Donald Trump and his supporters are absolutely right about one thing when it comes to immigration.

Hold on. I'm going somewhere with this.

It is correct to say that in the United States, and to an even greater extent in Europe, existing laws on immigration are poorly enforced. What they don't understand, though, is that immigration laws have never been enforced strictly, here or elsewhere. It is today and always has been a matter of political expediency to write strict immigration laws and a matter of economic necessity to enforce them with great laxity.

During the first great American hysteria over immigration in the mid-19th Century – the target of opportunity was the Irish, although over the remainder of the century it evolved to Italians, Poles, Slavs, and all nationalities of Eastern European Jews – restrictive immigration laws were passed not infrequently in Congress. And anti-immigration elites (and labor leaders like Samuel Gompers, who feared the dilution of wages) were regularly incensed to see how poorly those laws were enforced. Weak enforcement was, and is, no accident. During the Industrial Revolution, massive amounts of raw physical labor were needed to mine the coal, pour the steel, work the powerhouses, and many other varieties of hard, physically demanding, often dehumanizing work. Since few Americans could be found willing to work themselves to death for wages that ranged from mediocre to scandalous, the captains of industry of the day understood that they needed another source of labor. Eastern Europeans in particular – not a small of stature people by nature – were ideal candidates. And that's why I live in the United States right now, because sometime around 1910 a guy who looks kinda like me was willing to do literally any job for a chance to live here.

The country admitted millions of immigrants who should have been, by the strict letter of the laws, sent back to Europe. But big business has a tendency to get what it wants in this country, and they wanted bodies. Waving those bodies through the gates without too much regard for immigration laws first made our economy great, then made our society great.

Things are no different today excepting the direction on the map from which the immigrants are arriving. Business needs low cost labor for manual and other unskilled work. Political populism demands strict immigration laws to keep the nativist and xenophobic tendencies in the electorate satisfied. Everybody with power gets what they want – politicians get votes, industry gets labor. In a rare example of wants coinciding, the immigrants get what they want as well. As best anyone who has studied the matter now or historically can determine, what they want is little more than a chance to work like dogs for very little money in return for living here.

So, Trump is not wrong when he says immigration laws are enforced haphazardly. What he is too thick or too politically savvy to mention, though, is that people like Donald Trump are the exact reason that this situation exists. Capital wants labor, and American teenagers are not going to pick fruit in 85 degree heat for 14 hours per day with little complaint. If immigration laws were enforced at the level of the employer – imposing severe penalties for any workplace found employing undocumented immigrants – the problem would disappear. Of course that option is not on the table, because everyone in a position to affect these matters understands how crucial that low-wage labor is to our economy. Those guys stand in the Home Depot parking lot every morning at sunrise because someone is going to give them money in exchange for work, not because they enjoy the view.

The incentives are today what they have always been: win votes with rhetoric and laws, keep the cheap labor coming – and the money flowing – with indifferent enforcement. If our economic oligarchs didn't want and need immigrant labor, the wall would long since have been built.

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22 thoughts on “HOLIDAYS IN THE SUN”

  • Much as small-government types are OUTRAGED when government services they like and use are cut, the anti-immigrant types will be OUTRAGED if and when all the cheap crap they like to buy either costs twice as much or won't be available at all.

  • Japan is a great example of a country that has strict immigration laws AND strict enforcement. And now the country is literally dying away as a result.

  • It's an interesting phenomenon, both politically and historically. To put the blame on "them" (the undocumented Hispanic workers, especially in farm labor) is to completely forget how we got from there.

    During the Reagan-Bush-Clinton (yeah, Clinton, too) years, a new corporate farm economy was created and institutionalized. The "family farm" was no longer going to be financed with help from the Federal government. The "farm-crisis" of the 1980s (remember Willie Nelson, John Cougar Mellencamp, et al, performing Farm-Aid Concerts, anyone? I do.) The massive sell-off and displacement of family farms meant the acquisition of that farmland by corporate interests.

    For a long time, those farms were operated by local hands. I went to college in Illinois during the 1970s. During the summers, a lot of my friends were able to get decent summer jobs working on farms, even if they weren't from those localities. They'd come back to college tanned, bulked up a bit, and with bank accounts sufficient to get them through the academic year. Larger farms brought in Bracero workers (some of whom were without papers) from Mexico to help put in or harvest the crops. But the principal ethnic identity of the farm economy and its primary labor was derived from the European settlers who arrived in the 19th century to stake their claims and work the land.

    Corporate farms had no interest in hiring the local hands. They had expectations of reasonable wages, decent working conditions, and were protected by OSHA regulations. So over the last several decades we have seen deep, endemic unemployment and hopelessness among people who still remain in many of these farm towns, hoping for a return to that old economic order. And with the unemployment: meth addiction, heroin addiction, and vicious anger.

    Corporate farms need the millions of Mexicans who have poured across the borders. They support the local politicians who campaign on anti-immigrant platforms because keeping the Hispanic workers in a constant state of precarity is vital to keeping them from organizing or otherwise gaining a voice.

    The sad irony is that it was "sweet old Ronald Reagan" who made all of this possible. The republican party celebrates all aspects of the Reagan Presidency at the same time it has created the deeply anti-immigrant politics of Trump and Cruz.

    On one hand: What a bunch of maroons. On the other: what a bunch of creeps.

  • Sometimes I wonder:

    These people are willing to face harsh deserts and brutal smugglers for a chance to wash dishes in a restaurant for poverty wages. Knowing that if they get caught they're likely to get sent back and have to repeat the whole ordeal over again.

    Maybe we need MORE people like that, not less.

  • I feel like China should have been mentioned in there somewhere – especially since while they're avoiding the main thrust of Trumps anti-mexico message they're only going to have more numbers seeking emigration in the future. Good cartoon of 'we must draw the line somewhere' in keeping Chinese out:

    Of course the "An Act to execute certain treaty stipulations relating to Chinese" aka "Chinese Exclusion Act" would in 2016 government speak have a nice flowery title about supporting local labor and a nice acronym title. After all who would vote against a PATRIOT act?

  • Ed and Lars have it right. The system works as its designed to work. One comment I'll add is that when it comes to our guiding ideology of market economics – the powers that be have carved out one huge – and unacknowledged – exception – namely the way the market deals with "labor shortage." When labor is in over supply then screw the working man and lower the wages. Any time you hear about a "labor shortage" – well, market economics has a ready-set answer. Raise the wage. Can't find someone to wash dishes for $7.25 an hour. Offer $12 and that takes care of the labor shortage. It's not like the US lacks for underemployed bodies. Instead, we offer $7.25 – claim Americans aren't willing to do the work and import an impoverished peasant from Guatemala. Then call the American a racist for complaining about Mexicans stealing jobs.

  • One reason there's such a lack of agreement on immigration is that business interests do not want a single state of being (Fortress America or Open Borders). They want a superposition of states where immigrants are simultaneously free and constrained. Harsh policies combined with weak and selective enforcement mean that unauthorized immigrants can enter the country with relative ease, but their options in the workplace are limited. They lack the legal standing to bargain for better wages, conditions, etc.

    Another thing to keep in mind is that there are monsters lurking in the shadows at both extremes of the immigration debate. The problems with nativism and xenophobia are obvious. But there's also a strain of pro-immigration thought based on the presumed superior virtue of immigrants as compared to lazy/entitled/corrupt natives, be they rural whites, urban blacks or whoever happens to be the most unpopular group of underachieving Those People at the moment. Anti-immigration sentiment taken to its logical extreme involves pogroms, purges and lots and lots of barbed wire. A certain type of pro-immigration thought taken to its logical extreme (especially in an era of ever-growing labor surpluses) would end up with each bus or plane full of newcomers returning to its origin point loaded with failed former Americans…

  • The country admitted millions of immigrants who should have been sent back to Europe.

    Yeah, our immigration policies back then really sucked.

    O'Owlish Amenheh

  • It's curious (and by that I mean "galling") to me that the politicians who scream the loudest for the banishment of the illegals are also the ones who invariably (especially in Iowa) get on their knees and work the shaft of the iconic image of the American farmer–the True American–the Backbone of This Great Nation.

    Here's the thing, though–when Alabama actually attempted to eliminate illegal labor, guess who got fucked but good? (Besides the undocumented workers themselves, of course.)

    Those of you who read LarsMacomb's excellent comment know the answer. American agriculture cannot exist without labor that works in sub-Walmart conditions for sub-sub-Walmart wages. To lose these people would cripple the American farm system, and we know this for a fact, because in Alabama, it DID. (I know, I know, fact-based argument and evidence-derived logic, and who the fuck am I kidding that this will be persuasive to the Trumpists of the world, but still–)

    To vilify the essential while extolling those who will be ravaged by one's policies–the degree to which doublethink (sorry, Ed, I know you hate the Orwellian references, but sometimes they're appropriate) is an essential part of political discourse is kinda sickening.

  • @Lars: The same exact thing happened in the meat packing industry in the midwest during 70s and 80s. The companies slashed the wages and then complained that they couldn't find willing workers and imported workers from Mexico. Even now, some of the biggest offenders of hiring undocumented workers are in the meat packing industry. The INS actually scheduled a raid with management of plant so that not everyone would be arrested and deported all at once so the production would not be too greatly interrupted.

    I knew someone who had worked for the FBI, and she reported that she had investigated someone who was undocumented and had worked to bring lots of workers over and set them up with stolen and/or fake SS numbers. She had everything she needed to arrest him, but her boss told her to put the file away and let it all go. Corporate interests love the cheap labor and if the US was serious about getting rid of undocumented workers they would make the penalty on the employers actually mean something.

  • Khaled mentions fake Social Security numbers — and there's another scam on workers. Undocumented workers pay into the SS system, but can't collect benefits. Why do I have the feeling that there are phantom retirees collecting SS money, which is going into the pockets of politicians somewhere?

  • Major Kong:

    "…These people are willing to face harsh deserts and brutal smugglers for a chance to wash dishes in a restaurant for poverty wages. . . Maybe we need MORE people like that, not less."

    The hardest working, the most motivated, the most intelligent arrive. All knowing fear and danger. If you are lazy, unmotivated and dim, you're going to stay and sit on Mama's couch. Even what many would consider a pretty shitty job is a beacon that has drawn millions.

    We need to brighten the light and have policies that regulate the inflow.

  • America was built on slave labor, first and foremost, indentured servants, sharecroppers and any person place or thing a business can and will scam someone to do for less. Greed, that wonderful idea pushed by the Business mythology is all it takes to be an "Exceptional American." some kind of perverted ethics. Sold by St. Reagan like nobody else has. St. Reagan was gifted and timely. Sold America and Americans down the River and out to Sea.

    The white business man has screwed over anyone and everyone in the name of profits. that old American Way since the founding of America. I read that South Carolina was founded by people who left Barbados. After capitalism killed the native, slaves were brought in the Caribbean, work "their sugar plantations. After there was no more plunder in the Caribbean, the same people brought their "way" to South Carolina. and funny how the Civil War started there, isn't it?

    the Business way has become corrupt and buying out everyone who stands in Business' way is the American Way. it is just we have now reached the "point" in America where the masses are getting an upfront and personal experience of how Business runs America. Poverty is now hitting the former white middle class after 40 plus years of theft and scamming has taken its' toll. all that hype Americans were "sold" under the benefits of Globalism. now we can most easily see how badly screwed over all American have been.

    Since the Southern whites, primarily the "poor whites of the South" are following the Scotch Irish tradition of "hating government", a consequence of being descendants of those poor whites who found freedom from the British/British Rule.

    that anti government mindset has been carefully exploited and played upon by the ruling Elite who spend fortunes to endow Foundations on how to perpetually "scam" and divide and conquer the unaware by using inherited thinking of yesterday. keeping the average joe inflamed by the "success" of government "teats" by the "Other," or by the War on Drugs and other savory practices for the misdirection of poor White anger.

    Business since the Powell Memo (Supreme Court Justice Powell) has used legal and accepted means to subvert this into a Corportocracy. Buying Congress has long been an American Tradition. Mark Twain remarked on how Criminals and Congress were the same class of people years ago. lol somethings never change, some do. America was sold by Congress to Business. Lobbying is the legal word for it.

    and this has resulted in a form of American Fascism. Fascism is the uniting of Business and Government. we have the American Version. 40 to 50 years of this is just the normal American way. After promoting the American Way, any divergence is considered unAmerican, Socialist, Commie or whatever label works to keep out competition.

    Money to buy everyone and everything, that's America today. by the rich of course, not us former Middle Class White Americans, aka Trump's delight.

    which is why you won't find the Media, aka "liberal Media", covering Sanders in any way but a negative way if they cover Sanders at all.

    the Golden Calf has bought off those in power. and continues to.

  • Look at the average IQ of illegal immigrants. People with low IQ's want welfare. People who want welfare vote for Democrats. The Democrats are the ones who want illegal immigration.

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