What's not being said in the current immigration debate

It's easy to get caught up in the furor surrounding the current immigration debate. Lou Dobbs sounds more and more like Tom Tancredo every day, and the further you head down the wingnut scale, the frothier the drool coming out of their rabid mouths. But lost in the xenophobia and all the "secure the borders" rhetoric is this little piece of data that popped out last year and seems to have disappeared from the debate as quickly as it came in.

Most undocumented workers aren't crossing the border illegally. Some 40% or more of people here illegally come in on work visas and simply don't go home, and the US government does a really crappy job of tracking them once they're here.

This immigration bill is a classic piece of legislation--the only people it makes happy are employers of low-wage workers.

Employers of people in lower-paying jobs, meanwhile, generally welcomed the bill. Florida's service-heavy tourist industry, and the state's expansive citrus and cornfields, would be likely to find more legal workers to fill slots. But some farmers weren't sure how they would hold on to good workers in short-term, migratory jobs.
The xenophobes don't like it because it's too harsh. Progressives don't like it because it makes the path to citizenship ridiculously complex and doesn't solve the problem of worker exploitation. (It also makes it less likely that those workers will become citizens, and by extension, voters.) Big business is talking like they don't like it, but an increase in H1-B visas can't disappoint them too greatly, since it allows them to import what would normally be high-wage jobs for US grads from India and the like.

But the rhetoric on tv is all about the borders. If you were simply to go by what you see on tv, you'd think that 12 million people crossed the Rio Grande every year and we were just letting it happen, and there's a reason for that.

Neither the government nor big business really wants to stop illegal immigration. If they did, they could put money into some key places and slow it to a trickle. For starters, the federal government could put real resources into tracking people on work visas, could start fining companies who allow workers to overstay, and deporting people who overstay. They could also start putting real oomph into their enforcement against companies which knowingly hire undocumented workers. Put a CEO or two in jail and hammer a company or two and you'll see the situation change. And third, move to fair trade over free trade. Stop importing goods from countries which use slave and prison and child labor, or at the very least, put restrictive tariffs on their goods. Get rid of the Marianas Islands loophole for Made in the USA goods. Require higher labor and environmental standards for our trading partners, including the right to organize. In short, give immigrants more reason to stay in their home countries.

Of course, it's not that simple. It never is. The problem in this case is that all three of those solutions requires taking on business, and in this political climate, you might as well ask for a pink polka-dotted unicorn with wings.

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