The Wood Shed

You never know what you're going to find in the pile.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Jobs Americans Won't do....

....for the minimal pay that illegal immigrant workers readily accept. President Bush didn't finish the sentence. We, the American consumer, have created this problem. Thomas Sowell hits the nail on the head:

How often have we heard that illegal immigrants "take jobs that Americans will not do"? What is missing in this argument is what is crucial in any economic argument: price.

Americans will not take many jobs at their current pay levels -- and those pay levels will not rise so long as poverty-stricken immigrants are willing to take those jobs.


Take that piece of economic reality one step further: farmers and contractors will continue to hire illegals until the American consumer decides he or she is no longer willing to support this practice and is willing to pay the higher prices that result from using domestic labor. Until then cheap labor is a permanent part of the competitive equation. Anyone not using cheap labor in a market where everyone else is won't be in business long. So unless you are willing to accept higher prices for produce, landscaping, and housing you had better think about where you draw the line on the issue of illegal immigrant labor. Our demands for cheaper produce, labor, and construction services created a need for low cost labor and the illegal immigrant population was more than willing to take jobs at pay scales below what domestic labor demanded.

The work ethic of hispanic immigrants makes replacing them even more difficult. Not only do they willingly accept the dirty, hot, low paying jobs but they tackle them efficiently, productively, and without complaint. Domestic labor needs to step up and consumers must be willing to pay higher prices for the goods and services affected. Until those two things happen it will be very difficult to wean our society off illegal immigrant labor.

The issue of illegal immigrants has no easy, fast solution. The fix will require broad changes in society, consumer habits, labor practices, border security, and law enforcement. None of these things will happen quickly. We cannot operate our economy without immigrant labor. With growth and unemployment at current levels we simply can't do without this sector of our workforce. Immigrants are a necessary component for our continued prosperity but they need to be legal. Governor Schwarzenegger gets it:

We can embrace the immigrant without endorsing illegal immigration. Granting citizenship to people who are here illegally is not just amnesty, it's anarchy. We are a country of immigrants, yes. But we are also a nation of laws. People who want to be citizens will want to do it the right way.

Finally, immigration is about our values. Too often the debate centers on what immigrants owe us. Too seldom do we ask what we owe them. Above all, we owe it to our country and our immigrants to share our values. We should talk about our history, our institutions and our beliefs. We should assimilate immigrants into the mainstream. We want immigrants to not just live in America but to live as Americans.

Marine Lance Cpl. O.J. Santa Maria is a fine example of this. He is an immigrant who was living in Daly City, Calif., when he enlisted in the Marines. During the Iraq war, he was severely wounded. Because of his military service, he was granted citizenship. When the oath of citizenship was read to him, he stood up from his wheelchair in pain and in tears. "It's for the respect," he said later when asked why he stood. "I'm taking an oath to the Constitution of the United States of America."

We need to fix the problems that exist within our immigration laws and at our borders before we can address the issue of illegals within our society and economy. If you're on a ship that's sinking do you fix the holes in the hull before you throw the stowaways over the side or spend your remaining time searching the crew for impostors? (For argument's sake assume that the holes are far enough below the waterline that reducing weight by jettisoning crew will not accomplish the task of saving the ship.)

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