Thursday, February 25, 2016

Why punish the victim?

It is simplistic, right-wing logic to turn the victims of social problems into the perpetrators and to seek to inflict punishment even when it won’t fix anything. For many Americans the unemployment problem is that people cross the U.S.-Mexico border without papers and steal jobs from Americans so the solution is a wall and deportations. The end result, they say, will be more jobs for Americans. It is not true.

Mexicans make up a little under half of undocumented immigrants — a number that’s actually declining. More Mexicans are leaving the United States than entering these days. Second, two out of five undocumented immigrants came here legally as visitors and then overstayed their visas. A wall won’t keep them out. Finally, consider the jobs that undocumented workers do: They’re farmworkers, slaughterhouse workers, dishwashers, house cleaners, landscapers, and so on. For each low-wage, exploitative job, there are winners and losers. The loser is often the immigrant doing backbreaking work for below minimum wage and without legally required labor protections. The winners are those who profit: employers, their shareholders, and consumers who buy cheap goods produced by workers paid low wages.

Americans pay a lower share of disposable income for food than any other nation on earth. One reason for that is the exploitation of undocumented labor on farms and in slaughterhouses. In fact, when Georgia and Alabama enacted strict anti-immigrant measures a few years ago, farmers in both states ended up with crops rotting in their fields because there was no one to harvest them. Georgia turned to prison labor to fill the labor gap left by immigrants. In other words, when undocumented labor was out of the picture, legal U.S. residents were unwilling to voluntarily take the farm jobs that were left vacant. Not for the working conditions and the wages being offered.

Undocumented immigrants are simply pawns in a larger system. We all are. Like everyone else, they’re looking for jobs so they can raise their families and improve their lives. Why do they come illegally? For one thing, immigration laws are fundamentally unrealistic. For Mexicans, coming to the United States legally can mean waiting for upwards of 20 years.

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