Do Anti-Immigrant Groups Really Care About Working Conditions of Illegal Immigrants?

A nicer, yet very questionable, strategy of the anti-immigrant crowd in speaking about illegal immigrants is to make themselves out as advocates for their fair treatment. The anti-immigrant crowd will speak of illegal immigrant laborers as victims of an abusive system of low paying companies compaired to slavery. Sadly, though low paying and high demanding employers have nothing to do with illegal immigration and have actually been an American staple for quite some time.

Just doing some research on the town I’m in I found an article from the New York Times about a possible casket makers strike in 1903. (here’s the link.) One demand of the casket makers was that women no longer be allowed to work in the factory. The companies claimed that some of the production procedures where better done by women and children due to their nimble fingers. So basically you have a company advocating for children workers and men demanding that they not have to work with women. If it had been American for children to work then we’d still have children working. Do the anti-immigrant groups believe we should go back to child labor in the United States? By the same token if children had been a necessity in the workforce America would have crumbled after it was outlawed. This is unless, of course, these companies could send their work to other countries without child labor laws. We know this is what is happening today with the recent discovery that Gap clothes are being made by children in slave-like working conditions (see link.)Currently, in America, many of these jobs are being performed by recent immigrants as they have been since the end of child labor laws.

So getting past American greed, which yes, is American, we must discover how to deal with this illegal immigration problem and how, if at all, the anti-immigrant groups are helping. I don’t think they’re helping at all. I say this because I believe they simply stir up animosity and fear against, in most cases, Mexicans, in order to advocate for the deportation of any and all illegal immigrants. Though, we must note, that these immigrants were very actively invited here by the American companies that continue to get our support through our daily purchases. In light of the Gap story do we continue to buy clothes at the Gap or do we put our foot down and say enough is enough? Similarly do we continue to support American companies that do not offer living wages to their employees? It seems to me that is the only way to fend off the flow of illegal immigrants. We have to put Americans in American companies by offering them fair and living wages. It is the consumer’s responsibility to ensure these companies offer fair wages.

I can say, though, that the anti-immigrant groups could certainly do things a bit differently if they were really concerned about the illegal immigrants or fair labor practices. For one thing they wouldn’t go around taking pictures of illegal immigrants waiting for work as Diane Reaves professes to doing in message boards. They also wouldn’t label them all as rapists and murderers. In addition these groups would spend more time advocating for American workers that can barely scrape by as companies like Wal-Mart keep their employees from being able to ask for better wages all while they make sure their customers get the best price. Of course Wal-Mart isn’t the only company that is unwilling to pay workers a fair living wage. As I said before, unfair labor practices are an American staple.

From Barbara Ehrenreich’s “Nickel and Dimed”

But the resistance of employers only raises a second and ultimately more intractable question: Why isn’t this resistance met by more effective counter pressure from the workers themselves? In evading and warding off wage increases, employers are of course behaving in an economically rational fashion; their business isn’t to make their employees comfortable and secure but to maximize the bottom line. So why don’t employees behave in an equally rational fashion, demanding higher wages of their employers or seeking out better-paying jobs? The assumption behind the law of supply and demand, as it applies to labor, is that workers will sort themselves out as effectively as marbles on an inclined plane – gravitating to the better-paying jobs and either leaving the recalcitrant employers behind or forcing them to up the pay.

But this is not something an employee can do. They cannot afford to pressure their employers for fear of losing their jobs. Employees at lower pay scales do not have the clout to demand higher pay or to force the industries hand. Where a doctor or scientist may be able to demand more money based on their skills and knowledge a person working at Target, Wal-Mart, or a fast food restaurant does not have the ability to demand more upon moving from one place to another and often they do not have the resources to make the move in the first place. They, therefore, have no control over the wages offered for these positions. Very much opposite to this look at baseball players. Just look at how the skilled baseball players have effectively moved the bar up in terms of pay. We’re constantly hearing about athletes, in general, being paid more, but we never hear this of low-skill workers. That is why the government often has to step in and raise the minimum wage. And what happens when a minimum wage increase is introduced? Everyone (at least everyone not making minimum wage) opposes it. Why? Because it means they’ll make less money as those companies that have to pay more to their employees will then pass the burden on to consumers. So we, as consumers, are basically unwilling to secure a more livable wage to these workers because we want to save our own money.

So where were the anti-immigrant groups before the problem with illegal immigration became such a hot topic? Were they out advocating for fair wages to low-skill workers? No research I have done has brought this to light, but I’d certainly appreciate anyone that could help discover if this was true. Listening to Gayle Kesselman’s speech it wasn’t that she was concerned about the wage her waiters were paid, but it was their inability to speak English that made her question things (though she said that was not her epiphany). Similarly Ruth Miller began questioning her surroundings when her town began to look like historic Mexico [sic] and a Mexican family moved onto her street. So why do the groups they are affiliated with want us to believe that they’re suddenly concerned about the wages and working conditions of low-skill Americans. Sadly, I don’t think they are, but I’d love to be wrong.


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