The divide over immigration reform is not primarily a Left/Right or Democratic/Republican divide; instead, it cuts, and sharply so, across class lines. Elites blur the distinction between legal and illegal immigration to ensure that the opponents of the latter appear to be against the former. They talk grandly of making legal immigration meritocratic, but fall silent when asked to what degree. They talk darkly of racist subtexts in the arguments of their opponents, but skip over the overt ethnic chauvinism of proponents of amnesty; they decry conservative paranoia over a new demography, but never liberal euphoria over just such a planned reset. They talk deprecatingly of rubes who do not understand the new global realties, but never of their own parochialism ensconced in New York or Washington or San Francisco. They talk of reactionaries who do not fathom the ins and outs of the debate; never of their own willful ignorance of the realities on the ground in East L.A. or southwest Fresno.
The elites favor de facto amnesty for a variety of self-interested reasons. For the corporate echelon, creating a guest-worker program and granting amnesty — without worrying about securing the border first — ensures continued access to millions of cheap laborers from Latin America. The United States may be suffering the most persistent unemployment since the Great Depression. There may be an unemployment rate of over 15 percent in many small towns in the American Southwest. American businesses may be flush with record amounts of cash, and farm prices may be at record levels. But we are still lectured that without cheap labor from south of the border, businesses simply cannot profit.
Unmentioned is the exploitation of illegal labor. Hard-working young Latin Americans, most of them from the interior of Mexico, cross the border illegally, usually to find jobs that pay over five times more per hour than anything they could find in Mexico, yet still less than the employer would have to pay an American. Between the ages of 18 and 40, illegal immigrants are among the hardest-working laborers in the world. However, the traditional entry-level jobs — picking peaches, nailing shingles, mowing lawns, changing diapers, cooking, making beds — for those without legality, education, or English often become a permanent dead end.
Many employers appreciate the myriad advantages of hiring illegal immigrants. Although supporters of amnesty are bold in leveling charges of illiberality against their critics, the unspoken truth is that insistence on access to cheap labor is about as reactionary and unethical as one can imagine. Off the record, employers will admit they are reluctant to hire jobless African-American youths, although the black community is suffering historic levels of unemployment. They are not even eager to hire second-generation Hispanics, who, according to the employers’ creed, have lost the firsthand memory of crushing Mexican poverty and thus their parents’ desperate work ethic.
Instead, employers want a continuing influx of young workers who will undercut the wages of American citizens. That the bargaining power of other minorities, Latino- and African-American citizens especially, is undercut by illegal labor matters little. How odd that elite Republicans pander to Latino grandees to win perhaps 35 percent of the Latino vote; that the party garners no more than 5 percent of the much larger African-American vote is never discussed. In the bizarre logic of the Republican elite, you must cater to the Hispanic elite in order to siphon votes from the liberal Latino bloc, while the much more important black demographic is simply written off. Is there one Republican politician who is more worried about the plight of unemployed African-American citizens than he is about granting amnesty to foreign nationals who broke U.S. laws to come here?
Employers do not care that the presence of 11 million illegal aliens has driven down entry-level wages. They are not concerned about the depressing cycle of illegal-immigrant labor: The young male from Latin America works extraordinarily hard for 20 years. But by the time he’s 40, he is married with children, and discovering that without education, English, or skill sets, he has no way forward.
Arms and backs that were near superhuman at 25 are often shot at 50. When the 45-year-old illegal alien can no longer pick, or cook, or rake as he once did, the employer loses interest, and the state steps in to provide him with rough parity through subsidies for housing, health care, food, and legal assistance, and meanwhile it has been educating his children. Because second-generation immigrants are deemed less industrious than their worn-out fathers and mothers — and Hispanic males in California graduate from high school at little more than a 60 percent rate — the need arises for another round of young hardy workers from Latin America.
In past times, this depressing cycle of exploitation was justified by low unemployment or ongoing wars that siphoned off American manpower. But why the need for imported labor in times of near-record joblessness, relative peace, and often-record profits? The elites simply turn a blind eye to out-of-work Americans, the low wages of illegal laborers, and the cynicism of using up human capital and letting the state pick up the subsequent social costs. How odd that profit-making from cheap labor is considered liberal, while concern for low-paid American workers is written off as xenophobia.
Most elites talk of nativism and racism as being what fuels opposition to their brand of comprehensive immigration reform. Yet I doubt that the wealthy Silicon Valley residents who clamor for “reform” send their children to public schools. Indeed, in the fashion of the Southern academies that popped up in the 1960s during court-ordered busing, Silicon Valley is currently experiencing an explosion in private schools.