illegal immigration and worker’s rights


Freddie deBoer used to blog at, and may again someday. Now he blogs here.

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52 Responses

  1. jamie says:

    I guess I don’t understand 2 things:
    1. how they undermine current labor protections by coming in without those protections. after all, the protections benefit the workers. if someone wants to opt out of them, isn’t that their right (in a free country)?
    2. how extending the protections to immigrants will benefit their lives. it seems more likely that it will result in fewer of them fleeing the conditions that you admit are worse than in america, so net less well being.Report

    • Freddie in reply to jamie says:


      1. Because they undercut the wages of those who obey minimum wages law. Employers have an economic incentive to hire illegal labor rather than legal unskilled workers, particularly because here in America we don’t bother to enforce laws that the business class doesn’t like.
      2. I’m not sure I follow that– workers leave for America because of an opportunity for a better life. I want them to enjoy the full fruits of the American system, not the fear and dislocation of being quasi-American and living under less favorable conditions. If the idea is that eliminating the incentive for employers to hire immigrants by forcing them to give immigrants the minimum wage will result in fewer jobs for immigrants, then that may change the calculations for whether they choose to immigrate– but it would be a choice in my preferred system.Report

  2. Is the point of this post essentially a guest-worker program?

    Bringing them into the system may remove a lot of the incentives they have for coming here in the first place ie tax-free work and an abundance of it.Report

    • Well, a guest-worker program implies that they get kicked out if they leave a particular job or program.

      Yes, that’s true. But then, that’s part of the calculus any immigrant has to make. Simply because I want to give immigrants equal access to American labor markets doesn’t mean I want to privilege them within those markets. They may have less incentive to choose to come here, you’re right– but they would have the ability to choose.Report

  3. Todd says:

    Freddie, you really believe that if someone wants to work for lower pay or longer hours or in more dangerous conditions than you would be willing to accept that you should be allowed to forcibly prevent them from doing so? Really?Report

    • Freddie in reply to Todd says:

      Not only do I believe that, that is our system, and the system of a vast majority of the nations of the world. Society has every right to enforce certain standards of cleanliness, safety and compensation on employers, and they have done so for decades. And let’s be real here: it is not enforcement on workers. It is enforcement on employers. As I said above, it is workers who fought for and one decent working conditions.Report

    • Jim in reply to Todd says:

      That oversimplifies it by an order of magnitude. it is not a simple yes or no, cheaper or not. Workers can compete on wages for work, small percentages so as to egt the job out of the emp,oyer and still come away with as mcuh of a wage as possible, or they can undercut other workers by half or more because they know that’s all they can get, take it or leave it. Guess which one is happening with illegal workers. And the employers know it.

      What we have is the govenrment colluding with the employers to 1) supply them weith illegal labor through ineffectual border enofrcement and 2) drive down wages by serving as the employers’ mechanism of intimidation “I can get the Migra down on you!” Cozy arrangement.

      Let me detail someof this coziness: Employer hires 18 y/o Paco, whio has kin at home to feed nad offers him 40-50% of the formerly going wage . He accepts. (You can run 18 year-olds straight inot machine gun fire, it’s easy to do.) payday comes. Employer gives him a check, which he has no way of cashing. Employer helpfully directs him to Jose, who cashes his check, at perhaps 50 or 75 % of the face value. Paco is half-literate, and desperate for the money anyway. It’s not that he’s unaware of the injustice, just that he has no real options. And of course Jose kicks a bit back to Employer. What’s not to love; that’s how the free market works, isn’t it, with the federal government coming in to regulate on any obstreperous Mexicans – but then again what free market, even the drug drug markets, ever functioned without government protection and price supports?

      Anyone who advocates for the status quo is promoting scab labor at the expense legal workers and also promoting socialized slavery at the expense of illegal workers.Report

  4. North says:

    Gosh Freddie, my head is spinning from the heady sensation of agreeing with you which I do.

    You left out a few items as well:
    -By allowing immigrants to come here and work illegally we not only undermine workers conditions here but also back in the native country. The phenomena of illegal immigration acts as a safety valve for ineffective, corrupt or inept governments. Their most disadvantaged migrate to “el norte” (eliminating potential protesters and dissatisfaction) and then send cash home to their loved ones (again buying more contentment and also giving the government a nice influx of foreign currency. Illegal immigration may well be a factor in the stagnation of the progress of some of the nations to the south of America.

    -Illegal immigrants, by necessity, put a terrible burden on the charity of the safety net. Since we’re unwilling to let them die in the streets (to our great credit) or allow their children to become an uneducated underclass they pile additional burden onto those services along with all kinds of other community outreach done by the government.

    My personal suggestion would be to set up a strong system to allow employers verify the eligability of employees to work in the country. That done we should offer a reward program where people illegally employed in the US can testify against their illegal employers and then earn for themselves maybe accelerated citizenship and perhaps a cash reward or maybe a scholarship as well scaling according to the size of the operation so exposed.Report

  5. I think what I would say is that there’s a trade-off here and where you come down on that trade-off depends on how strongly you value workers’ rights vs. immigrant rights. It seems largely undeniable that various worker protections have a negative effect on the overall number of jobs in the economy (mind you, the size of this effect in any given instance is debatable, but that they generally decrease the number of jobs, at least in the short term, seems undeniable) even as they improve the lot of the average worker (again, the size of this effect is debatable, but that they generally improve the lot of the average worker, at least in the short term, seems undeniable).

    As you acknowledge, even where illegal immigrants are not working with full workers’ rights, they are likely better off than they were had they simply stayed put.

    If you enforce illegal immigration laws strictly in order to preserve workers’ rights more, then the effect is that you are imposing a higher bar to immigration, which means fewer people will be able to enter the United States and will thus be condemned to remaining in even-more unconscionable conditions. If, on the other hand, you enforce those laws more loosely, you will allow greater freedom of movement and greater access to improved living conditions amongst the Third World, but you do so with the knowledge that doing so will on some level undermine workers’ rights in the US overall.

    So the question becomes, how much do you value workers’ rights versus how much do you value migration rights? I would argue that, on the whole, the marginal effects of illegal immigration on established workers’ rights for citizens and legal residents are relatively small while the marginal effects of illegal immigration on the immigrants and their families and communities are quite large. This is, however, a more or less purely subjective evaluation, although I would note that if illegal immigrants help drive economic growth (and in some areas of the country, at least, I think they certainly do), then whatever marginal negative effect they have on existing labor laws is at least partially offset by additional jobs they may create for Americans and permanent residents that exceed those existing standards.

    Of course, all this goes out the window if we moved to a more purely open borders system with few restrictions on immigration beyond “no violent criminals” and “just register at the border.” In that case, you no longer have immigrants working “in the shadows” and can thus more easily monitor whether existing labor laws are being followed with respect to any given immigrant. Moreover, while the lack of availability of jobs that don’t comply with existing labor laws still creates an obstacle to immigration, this is in no small manner offset by the fact that the costs of immigration to the immigrant are greatly reduced by legalizing just about all immigration.Report

    • Freddie in reply to Mark Thompson says:

      Yeah, I would say that in my ideal world the conflict between immigrants and low-income workers would be significantly reduced as you describe in your final paragraph. If we make immigrants’ rights to work here truly equitable with American workers, the undercutting and competitive advantage that one enjoys over the other will largely disappear. But such a thing can only happen in a system that genuinely enforces existing labor law.Report

      • Mark Thompson in reply to Freddie says:

        Hmm….I would say that genuine enforcement of existing labor law is impossible as long as you have loads of illegal immigrants. If the government doesn’t know that you’re here, then it isn’t going to know where you work, how much you make, and what conditions you work under. This means the government is mostly searching for a needle in the haystack. Put another way – immigration restrictions create a black market in labor. Once you have a black market, you by definition cannot regulate it.

        But, open the borders up and get everyone to register, and it becomes quite easy to monitor whether employers are complying with existing labor laws. If they don’t, you’ve removed the strong disincentive against whistleblowing that comes from illegal status. Moreover, you’ve also got just about everyone registered and filing tax returns (not to mention lots of automatic withholding) that makes it quite easy to monitor whether most wage and hour laws are being followed.

        I understand your point about reducing the demand for illegal immigrant labor, but I wonder how much of that demand is secondary and almost supply-driven. By that I mean, how many illegal immigrants migrate with jobs already lined up (I honestly don’t know the answer) and how many just start looking for work once they cross the border? Even with those who already have jobs lined up, how many lined those jobs up through an acquaintance who had migrated previously without a job lined up (again, no idea what the answer is here)? The fact that some percentage of immigrants come here without jobs lined up strikes me as in part driving the demand for illegal immigrant labor. At a minimum, the lack of supply of illegal labor would mean that the demand could not possibly be met even though there will always be high demand for cheaper labor.

        To be sure, North’s proposed reward system above would alleviate some of these problems by creating an incentive for whistleblowing and is a good idea worth doing in just about any circumstance. But I don’t think it would eliminate the problems or make that much of a dent in them because there would still be a ton of risks from the perspective of the illegal who blew the whistle – they may well be highly suspicious of the system, and if they turned out to be wrong in their allegations, then their reward is deportation. Plus, it still doesn’t give you the ability to monitor compliance with wage and hour laws in nearly the same fashion as you could if you had the paper record that comes with tax returns and withholding statements.Report

        • Freddie in reply to Mark Thompson says:

          I’m confused, Mark. You seem to be implying that the solution to my problem is… exactly what I’m advocatin.Report

        • North in reply to Mark Thompson says:

          Well Mark, I don’t think that business interests that currently employ illegal immigrants under the table would suddenly go legit if the illegal immigrants were suddenly legal. Avoiding paying taxes and adhering to labor laws is the reason why they hire illegals. They don’t go into the shadows because they’re employing illegal immigrants; they’re in the shadows because they’re employing people in a manner that is in violation with labor laws.

          Also, regarding your criticism, you have some legitimate but I think you should reconsider the latter portion. The reward I’m proposing would be awarded only to the whistle blower, not his co-workers. This would create somewhat of a prisoners dilemma for any illegal immigrants employed in this way. Sure they may well be suspicious of the offer from the government but if they wait and one of their co-workers testifies first then they will get nothing and quite likely be at risk of deportation. The risks of passively covering for their employer are significantly higher than the risks of whistle blowing. Far greater of course would be the employers risk and unlike illegal immigrants, their employers have a –lot- to loose if they got caught.Report

          • Mark Thompson in reply to North says:

            “Avoiding paying taxes and adhering to labor laws is the reason why they hire illegals.”

            Totally. But if you legalize those immigrants, they’re no longer undocumented. This means that they have to pay taxes, which the employers aren’t going to be happy about since it means the employees are going to be reporting their wages. You also lose the huge disincentive to whistleblowing because the immigrant is legal to begin with so even if his allegations turn out to be uncolorable, he can still stay in country and look for another job.

            Basically, what happens is that by legalizing all immigrants, you make it so that employers have no greater ability to hire would-be illegals under the table than they do to hire existing legal immigrants under the table.

            I’m not talking about taking the employers out of the shadows. Instead, what I’m referring to is the fact that the employees are in the shadows the second they cross the border, which makes it impossible to track how they’re being treated by whoever they wind up working for. Employers are always going to prefer operating in the shadows if they think they can get away with it, but if there’s no supply of labor that is in the shadows, then employers simply won’t have the means to operate in the shadows to begin with.Report

            • North in reply to Mark Thompson says:

              Hmm yes I think I follow and it makes sense to me and I agree with you. I wince to add, though, that mass legalization seems about as politically doable right now as ending the Drug war.Report

    • Jaybird in reply to Mark Thompson says:

      Of course, all this goes out the window if we moved to a more purely open borders system with few restrictions on immigration beyond “no violent criminals” and “just register at the border.”


      I’m of the impression that immigration of people who are not violent criminals to the US is a positive good. We should make it as simple to immigrate as, say, having a baby. (The registering it with the government, I mean. Not the humping part.)

      You want to work? Great! We can use people like you! We want more people who want to work. You want to go to school? Great! We can use people like you! We want more people who want to go to school.

      The whole “they want to come here because of all of the lavish benefits we dole out!” attitude is one that… well, it strikes me that this attitude fails to take into consideration that those folks who look forward to living on the dole of others tend to not have ambition enough to, you know, move. (That’s the great thing about sloth in the first place. You don’t go anywhere.)

      We need to open the doors wide open. People who are old enough to work and who have ambition enough to change their lives upside-down, top to bottom are the types of people who we all descended from. It’s good that our ancestors came here. It’ll be good that people like our ancestors will come here.Report

      • Mark Thompson in reply to Jaybird says:

        “The whole “they want to come here because of all of the lavish benefits we dole out!” attitude is one that… well, it strikes me that this attitude fails to take into consideration that those folks who look forward to living on the dole of others tend to not have ambition enough to, you know, move. (That’s the great thing about sloth in the first place. You don’t go anywhere.)”

        I never understood this argument in the least, either, particularly since it is so often made by self-styled libertarians (usually of the Ron Paul-worshipping variety) arguing that the welfare state and worker protections need to go before we can even think about not strictly enforcing immigration laws, with very tight immigration quotas.

        It’s a weird argument first because of the whole “sloth” thing. But it’s also weird, when made by self-described libertarians, because it is premised on the notion that the welfare state and workers’ regulations cannot withstand the burden that illegal immigrants put on the system. As such, for this group, the truly “libertarian” position is….really draconian statism? Weird. On top of that, accepting the premise that “the welfare state can’t sustain the burden of illegal immigration” premise as true (even though it isn’t thanks to that sloth factor)…isn’t bringing down the welfare state this group’s stated goal?

        It’s just a weird argument.Report

        • Freddie in reply to Mark Thompson says:

          One concrete example of how self-defeating this kind of attitude is lies in the expense of emergency room care. Illegal aliens often get treated for non-emergency health problems at emergency rooms because of their inability to afford it elsewhere. Emergency room care is very expensive. We could greatly reduce the cost of that care if we could provide preventative care in appropriate facilities and stop taxing our overburdened ERs. But that would be seen as a giveaway to illegal immigrants, even though we would be saving a ton of money.Report

        • greginak in reply to Mark Thompson says:

          I don’t get this argument either, but it seems pretty clear to me it is not based on a rationale other then a visceral hatred of poor people, brownish people and poor brownish people.Report

          • Jaybird in reply to greginak says:

            I think it has more to do with “otherness” than “brownishness”.

            (I mean, I’ve seen complaints about French/English packaging in the local supermarkets that mimic, exactly, complaints about bilingual education. I don’t think that anti-French sentiment is particularly racist, nor do I think that anti-Spanish sentiment is particularl racist.)Report

            • Mark Thompson in reply to Jaybird says:

              For some of this set, yeah. But for others….much as I hate to psychoanalyze people, writing certain things and openly affiliating with certain groups tends to make me think that race is a significant motivating factor in their beliefs on immigration.Report

            • Jim in reply to Jaybird says:

              Very often the nastiest shit immigrants face is from people the most like them here. The Salvadorans organized the notoriously brutal Mara Salvatrucha (Nnow MS-13) because of the way Mexicans, not Anglos, but Mexicans , were mistreating them. Likewise the nastiness the Sam Yup (Canton- Hong Kong) immigrants in the 60s encountered came from their Hlei Yip (Toihsaan) “compatriots”, from the next group of counties over, who had come to California in the Gold rush. Once again, the newcomers ended up having to organize street gangs to get some degree of protection.

              Race definitely figures in, but it is never the whole explanation. Ah, well, it can be if the racial distinction is completely fictitious, as it was between the Irish and the pre-existing Anglos in the 19th century.Report

        • Jim in reply to Mark Thompson says:

          It’s not weird because it’s projection, so it’s common as dirt. It’s just wrong in most cases. It varies by community maybe, but even there it is a small incidence. There may be some refugees for instance, who are unable to adapt, PTSD vitims, resentful of teh the life ahs worked out, blah balh, who ride the system. That is a tiney percentage of peole who end up here.

          The huge majority pay a lot of money and sometimes risk their lives to send money home. Shitty, half-paid jobs are the “lavish benefits we dole out.”Report

          • Mark Thompson in reply to Jim says:

            I think this is true for most people. However, in the case of self-described libertarians for whom the destruction of the State is the explicit goal, opposing illegal immigration because of the burdens it supposedly puts on the very system you want to see destroyed is, well, weird. At a minimum, it suggests that destruction of the State is not really what you’re most concerned about.Report

  6. Francis says:

    The principal problem with the current system is that no one obeys it. Here in Southern California, undocumented aliens (until the recession) formed the backbone of the workforce in areas such as hospitality (maids), restaurants (cooks and cleaners), construction (the unpleasant trades, like roofing), not to mention the classics like agriculture and the garment industry.

    And even though California is a strongly Democratic state, somehow during the Bush administration these industries were huge donors to the Republican party, and somehow (shocking, I know) the Bush adminstration failed to enforce the laws against the employment of undocumented aliens on these employers.

    Even people I know and respect told me that they had no choice but to hire subcontractors that illegally employed undocumented aliens. The rates were so low that citizens/legal aliens were driven from the marketplace.

    If we don’t like the laws we have, we as a society have an obligation to change the laws. Allowing favored industries to purchase noncompliance through campaign contributions is both corrosive and corrupt.Report

  7. North says:

    Thank you for the shout out Freddie and again agreement on my part. If there is to be enforcement of labor standards and immigration law it really has to be done at the employer level. Immigrants have too little to loose and too much incentive to circumvent restrictions, hitting businesses that use illegal labor is where success would lie.

    Reading the comments there is an amusing thought that struck me. The Republicans, as the party most exercised about illegal immigrations, are simultaneously the party least likely to do anything substantive about it because the most successful strategy to combat illegal immigration would be an anathema to one of the important legs of their coalition; labor law opposing corporate interests. So were they to get their way on illegal immigration we could assume that Republicans would shy away from any successful tactics (hitting businesses that flout immigration and labor laws) in favor of tactics that flailed directly at the unfortunate immigrants themselves(border patrols, fences, raids, deportations). I’d always wondered why they got absolutely nothing done on the issue during their years in power. Now it makes perfect sense to me.Report

  8. A.R.Yngve says:

    Speaking as a Swede, I am appalled by this hypocrisy: first Americans exploit undocumented Latin American workers, then complain about them being in the USA.

    You can’t have it both ways forever. At some point in the future, Mexico is going to catch up with the USA. And then…?Report

  9. Pat Cahalan says:

    The political and economic question of illegal immigration aside, I feel compelled to respond to one bit strongly:

    > My personal suggestion would be to set up a strong system to allow employers
    > verify the eligibility of employees to work in the country.

    I’m not one to generally use absolute statements, but I’ll make an exception in this particular case:

    This is not possible within the framework of the general belief among U.S. citizens about how people ought to interact with their government. Give it up and move on, you’re not going to get this (in fact, you don’t actually want it, you just don’t realize it because you don’t understand what it takes to have such a system). Without taking some crazily jackbooted steps, our method of identifying and authorizing the general populace (in many ways, just like our physical border) *will* not get any much better than what we do now. Period.

    Gentlemen, identification is much, much less problematic a question than authorization, and it’s still the second most *wickedly hard* problem in the security domain. There are reams and reams of security literature on this problem, and the consequence of having any sort of very strong authentication mechanism (is this person allowed to do “A” – in this case, work legally in this country) in this case requires a coupling with a very, very strong identification mechanism (who is this person).

    Neither of these things is possible, period… not in this society. It’s a simple matter of set theory; in order to have a split classification across all members of a population (these people can work, these people cannot) you must be able to absolutely authoritatively classify at least one group in such a way that an intersection of the classification with the greater population results in precisely only those members of the other class. When you can’t identify them through obvious criteria, the entire onus falls upon all the members of one class. This works marginally okay if you’re trying to secure a facility with a pre-existing access control list that’s reasonably small. It fails miserably otherwise, always. Military bases have porous security. For all the handwaving B.S. security “countermeasures” since 9/11, it’s trivially easy to get access to the service side of an airport.

    Well, since illegal immigrants aren’t going to go around identifying themselves as such, this means that the legal members of the country must have the papers. The papers must be very difficult to forge (this is a hard problem, in and of itself… and before you ask, no, REAL ID is not going to be much of a help). The papers must be *very very difficult* to acquire, otherwise the illegal immigrant can simply qualify for the papers themselves. See, it’s pretty trivially easy to forge most of the documentation that we use nowadays, so it’s also pretty trivially easy to acquire any documentation that can be acquired via use of those documents. Even if you can make an unforge-able ID card, you have to have some process of *getting the card*, which of course is going to rely upon a set of forge-able documents (not to mention the fact that anyone and everyone involved in every step of the process of distributing the cards has to be thoroughly audited, ’cause otherwise they’ll just open up the DMV and sell IDs on the side). I can go down to several different places in downtown Los Angeles and get a credible driver’s license, green card, birth certificate, and Social Security card for less than a thousand dollars, or just a DL for about $100. Well, okay, I don’t know that the DL’s going rate is accurate, the last time I caught a kid with a fake ID when I used to work at the high school he told me he paid that much and I don’t imagine the price has gone up much even in 12 years.

    If you lose your ID card, the process for acquiring a new one must be so difficult that this process doesn’t itself become an avenue for exploitation. About the only way I can be sure that nobody but Pat Cahalan (and we’re talking this particular Pat Cahalan here, there’s quite a few of us) gets a copy of Pat Cahalan’s ID card is if I walk into a secure facility and give up a DNA sample to get the card.

    I’m not so crazy about having this sort of a relationship with my government, thanks.

    It must be impossible to operate effectively in the society without the papers. No, not just work at medium to large employers, because people will still hire illegal immigrants to mow their lawns and watch their kids and clean their houses, as well as scads of other ways that people can make money in this country without working in a classical working environment (ever buy an ice cream cone for your kid at a park?) So you need these papers for many other things, as well… you have to make them so important that nobody can do anything without them.

    Finally, there’s the inevitable exception scenario. No matter how well we design the thing, it will still be possible for Joe Blow to acquire a copy (either a forged copy or an actual legitimate version, issued illegitimately) of my docs. If you think it’s hard to unwind Identity Fraud cases now, just try getting your life back after someone hijacks your “unforge-able”, “perfectly strong”, “authoritative” identity card.

    It won’t just take tinfoil hat types to rebel at this.

    Securing your border and identifying who is not legitimately in your country are two problems where the consequent is entirely upon those people who actually are authorized to live here. In order to make it economically unfeasible for people to come here illegally, we have to make it economically unfeasible to exploit the process by which we grant those papers. That means it has to be a HUGE pain in the ass, with multiple avenues of audit and verification, each of which must be handled by a different organizational body (otherwise, as I pointed out earlier, it only takes a few corrupt DMV personnel to blow the whole scheme out of the water).Report

    • North in reply to Pat Cahalan says:

      Well yes, long story short it’s impossible to create a foolproof national identification system that isn’t also terribly invasive. But such wouldn’t be necessary to penalize employers who knowingly employ illegal immigrants in unsafe working conditions. That said, I think you exagerate how easy it is to penetrate the id system even now considering that the current anti immigration regimes have no difficulty at all finding illegal immigrants with no valid id on them. A system to identify illegal immigrants versus citizens or legal immigrants wouldn’t need to be flawless, it would merely need to be effective enough that businesses couldn’t plausibly claim, as they do now, that they have no reliable way of verifying eligability to work in this country. As soon as genuine penalties began landing on employers who use illegal immigration then the demand for illegal labor would contract significantly. Letus be clear, I don’t think very many people are concerned about lawn care or icecream sales. These are the marginal fringes of the employment world and we’re not seeking to eliminate illegal immigration entirely. That would be either impossible or tyrannical. We simply would want to diminish the phenomena to a point where its’ negatives are minimized.

      That said, if ID truely is unacceptable to the populace then they have eliminated all but the option of either embracing full legalization or remaining with the status quoe.Report

      • Pat Cahalan in reply to North says:

        > That said, I think you exagerate how easy it is to
        > penetrate the id system even now considering that
        > the current anti immigration regimes have no
        > difficulty at all finding illegal immigrants with
        > no valid id on them.

        My dear sir, there are millions of people living here illegally. If it’s so “easy to find these immigrants without ID”, why aren’t they all deported? Also, remember that people only will acquire fake identification papers to the extent that they’re necessary for them to work, so the number of people who don’t have identification papers is actually evidence that you don’t need the papers to work, *not* that they’re hard to get. As for the ease at which you can acquire these documents, again, I know that it’s trivially easy to do this in Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. I have no reason whatsoever to doubt that it’s easy to get in most other major metropolitan areas. You can search for news stories about illegal identification and/or Real ID if you don’t want to take my word for it, or if you’d like I can give you an escort down to the part of downtown Los Angeles where you can get what you’re looking for. About the only other way I could prove it to you directly would be to go get them myself, and I’m not so keen on committing felonies.

        > But such wouldn’t be necessary to penalize employers
        > who knowingly employ illegal immigrants in unsafe
        > working conditions.

        This is such a minor case of illegal immigration (compared to agribusiness, construction, and domestic employment) that it’s not even worth spending much effort discussing. Most illegal immigrants work in perfectly normal working conditions.

        > As soon as genuine penalties began landing on employers
        > who use illegal immigration then the demand for illegal
        > labor would contract significantly.

        Wow, those genuine penalties sure stopped Mr. Madoff, didn’t they?

        Let me put it to you this way, if you are going to have a chance to convince me that anyone can design a workable solution to this problem (when actual genuine experts in security can’t), then I want to see details, not theoretical constructs. You claim such a system can be built, and ought to be built. I’m saying it can’t, and thus any attempt to build it is a giant waste of money. I obviously can’t prove a negative, so instead you need to put up a system, and I’ll tell you why it won’t work.

        Tell me how you are going to design, distribute, revoke this worker’s permit card. Tell me how you are going to develop a system such that a business can authenticate a worker’s right to use the card they carry and decide that they have a way to verify eligibility to work. Tell me how you are going to audit this process, so that businesses can’t reasonably claim they’re following the rules. Show me your system.

        I will bet you $50 that *I* can poke enough holes in it to make it useless.

        Remember, too, if you suddenly make the barrier very high to work in this country by making such an identification card, you’re not going to get the 20-30 million people who are here illegally suddenly throwing down their chips and leaving the table. Those people are going to have a powerful incentive to figure out a way to game the system. If half of them are willing to spend $500 to figure out a way to stay, that’s somewhere between $5 billion and $7.5 billion dollars.

        That’s a powerful market incentive for someone to provide that service.

        > That said, if ID truely is unacceptable to the populace
        > then they have eliminated all but the option of either
        > embracing full legalization or remaining with the status
        > quo.

        Not precisely, but close. I think it’s possible to reduce many of the consequences of illegal immigration. I don’t think it’s possible to cost-effectively attempt to reduce illegal immigration using many of the methods that people are attempting to bring to the table (ID cards, border fences, whatever). I admit, I don’t really care if someone comes to the U.S. to work, provided they act like responsible members of society and contribute. Make them pay taxes, I don’t care if they consume services. This whole idea that someone has a “right” to be here or not based upon whether or not they were born here is ridiculous. I personally believe that a much easier path to citizenship and a much more permissive immigration policy make much more sense than what we have now; fixing those things would reduce most of those burdens on society that everyone complains about being “because” of illegal immigration, because people would be contributing fully in the process.

        This whole idea that taking the fight to the employers is going to remove the economic incentive for people to come here, and then they won’t come here, seems really odd to me. Do you really want to have to wait a week to start a new job while an employer verifies your identity? Remember, we all have to go through the same process, we can’t segregate people into groups ahead of time. Do you really want your *employer* to unknowingly hire enough illegal immigrants with passable ID that they suffer these “real” penalties we’re talking about? The plant closes down, you lose your job, your local community loses its capstone employer, and the local economy goes into the tank? Do you really want the cost of this system to be passed through to the consumer (because it will be)?

        What you’re asking for, here, is to have some other requirement for you to go into a department equivalent to the DMV, on a higher frequency, to get something that, should you lose it, it be revoked improperly, or be suborned by someone else, *you* can’t work in this country?

        Do we really love red tape that much?Report

        • North in reply to Pat Cahalan says:

          My equally dear sir, the people aren’t being deported en mass because there isn’t sufficient political will to do so. They are, however, constantly being deported. To be crystal clear here I do not wish for mass deportations myself. Now obviously on the technical issue you’re claiming that it’d be impossible to design a foolproof system and I will agree with you there. You also seem to be claiming that it would be impossible to design a system that would even identify many illegal immigrants. This is where we part company. Such systems are in use today for that matter, thus all of the debates on what ID’s to issue to immigrants so on and so forth. If all forms of ID and such requirements for employment represented no barrier then there likely wouldn’t even be a debate. I have no doubt that you could obtain an ID fake or real, under false pretenses in this system. I’m somewhat less credulous that a near illiterate, barely English speaking immigrant would be able to do so with similar ease in our current system let alone an even slightly tighter one. Now I’m no technician, so I honestly cannot get into specifics but I have no doubt that were I to draw a circle you could definitely draw a bigger one around it. Illegal immigrants in general do not collect social security, nor do they collect welfare, nor do they en masse enjoy many government services that require ID. I’m sure they’d love to if they could but the fact is that even the current system is capable of differentiating between legal and illegal workers even now. Again, in this discussion we’re not even aiming really at illegal immigrants themselves. The poor dears don’t need more trouble than they already have to wrestle with.

          Not that there was any actual value in the point but Madoff isn’t investing in securities now is he (well maybe he’s trading in cigarette futures or setting up some ponzi pudding/laundry detail scheme but he’s not trading on the public markets)?

          I think you missed the point regarding unsafe working conditions. What I probably should have been more clear on is that the point is coming down hard on employers who violate labor laws in general.

          Illegal immigration isn’t something I get personally very exercised about. I do find it mightily amusing watching the right wing inveigle about it while they furiously shy away from the only solutions that would truly impact it; going after the businesses that employ them. Of course it’d be great if we could make them pay taxes,

          “This whole idea that taking the fight to the employers is going to remove the economic incentive for people to come here, and then they won’t come here, seems really odd to me. Do you really want to have to wait a week to start a new job while an employer verifies your identity? Remember, we all have to go through the same process, we can’t segregate people into groups ahead of time.”

          Most employers already take plenty of time to try to identify illegal workers and frankly those that do wouldn’t be much of a target. Is Microsoft accidentally employing an illegal immigrant? Not the target. Slap on the wrist at worst. Is the local packing plant employing five hundred illegal immigrants for a buck an hour working them fifteen hours a day six days a week? Throw the book at them. The point here is to prevent unscrupulous businesses from setting labor standards back to the 1900’s. And remember, under the proposed system it’d be the illegal workers themselves who are exposing their employers. You can work six days a week for sixty bucks at least until you accidentally cut your hand off or you can rat out the company, get 25 grand and accelerated citizenship opportunities. Good faith businesses aren’t going to have much to worry about. The ones that depend on illegal labor and substandard labor practices will suddenly have a new expense item on their leger that would do a lot towards shooing them back into employing legally and a lot of illegal immigrants will not be under the unfair exploitation they currently are suffering.

          And no, I don’t like red tape. But there is a place for regulation. Where it works and is done smartly it is a boon to business and workers alike.Report

          • Pat Cahalan in reply to North says:

            > You also seem to be claiming that it would be
            > impossible to design a system that would even
            > identify many illegal immigrants.

            Oh, no. I can certainly design a system that will identify exactly and precisely only legal citizens of the United States. I just don’t think anyone would want to deal with the consequences of such a system. This is a very important distinction.

            > I’m somewhat less credulous that a near illiterate,
            > barely English speaking immigrant would be able
            > to do so with similar ease in our current system let
            > alone an even slightly tighter one.

            Then I ask you to first attempt to dispel your incredulity before proceeding. Because, you see, this is precisely the market of people that document forgers have as a customer base. Many of them get their identity papers packaged as part of the deal that gets them across the border in the first place. Many ID forgers are themselves illegal immigrants. But again, don’t take my word for it, go Google news stories about fake documents and illegal immigration. Here’s just one example:

            > Is Microsoft accidentally employing an illegal immigrant?

            Certainly they are; you need to do more research on illegal immigration. Overstaying your H1B visa is a contributor to illegal immigration statistics. Google “Chuck Grassley” and “H1B” visa; according to his report, 20% of H1B applications are based on fraud (this doesn’t account for overstays, which are a separate case entirely). H1B visa holders take specialty jobs (, not low-income, low-skill positions. Some of those visa holders work at companies like Microsoft (witness MS’s lobbying to increase H1B quotas, again, check with Google for more info).

            > The point here is to prevent unscrupulous businesses from
            > setting labor standards back to the 1900’s

            I thought the point was to halt illegal immigration. Sweat shops are certainly a problem, but it seems from my general reading that most illegal immigrants work in agriculture (where the UFW does a fairly decent job of preventing heinous abuse), construction (where actual safety and abuse problems aren’t any more common among illegal workers than legal ones), and building maintenance and domestic work (where quite likely unpaid overtime is an issue, but again not like working in a sweatshop).

            So if your goal isn’t to significantly cut down on illegal immigration, but instead to cut down on worker abuse, why not just increase OSHA enforcement (which is critically underfunded)? Wouldn’t that solve the same problem?Report

            • North in reply to Pat Cahalan says:

              If you’d refer back to Freddie’s initial post and my own you may note that his focus (and similarly mine) is on the deleterious effect that illegal immigrants have on job standards in this country (and secondarily on the standards of their country of origin). Illegal immigrants undercut every achievement of 20th century in labor law (working hours, job safety, minimum wage, overtime etc). I would be completely indifferent to their presence or absence in the country if it were not for the negative side effects on job standards, the safety net and the (in a distant third) the social fabric of their home countries. As such, my focus in my initial suggestion is putting the screws to -Employers- that knowingly employ large numbers of illegal immigrants without adhering to labor laws (which is of course the point of employing illegal immigrants).

              Perhaps you missing this point is why you think that I’m deeply invested in a foolproof identification system, which I’m not. I merely want vigorously enforced and stringently penalized labor standards. The point is not to halt illegal immigration. The point (or at least mine and Freddie’s) is to halt illegal employment and the undermining of modern living standards. If you’re looking for screeds inveigling about the horrors of having latinos in the country you’ll have to look elsewhere.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to North says:

                For my part, I kind of see the black market in labor as similar to the black market that exists for drugs.

                There are people who have a product they want to sell. There are people who want to buy the product they’re selling. The laws against this trade will neverever be enforced strongly enough to eliminate the black market to the point where it’ll be not a big deal anymore.Report

              • North in reply to Jaybird says:

                Similar, I agree Jay, but black market drugs don’t cause our entire edifice of modern medicine to totter where as the employment of illegal immigrats to bypass labor standards are a strong depressive force on the standard of labor in the country.
                Whether it is by loosening immigration standards, tightening labor standards enforcement (and penalties) or by putting rabbits in charge and renaming the country Carrotland something needs to be done to address it.Report

              • Freddie in reply to North says:

                Please note that my post is a call for far looser immigration restrictions.Report

              • Pat Cahalan in reply to North says:

                Well, if the point is not to slow down illegal immigration, but instead to make sure that workplaces conform to labor laws, I repeat the question, why bring illegal immigration into the mix at all? I’m just not seriously convinced that illegal immigration is the root problem when it comes to workplace conditions; there’s plenty of employers who violate workplace standards that employ either/both legal and illegal workers. Companies do this because there is a profit motive to do so. They’ll do it regardless of whether or not their employee base is legal or illegal (or artificial or extra-terrestrial at some point in the future).

                We have an existing regulatory body for workplace, labor, and safety oversight in OSHA, why not simply give them the additional funds that they’ve been lacking for the last three decades to actually perform their job properly? If they can inspect, cite, and penalize companies for workplace violations, doesn’t that solve the problem directly?

                If companies can’t get away with abusing their workers, and abusing their workers is a primary factor in them choosing to hire illegal immigrants, why not just make it harder for them to abuse their workers?Report

              • North in reply to Pat Cahalan says:

                The answer, Pat, is that the primary offender in this problem is employers of illegal immigrants. Companies employ them and violate labor standards with impunity for two reasons. First: because of the fact that they’re illegally in the country their employees have no incentive to complain, quit or turn them in. Second: because they can do things much cheaper by not following labor rules and the job is already out of the government’s eye. Their employees are not on the tax roles, their positions aren’t registered anywhere.

                We can certainly fund OSHA to patrol the jobs we know exist but that would have no effect on the employment of illegal immigrants since those jobs are not visible to the government and thus won’t be monitored by OSHA. Meanwhile companies that adhere to labor standards are being driven under by companies that employ and abuse illegal immigrants or are being forced to pressure legal employees to accept lower and lower labor standards. This is the core of Freddie’s (and my) concern about the situation. Competition from illegal immigrants is undermining labor standards.

                As far as I’ve seen and read it is the companies employing illegal immigrants that are the vast majority of the companies that are violating labor rules. Company’s that employ legal employees can’t get away with violating labor laws; they’ll be exposed by their own employees and busted.

                Now I’m all for funding OSHA, power to the idea. Perhaps they could somehow police all of the major employers of illegal immigrants. But let’s not delude ourselves. If companies had to adhere to labor standards no matter whether they were employing illegal immigrants or not then they wouldn’t hire illegal immigrants. There would be no reason for them to do so. If you factor away the ability to underpay, overwork and abuse them, illegal immigrants are not a very good deal as far as employees go.

                The worker abuse problem and the illegal immigrant problem are joined at the hip.Report

              • Pat Cahalan in reply to North says:

                > The worker abuse problem and the illegal immigrant
                > problem are joined at the hip.

                I see a correlation, but not the level of high cohesion you see. Here’s why.

                > We can certainly fund OSHA to patrol the jobs we
                > know exist but that would have no effect on the
                > employment of illegal immigrants since those jobs
                > are not visible to the government and thus won’t
                > be monitored by OSHA.

                Er, if these jobs are not visible to the government, then increasing documentation requirements for working isn’t going to help at all; the jobs are still invisible to the government.

                Look, it boils down to these possible cases:

                (1) The Employer is operating outside the legal system entirely. Ergo, they are not reporting their income, they are not reporting their wages, they’re not following zoning laws, they’re renting or owning property through a shadow corporation or something… they’re probably exactly the case that you’re talking about when you talk about rampant worker abuse. In this case, we don’t need any more audit mechanisms on documentation, we need more investigators tracking illegal interstate commerce, unlicensed workplaces, etc. We need a better system to authenticate *businesses*, since these aren’t going to be market front retail entities (unless you’re talking about drug trafficking); they’re going to make things that are sold to someone else, and those books obviously have to be cooked somehow. We have to find these guys before we can prosecute them for anything (and when we find them, we don’t need to tack on “you hired illegal immigrants!), we already have enough on them to jail them for eternity… tax fraud, failure to file a business license, unsafe working conditions, racketeering, employing illegal immigrants (really, do you think these are the guys who are trying to get away with saying “We didn’t know they were illegal”?)

                (2) The Employer is operating at the edge of the legal system. They have a license to operate a business. They pay rent somewhere or own property in an actual commercial, agricultural or industrial area. They hire illegal immigrants, and they produce some good that is sold directly to somebody, but they can undercut prices because they operate a sweatshop (or the equivalent). However, they actually have enough of a legal presence (probably due to their property requirements, like agriculture, or their capital investment requirements, like manufacturing equipment) that they are on the rolls somewhere as a business. So, they absolutely *can* be caught out by business investigation processes. OSHA, the IRS, the local business license review board, somebody already existing has the authority to crawl up these guys’ collective bottoms with a flashlight, they just don’t have the resources to properly gather, collate, and cross reference the information that we already have in a database somewhere and figure out that these places are shady, and they don’t have the resources to routinely and randomly audit everybody in the county that has a business license or leases or owns property in a commercial or industrial zone. Here again we don’t need to make it harder for them to say that they didn’t know they were hiring illegal immigrants, we just need to make it easier to find them. Side bonus: we’ll catch lots of companies doing lots of shady things, right down to dumping crud in the local river.

                (3) The Employer is operating inside the legal system, but maybe isn’t making the best effort to make sure all their employees are legal (those overstayed visas are a prime example). These guys aren’t going to be violating any labor laws, and while making the whole process to verify employment will help cut down on them making errors, it’s a whole lot of red tape for not much return… especially given that the exception scenario you’re talking about is one of the first two cases.

                Any way you slice it, “Make it harder to employ illegal immigrants” isn’t going to do as much good as just enforcing legal business practices.

                Oh, and there’s always the case that offering an immigration amnesty to anyone who reported illegal or unsafe working conditions would enable us to round up a whole bunch of the employers of 1 and 2, and get some more taxpayers on the rolls to help cover the entitlement programs of all those retiring baby boomers. But that’s a side note 🙂Report

              • North in reply to Pat Cahalan says:

                I do not follow your case for correlation instead of causation. Perhaps you could describe in greater detail what group of employers/employees employ more/tolerate more violations of workplace laws (minimum wage, safety and working hours) than the employers of illegal immigrants. In construction, for instance, use of illegal labor is practically mandatory since employers who adhere to our labor standards can’t compete.

                I believe you’ve misread me. Your last paragraph, the side note, pretty much was the entire focus of my original proposal. Said proposal was to instituting a program that would give illegal immigrants a strong incentive to turn in their employers. As you point out such a program would have a significant effect on situations 1 & 2 which you laid out so succinctly.

                The increased documentation/identification portion of my proposal was more a political component of the entire system than a necessary practical one. Business interests would fight tooth and nail against the proposal using the purported difficulty of verifying eligibility for employment as a fig leaf for full throated opposition. A streamlined system for verifying eligibility for employment, even if some or a lot of illegal immigrants could penetrate said system, would remove that excuse and make opposing it much more difficult.Report

              • > The increased documentation/identification portion
                > of my proposal was more a political component of the
                > entire system than a necessary practical one.


                Oh. okay. If you’re looking at this as a political tool, that’s something else entirely. Then it doesn’t really matter if it works or not, in the practical sense, its existence is simply part of a political maneuvering process.

                I can’t really argue that this isn’t necessarily an effective strategy (both political parties use “political theater” to push agendas). I’m generally *really* against these sorts of things, though, as they are essentially complete wastes of funds on the practical side.

                I understand that it’s a political reality that people don’t like immigration (mostly for irrational reasons). I personally think the better fight is to fix that, but okay.Report

              • North in reply to Pat Cahalan says:

                I don’t agree that it would be completely ineffective, nor that it would be a complete waste. But if it was coupled with the very necessary cracking down on companies that violate labor standards (which is pretty much synonamous with companies that employ illegal immigrants) then the benefits would outweight any costs even if the identification system was a bust.

                As for mass legalization, I’m open to the possability that it might work, perhaps it would even work better. But it is utterly impossible to enact as law at this point. If I’m going to shoot for pie in the sky solutions I’d rather save my ammo to shoot at the War on Drugs.Report

  10. Ryan Davidson says:

    I’m with Freddie: throw open the borders, instantly deport anyone here illegally, and sue the everliving daylights out of employers who hire illegals.Report

  11. Quiddity says:

    I don’t like illegal or legal immigration. Too many workers dilutes their economic power. Also, let’s get back to tariffs against countries that employ low-wage labor.

    Competition between nations that pay their workers well is fine. Then you’re dealing with competitive advantages based on (a) geography (b) worker skills (c) productive capacity of the factory. That’s fair.

    I don’t understand how so many “liberals” are fine with free trade and immigration (especially H1B). It’s as if they care about workers outside the U.S. at the expense of domestic labor. Why not care about those on the low end of the economic ladder here first.Report

    • Pat Cahalan in reply to Quiddity says:

      > Too many workers dilutes their economic power.

      No, too many workers dilute their political power, it’s an important distinction.

      > Also, let’s get back to tariffs against countries that employ low-wage labor.

      Generally, trade wars don’t work out. In the long run, if you want a country to have a stable internal economy (so that they can employ their own citizens), locking them out of your trade simply causes their economy to shrink, which eliminates their middle class and increases their expatriate rate (it also causes political instability). While I agree that there are some times when levels of tariffs are necessary, you need to be very careful that you’re not actually making the problem worse (and you usually are).

      > It’s as if they care about workers outside the U.S. at the expense
      > of domestic labor.

      It’s pretty much a given that as the world economy goes, so goes the world economy. If you make things suck elsewhere, it effects you. Worker’s rights are worker’s rights everywhere.Report

  12. Quiddity says:

    I would be interested in Freddie’s opinion of the recent New York Times editorial that decried the action against a clothing firm in Los Angeles. 1,800 jobs now “lost” (presumably to be filled now by legal workers). What say you? (as you could infer from my previous post, I totally disagree with the NYTimes)Report