Saturday, April 22, 2006

Crackdown on Workers Brings Dismay and Anxiety - New York Times

Now the government is planning to crack down on employers of illegal immigrants--something the American public has been asking for. But in this article, employers raise objections based on the difficulty of verifying citizenship of their employees. For instance:

Billy L. Heller Jr., chief executive of Pacific Tomato Growers in Palmetto, Fla., said companies were not equipped to verify their workers' status, a task he said belonged to the government, not employers.

"Does this mean I have to have people spend the whole day on a government Internet site double-checking numbers?" said Mr. Heller, whose company grows produce in Florida, California, Georgia, Virginia and Mexico. "We are not document police, and we can't discriminate. If folks present what looks to be reasonably legitimate, then we have to act as if it is." (Crackdown on Workers Brings Dismay and Anxiety - New York Times)

Whether or not employers' complaints are valid, there's a much easier way to deal with the problem. It's not about immigrants; it's about wages. Once we set a decent minimum wage, the only thing that needs to be enforced is the minimum wage. No need to search public records for social security fraud and citizenship proof. The paycheck stub is all that's needed.

It's not that Americans don't want to do the work that illegal immigrants do--it's just that they can't afford to. Immigrants make ends meet by living in austere conditions--substandard housing in which many workers share a room, long hours and a diet most Americans would consider third-world. By keeping rent and food costs lower than Americans could do, they are able to send money to their families.

Unfortunately, there are big guns lined up against a national living wage, including many of the same people who want to stop illegal immigration. They believe it's anti-free-market to legislate wages. However, wouldn't a true free market global economy allow people to hire workers across borders, thus equalizing not only markets, but standards of living, between countries? We'll get a little poorer, countries supplying the cheap labor will get a little richer.

You can't have it both ways.


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