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J.F. Kelly, Jr. - Contributor

J.F. Kelly, Jr. is a retired Navy Captain and bank executive who writes on current events and military subjects. He is a resident of Coronado, California. [go to Kelly index]

How Do We Really Feel about Illegal Immigration?
The Bush administration needs political courage…

[J. F. Kelly, Jr.] 3/29/05

There are many stories told about the late Fiorello La Guardia, one of New York’s legendary mayors. One of them concerns a reported incident during his tenure as a municipal judge. A man, down on his luck, appeared before him charged with stealing a loaf of bread. When asked why he did it, the man replied, “To feed my family, sir.” La Guardia, the story goes, fined everyone in the courtroom a dollar for living in a city where an otherwise honest man had to steal a loaf of bread to feed his family. He ordered that the collected sum be given to the astonished man who was released and told to steal no more.

Cynics would say that such misguided actions diminish the respect for laws but the story recalls a familiar ethical dilemma, to wit: Would you break the law if necessary to feed yourself and your family? Survival being the most basic of human instincts, most of us probably would, at least under truly desperate circumstances. It is difficult therefore, to blame the millions of poor Mexicans who sneak across our border to find work in order to feed their families, especially when jobs are provided so willingly by American businesses and households.

A majority of Americans profess outrage over illegal immigration and say that the federal government should do something about it. But they are, by and large, the same people generating the demand for cheap Mexican labor to harvest and process their fruits and vegetables, clean their homes, mind their children, tend their gardens, mow their lawns, wash their restaurant dishes, make up their hotel rooms, care for them in nursing homes, etc. These are the difficult, unglamorous, sometimes backbreaking, low skill jobs that Americans supposedly won’t fill. There is, of course, a reason why they won’t. It’s the pay. The illegals will perform these jobs without complaint, not because they love the work, but because they have little choice in the matter. They are woefully underpaid, given the workload and the frequently horrible working conditions. In other words, they are exploited. President Bush’s high-sounding words about matching willing workers with jobs Americans don’t want are pure rubbish. American citizens would rightly demand a fair wage to do these jobs. But why would competitive businesses hire them when they have easy access to cheap Mexican labor without the bother of dealing with employee benefits and labor unions?

Take away this supply of cheap labor and the critics of illegal immigration would, of course, have something else to complain about, namely drastically higher prices. Forced to pay competitive wages to American citizens, prices would rise dramatically, especially for food products and services. I don’t want to start a panic, but perhaps Americans would even have to mow their own lawns, raise their own kids and clean their own homes.

In any event, we can’t have it both ways for much longer. We can’t continue to demand an end to illegal immigration and at the same time insist on a continued supply of cheap labor to do all the work that Americans would rather not do. It’s like railing against the illegal drug producers without acknowledging that we are creating the demand for illegal drugs. It is the height of hypocrisy and we must soon come to grips with it because illegal immigration is spiraling out of control.

In the last five years the illegal alien population rose by 23% to more than 10 million. That’s greater than the population of Michigan and more than a tenth of the entire population of Mexico. Contrary to popular notions, these numbers are increasing rapidly and most of these people do not plan on returning to their homeland. Indeed, they will endeavor to bring their families here. Who can blame them? Whatever the conditions here, they are usually better than what they left behind. This may be a boon to our agriculture, hotel, restaurant and food processing industries but it is swamping our already overextended schools, medical facilities and social services and producing a large and growing underclass of unskilled workers.

Presidents Bush and Fox had a prime opportunity to discuss this huge and growing problem at their recent summit meeting at Bush’s ranch. The two amigos, however, avoided an honest discussion opting instead for a joint platitude about “improving the legitimate flow of peoples and cargo at our shared border”. Fox grumped about the “Tortilla Wall” on the border south of San Diego and said it must be torn down because walls don’t work. He’s partly right. This wall is merely deflecting the problem from the San Diego area to Arizona where desperate property owners are now organizing vigilante groups.

The blame for the fiasco that is illegal immigration should fall directly upon the shoulders of the Bush administration for ignoring the problem for five years and pandering to the selfishness and greed of American businesses and households who are addicted to the cheap labor supply. Until the federal government can muster the political courage to really enforce federal laws against businesses and households that hire illegal aliens, matters will simply get worse as Mexico continues the mass export of its citizens and our borders and immigration laws become increasingly meaningless. tOR

copyright 2005 J. F. Kelly, Jr.



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