taxes, learning English, background checks, then waiting in line behind those who are already waiting for their chance, but eventually offering a path to citizenship. I just don’t believe in the hobgoblin that is those big bad illegal immigrants. It’s ridiculous.

But guest worker programs don’t answer the problem, which is stemming the tide of illegal immigrants who continue to flood into this country for jobs.

And this takes us back to cracking down on employers who knowingly hire illegal immigrants. Making it more difficult to hire illegal immigrants would do a lot more to reduce illegal immigration than all the fences and Minutemen you can scrape together. Unfortunately, the Bushies seem unable — or unwilling — to do this.

Sorta kinda related — Avedon is guest blogging at Liberal Oasis; read what she says about “Those Awful Liberal Ideas.”