Archive » August 24, 2007
COMMENTARY BY ANDY CALDWELL
By Andy Caldwell
It is time to talk about the elephant in the room, illegal immigrants. That is because President Bush has thrown down a gauntlet to Congress in the face of its failure to enact comprehensive immigration reform. He has directed Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff to create a new enforcement mechanism that will force employers to fire employees who are using fake social security numbers. Previously, these employees could rely on the fact there was no enforcement mechanism to prevent their utilization of false documentation to demonstrate their employment status.
Congress, when it had the chance to address the issue of immigration, did what it does best and that was nothing! The extreme ends of the debate could best be characterized by those leaders of Congress who wanted to offer amnesty to all the illegal people in our country, and on the other end, those members who wanted to deport all the same people and seal the border shut while we were at it.
I never did hear of any plan to deal with the complex problem of anchor babies and their parents. There was also disagreement over how serious our efforts would be to secure the border and whether or not a meaningful guest worker program would be implemented.
President Bush, in his frustration, has decided to try and force Congress to deal with the situation. Unfortunately, the president could end up crippling our national economy, depending how prolific Homeland Security is in sending out letters to employers that will serve to trigger the requisite mass firings.
I would guestimate that at least 30,000 illegals live in our county and that is a conservative estimate. Of course, the major sector ($1 billion) of our local economy is agriculture and this sector is the major employer of illegals. Other sectors would be impacted as well, including construction and hospitality (hotel and food service). In view of the fact that we have a very low unemployment rate, what do you think would happen to our local economy if some 20,000 or more of these people suddenly became ineligible to work? Since nobody works in a vacuum, applying what is referred to as the multiplier effect (in reverse), there would be a minimum additional 10,000 people out of work in our county should the illegals lose their jobs! There would be other impacts as well. Thousands of renters and homeowners would no longer be able to make their house payments. There would be an immediate shortage of food in our grocery stores! Does anyone believe these people will just pull up and leave quietly once they get their pink slip?
I canít even fathom a guess as to what would happen in places like Los Angeles! Nationwide there are more illegals living and employed in major metropolitan areas, in non-agriculture jobs, than there are in semi-rural communities like our own. I have to wonder if the president has done the math and what his fall back position is going to be if Congress doesnít come through in time to prevent the chaos that will ensue?
I believe we need to come up with a guest worker program, eliminate the anchor baby provisions, and seal our borders. We also need to eliminate the social safety net that encourages entire extended families to come along with the guest workers. We need to honor the people waiting in line to get into this country legally. We also need to come to terms with the fact that our declining birth rates are going to necessitate a more generous immigration policy. But all these things need to be phased in over time! I donít support the president precipitating an economic and social crisis, as this will do more harm than good.
Andy Caldwell is the executive director of the Coalition for Labor Agriculture and Labor (COLAB) and a 39-year resident of the Central Coast. Contact information is available at the COLAB website at www.colabsbc.org.