Illegal immigration and the supply and price of labor

Editor's note: The following comment by "Zak J." appeared on an earlier post, and it's rather thought-provoking, so we decided to pull it up here for further conversation. Discuss.

I don't see how anyone can claim to be pro-Union, pro-Worker, and pro-Illegal Immigration at the same time.

Turning a blind eye to those who hire illegal immigrants while talking tough about arresting the immigrants themselves has been the Republican strategy at least since Reagan. It is so because centering enforcement only on the immigrants creates a large, permanent underclass of people with no rights and no recourse to law or collective bargaining. Large numbers of illegals break the ability of unions to collectively bargain for better wages, benefits, and a seat at the table. And that's the Republican plan.

Sure, we need legal immigrants, and we can argue over how many, but the system we have now of letting people in and letting employers hire them without legal protections is a form of slavery. Or is there another reason so many immigrants get less than minimum wage? This is why the Republicans want to bust the workers and let the employers off the hook--oligarchs like slaves.

It is unfortunate that the racial/ethnic issues surrounding immigration distract progressives from having a discussion on how to craft policies that best benefit the majority of Americans without fear of appearing racist.

Comments

  • KISS (unverified)
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    Straight from Lou Dobbs. I couldn't agree more. If employers were fined for hiring illegals the problem would go away. We all know that globalization is another word for sweat shops and poverty for workers.

  • Righty (unverified)
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    It's no wonder that the farmers, meat-packing companies, contractors, road crew, builders, landscaping companies, and other businesses don't want to hinder illegal immigration.

    Without recourse to the laws, illegal immigrants work for substandard pay in substandard conditions. They also lower the wages and benefits for the rest of us.

    I agree with the article. Illegal immigration is bad for the US worker. This is why I am always so surprised when the unions oppose restrictions or attempts to reduce illegal immigration. Who do they represent?

  • Bill R. (unverified)
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    The repugs speak out of two sides of their mouth. Illegal immigration comes from illegal employment. Dry that up and there is no job market for the illegals to come to. The Busheviks have basically stopped all enforcement of illegal employment. Saxton and his repug friends want to fan flames of racism but doesn't want to enforce laws to stop illegal employment. Fences won't keep illegals out. Closing down the market for illegal employment will.

  • Dan Petegorsky (unverified)
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    This past weekend I was fortunate to hear a panel on immigration as part of Social Justice Fund Northwest’s annual dinner up in Seattle. The most thought provoking panelist was columnist and Democracy Now! co-host Juan Gonzalez.

    In response to a question that asked, in essence, “so, what, you think we should just have open borders?” Gonzalez presented a far more nuanced discussion of the issues than we get most often these days. His take home points were:

    1) “Free trade” regimes like NAFTA have established an economic zone in our hemisphere that allows for the free flow of capital but still attempts to criminalize the flow of labor that is a direct result. Given the enormous labor dislocations in Mexico and southwards, labor will inevitably flow towards higher paying job markets.

    2) In other areas that have created unified markets (such as the European Union), the free flow of labor is part of the equation. Here it is not. What’s more, Gonzalez noted that the U.S.-Mexican border is about the only one in the world between a “first world” and “third world” country – and needs to be treated as a special case.

    I mention this because while “Zak J”’s comments make a compelling argument in one respect, they still don’t address the roots of the current problem, and reinforce punitive approaches. I take no comfort in one reader’s reply that he sounds just like Lou Dobbs – nor, I think, should other progressive readers.

    Just a few years ago (February, 2000) the AFL-CIO made an historic decision to support amnesty for undocumented workers. And they and immigrant rights organizers tended to see proposals for “guest worker” programs as an insidious return to the widely discredited Bracero program that brought temporary workers from Mexico to work on the railroads and in the agricultural industry from 1942-1964.

    Now, however, immigrants, refugees and their allies are whipsawed between contrasting forces: white nationalists and other right wing and nativist groups (sorry, Zak - describing race as a distraction in a discussion of immigration in the U.S. is just whacky), politicians who are scapegoating immigrants to mobilize their base and build their strength, and the corporate base of the Republican Party who, like the President, understand the economy’s continuing reliance on low-wage workers who have no power to bargain for the kinds of wages and working conditions that are, at least theoretically, protected under U.S. law.

    The current framing of the issue, which Zak’s argument buys into, is a zero sum game: an either/or equation in which any gains or benefits that accrue to “illegal” immigrants are portrayed as coming at the expense of “legal” low-wage workers, under funded schools and social services, etc. This is exactly why the issue has become such an effective wedge issue – and it also pits progressive constituencies against one another. I don’t think it’s ultimately very helpful to reinforce this kind of “us against them” when the “us” and “them” are the lowest rung workers on the economic ladder. At least that’s not how I define solidarity.

  • Sponge (unverified)
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    This is exactly why Cesar Chavez marched to the Mexican border, in 1969, decrying illegal immigration: the illegal laborers were being used as pawns to bust the unions.

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    I think Dan has it exactly right. I'd like to point out another flaw in Zak's reasoning.

    Zak claims that "[l]arge numbers of illegals break the ability of unions to collectively bargain for better wages, benefits, and a seat at the table." That kind of statement sorely misplaces the blame. What has broken unions' ability to collectively bargain in this country over the last generation has been (1) a vast concatenation of antiunion policy decisions by Republican administrations, and (2) an active and vicious strikebreaking movement encouraged by those decision, sponsored by major corporations, and spreading like a virus through dedicated consultants, law firms, and out-and-out thugs who travel the country attacking unions for a living.

    Immigrants are caught in the crossfire that has decimated the union movement as a result of these causes. Making common cause with them is a strategy for self-defense that unions and other labor-oriented progressives would be wise to adopt sooner than later.

  • Phil Jones (unverified)
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    It seems both Republicans and Democrats encourage illegal immigration. Republicans hire them and Democrats enable them by providing state benefits and assistance.

    We need leadership that has the moral spine to enforce existing laws and discourage the rising tide of illegal opportunists. Kulongoski has proven, through years of inaction, he is unwilling to enforce the laws he is sworn to execute. Mary Starrett would crack down on illegals, but she is too extreme in other areas. IMO, that leaves Ron Saxton as the only viable choice. At least he is pledging to do something to turn them around.

    Illegal immigration is causing huge problems here and in other states. Our crime rate has skyrocketed and our schools are suffering due to the huge number of illegal aliens that has established roots in Oregon. I hope our next Governor doesn't allow Oregon to succumb to the pressures of opportunism the way California has. Down there, it's a lost cause.

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    Phil's post is sloganeering at its worst. Not only does it falsely place blame for what Phil perceives as the problem of illegal immigration on the state government, ignoring federal preeminence on the issue, it tosses around spurious claims about crime rates and school problems being somehow linked with immigrants' fates without any tissue of a citation to a source. Do we need blind immigrant-bashing here?

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    Phil, quit spreading total untruths: "Our crime rate has skyrocketed"

    Utterly, unbelievably, 180-degrees false.

    Go back to Reagan's amnesty year, 1986. Violent crime index was 550 incidents per 100,000 inhabitants. Property crime index was 6,531 per.

    Fast forward to 2005: Violent crime index, 287; property index, 4,400.

    So let's see: crime in Oregon "skyrocketed" since the last immigrant amnesty, to the tune of a whopping 48% reduction in violent crime, and 33% decrease in property crime. Yeah, the illegals are creating a fucking OK Corral out here! :rolleyes:

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    Phil Jones: It seems both Republicans and Democrats encourage illegal immigration. Republicans hire them and Democrats enable them by providing state benefits and assistance.

    It may seem that way to you Phil, but only because you've been catapaulted by the Republican propaganda. Nearly every law on the books contains a provision limiting benefits to citizens and legal residents. What Republicans call "providing benefits to illegal aliens" is the practice of providing benefits to American born children of illegal immigrants. Those children are, of course, American citizens because of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

    I find it quite interesting that illegal immigration's destruction of the American economy and the American worker is suddenly such a hot topic. Back in the 1990s, when Democrats were in office, we also had illegal immigration. But it didn't seem to damage our economy then.

    So what else changed between then and now?

  • LT (unverified)
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    There are a number of factors at work, many of them listed above.

    There are also other forces. A store in our neighborhood became employee owned, and some of the staff there said one reason was because the union they'd belonged to before the employee buyout had become rather insufferable (telling the employees what they wanted rather than asking---sadly a problem common to more organizations than some would like to admit--leadership telling members what they want rather than a dialogue).

    Bureauracy is bureaucracy, and unions are like any organization: some excellent people and some who are not.

    Even some former NAFTA supporters are now saying it is time to evaluate what we have (and if promises came true) before any new trade agreements.

    Anyone who has been downsized by a corporation can tell you that often it seems no one of any persuasion seems to care about such people unless they can be made part of a larger political story.

    There are Democrats who have not been members of unions (working part time, temp jobs, or for small employers), so don't make this a debate about "what the unions want". The story is a lot bigger than that. I do agree with the first part of Righty's remarks: It's no wonder that the farmers, meat-packing companies, contractors, road crew, builders, landscaping companies, and other businesses don't want to hinder illegal immigration. Without recourse to the laws, illegal immigrants work for substandard pay in substandard conditions. They also lower the wages and benefits for the rest of us.

    Saxton's latest flier says STATE workers should be documented as legal to work here, doesn't say anything about private sector workers. That says volumes about his stand on the issue. If he buys produce from a farm, or has landscaping done, or patronizes a restaurant or a hotel, it is OK if those workers are undocumented as long as all state workers are legal workers? Exactly how does that fit into his version of what is best for Oregon?

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    If he buys produce from a farm, or has landscaping done, or patronizes a restaurant or a hotel...

    ...or has some cherries picked.

  • Ross Williams (unverified)
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    This is exactly why Cesar Chavez marched to the Mexican border, in 1969, decrying illegal immigration: the illegal laborers were being used as pawns to bust the unions.

    Cesar decried the habit of the Immigration Service of turning a blind eye to illegal immigrants who worked as strikebreakers. He also decried their habit of regularly harassing union workers, both legal and illegal, on ranches that were organized. The problem for organizing was not really worker's status, but the fact that the Immigration Service in rural California operated as an extension of the growers. I suspect that hasn't changed much where the local immigration officers are the sons and daughters of the local ranchers.

    Criminalizing illegal immigrants with punitive measures isn't going to solve the problem which is that there is a huge disparity in opportunity between Mexico and the United States. But strictly enforcing laws against hiring illegals would both help American workers by forcing up wages on undesirable jobs and reduce the number of workers who can successfully stay here without proper documents.

    Right now you are more likely to get a speeding ticket for going 5 miles over the speed limit in rural eastern oregon than you are to get fined for hiring someone illegally. Republicans focus on immigrants is just a diversion from the real criminals who happen to be, mostly Republican, employers. Its kind of the same approach they take to pedophilia.

  • Ross Williams (unverified)
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    This is exactly why Cesar Chavez marched to the Mexican border, in 1969, decrying illegal immigration: the illegal laborers were being used as pawns to bust the unions.

    Cesar decried the habit of the Immigration Service of turning a blind eye to illegal immigrants who worked as strikebreakers. He also decried their habit of regularly harassing union workers, both legal and illegal, on ranches that were organized. The problem for organizing was not really worker's status, but the fact that the Immigration Service in rural California operated as an extension of the growers. I suspect that hasn't changed much where the local immigration officers are the sons and daughters of the local ranchers.

    Criminalizing illegal immigrants with punitive measures isn't going to solve the problem which is that there is a huge disparity in opportunity between Mexico and the United States. But strictly enforcing laws against hiring illegals would both help American workers by forcing up wages on undesirable jobs and reduce the number of workers who can successfully stay here without proper documents.

    Right now you are more likely to get a speeding ticket for going 5 miles over the speed limit in rural eastern oregon than you are to get fined for hiring someone illegally. Republicans focus on immigrants is just a diversion from the real criminals who happen to be, mostly Republican, employers. Its kind of the same approach they take to pedophilia.

  • BlueNote (unverified)
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    Short of building a "Berlin Wall" style of border between Mexico and the US, including all the shoot-to-kill guard towers, killer dogs, mine fields, etc., there is nothing that can be done to stop immigration across the southern border and I am not even sure we should try. Once upon a time, we were all insulated from foreign competition. Beaver, Wally, Ward and June lived happily without the threat of cut-throat discount stores, outsourcing, etc. Those days ended about 30 years ago. Progressives and Democrats need to adapt to the modern competitive global economy, not try to recapture the good old days. We need a single payer health care system, a social safety net to protect against hunger, homelessness and old age, and we need an educational system that can successfully train US citizens to compete against the world. Anything less is just fiddling while Rome burns.

  • Zak J. (unverified)
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    Short of building a "Berlin Wall" style of border between Mexico and the US, including all the shoot-to-kill guard towers, killer dogs, mine fields, etc., there is nothing that can be done to stop immigration across the southern border and I am not even sure we should try.

    No one said anything about stopping immigration. The discussion is about illegal immigration. There's a big difference: legals are potential citizens with full rights and protections; illegals are slaves subject to abuses and exploitation in an underground shadow world.

    We cannot maintain a functioning society if we all decide to pick and choose which laws we will and won't obey. Or haven't we learned that from the current administration yet?

  • superscalar (unverified)
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    'Gonzalez noted that the U.S.-Mexican border is about the only one in the world between a “first world” and “third world” country – and needs to be treated as a special case.'

    While it may suit Mr. Gonzalez' purposes to speak of Mexico as a “third world” country, this is far from the truth. The per capita of Mexico is $ 9,600, the per capita GDP of India is $571. The corruption of the Mexican government mirrors that of a third world dictatorship I will grant you, but Mexico is no third world country.

    Additionally, as to the the fact that many Mexican citizens work for the equivalent of five dollars a day is nothing new. Mexican citizens have been working for the equivalent of less than five dollars a day for about fifty years now. What is occurring now, and has been occurring for twenty years, is the wholesale exportation of Mexico's poor and uneducated to this country. The (then) INS did a study ten years after IRCA which found that the average amnestied immigrant had a seventh grade education and made $9000 per year.

    'Just a few years ago (February, 2000) the AFL-CIO made an historic decision to support amnesty for undocumented workers.'

    For what reasons did the AFL-CIO make this decision? I think a strong case can be made that the leadership of the AFL-CIO made this decision solely in their own self interest, e.g. they see this as a means to add to union roles, and thus line their own pockets and assure there own grip on power. I would be interested to find out if the AFL-CIO put this to a vote of their current union membership.

    'who have no power to bargain for the kinds of wages and working conditions that are, at least theoretically, protected under U.S. law.'

    How, as a progressive, does one advocate for increasing the supply of low skilled low wage workers into job sectors which are already seeing unemployment at rates hovering around ten percent? How can one in good conscience say 'we are going drastically increase the supply of labor, and then we are going to bargain for better wages and working conditions'? Seems to me this a case of putting the cart before the horse.

    'a zero sum game: an either/or equation in which any gains or benefits that accrue to “illegal” immigrants are portrayed as coming at the expense of “legal” low-wage workers, under funded schools and social services, etc.'

    Again, how can one increase the supply of labor into largely specific job sectors with the expectation that all of the results are going to be positive? The argument that intrigues me the most at the present time comes from the quasi open borders advocates who will state that wage suppression is not occurring as a result of illegal immigration, and at the same time will state that employers are paying illegal immigrants less, and employers are exploiting illegal immigrants. Somehow seeing no conflict in these statements.

    'Now, however, immigrants, refugees and their allies'

    With this statement you self identify as one who, by default, is advocating for opening the borders as you create a false equivalence between that person who has waited in their own country, for perhaps years, to emigrate to this country and that person who has jumped over I-15 between Tijuana and San Diego. Your statement would identify both cases as 'immigrants'. Does this false analogy serve any other purpose beyond clouding the discussion?

    '(sorry, Zak - describing race as a distraction in a discussion of immigration in the U.S. is just whacky)'

    I agree. When 56% of illegal immigration is coming from Mexico, and fully 82% of illegal immigration is coming through our southern border, at some point any attempts to keep race or ethnicity out of the discussion are going to fail.

  • Ross Williams (unverified)
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    how can one increase the supply of labor

    But in fact, there is no increase in the legal supply of labor. It is only because employers break the law by hiring workers that effects the labor supply.

    What we have here is a problem of criminal American employers who flout the law and a Republican administration that refuses to go after them.

    You might as well blame child labor on children. We have an almost endless supply of child labor available. Maybe we should start arresting children who illegally mow lawns or sell lemonade in competition with legal labor.

  • superscalar (unverified)
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    'Maybe we should start arresting children who illegally mow lawns or sell lemonade in competition with legal labor.'

    With all respect, this is the same logic that some of my brethern in Democratic Party are currently using. They create the victim and then hold them up and shout 'don't blame the victim'.

    When an illegal immigrant commits as many as three class three felonies in order to obtain documentation to work in this country, and then attests on an I9 form, with the penalty of another class three felony perjury charge, that they are either a US citizen or working in this country legally, it is very hard for an otherwise fairly liberal Democrat to see them as 'victims'. It is also very hard for me to get really upset when people start screaming 'your treating them like criminals'. Well duhhhh.

    By the way, you remember the I9 form right? It was the form that was supposed to end illegal immigration. It's the same form that has the big box on it that says:

    'I am aware that federal law provides for imprisonment and/or fines for statements or use of false documents in connection with the completion of this form'.

    Right next to the box that says:

    'I attest, under penalty of perjury that I am

    • A citizen of the United States
    • A lawful Permanent Resident Alien
    • An alien authorized to work until _
  • je (unverified)
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    Interesting discussion. Republicans have their divisions, as much as you may like to believe not all have horns and forked tails. Democrats have their divisions, as much as Republicans may like to believe not all have socialistic dogma in favor of open borders.

    May men and women of good will find our agreements and move America forword as one Nation, one union now and forever unseparable.

  • Steve (unverified)
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    There are a number of factors at work here.

    Oregon's crime reduction is a direct result of M11 mandatory sentencing which Blues are opposed to as much as unforcing our immigration laws.

    Utterly, unbelievably, 180-degrees false is the notion that Ted Kulongoski is in favor of reducing illegalimmigration or that he doesn't control the DMV.

    I read that 39 other states require proof of legal status to get a drivers license or register to vote. Governor Kulongoski is the governor. He's supposed to lead.

    If he hasn't noticed the countless Oregonians who want this problem dealt with he should resign immediately. Buy he has and choses to remain disconnected from the masses who he fails to represent.

    He's got to go.

  • Chuck Butcher (unverified)
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    Race, oh yes the racist xenophobia card, this is way too lame. You bet there are racists and xenophobes opposing any brown skinned foreign language speaking person, that would be true if they had all the documentation in the world. So what exactly does that answer about flooding a segment of the employment market? What exactly does punishing blue collar workers for the elite's passage of NAFTA have to do with anything sensible? How exactly can one expect any American to forget the corruption of the governments that feed us the illegals? Excuse it by blaming Bush for being corrupt? Yes, he and his ilk are corrupt and that's our problem, Mexico, et al are their problem, using the US as a safety valve only encourages their corruption - it succeeds.

    Onward and upward to the corrupt cheating lying bastards that hire illegally. Fine them senseless and if that doesn't get through, felony jail them. Which part of this is not getting through? These folks dislocate the market while abusing their labor. I have to compete with them, I know what they're doing and what I'd like to do about it is illegal. But here's the kicker, they hire illegal aliens, get that part? Both parties are the problem and both parties have to be addressed. I've got a drawer full of govt paperwork on my hires, I have to, by law, and I'll be damned if I'll be a part of the problem rather than a part of the solution. But you have to understand something, each year my household gets hurt a little worse by this crap and my workers don't get adequate raises because of this. I have no place to go to get that money, I have to charge the market rate for my work.

    I make do with fewer employess and pay them poorly and I work more hours to make up for liars and cheats and Mexico's corrupt rotten government. Sounds like a winner to me, we ought to do everything we can to make up for our plutocrat's enrichment and the sorry state of foreign governments.

    I'll just go ahead and speak plainly (oh I know..), Gonzalez's nuances are entirely too nuanced for me, bullshit - more accurately. Mexico's problems are Mexico's - not US construction worker's, Mexico's problems are entirely of their own making. They have all the requirements of success except one - a decent government. Third world country is scarcely the description I'd apply to a resource rich, climate favored nation, there's another obvious problem. NAFTA - I know how that one went, all the blue collar labor force of the US armed itself and held those nations hostage until they signed - for the obvious reason that they were tired of working and didn't want decent wages. Criminalized labor??? What the hell is that about? George II and his cronies are doing everything they can to create a nation of serfs and lords and Gonzalez's proposal is to help them out? The clapped out wages paid now are a huge improvement over what's available at home, the labor flood's depression of those wages will still leave them superior so they'll still come, until parity is achieved - that's surely something to aspire to. You don't get to join the EU unless you meet certain economic standards, this is a straw man argument. I watch and enjoy FSTV, but that doesn't mean that their appellation of Free Speech doesn't mean it doesn't contain crap as well as great stuff. C'mon, this is a great site with great Contributors and readers, and sometimes absolute nonsense (sure, you can include me).

    Now, let's look at something that seems to get lost in the whole argument. There is a segment of these illegal hires that happen for the simple reason that too many others do it to be able to compete without doing it. Construction is fast approaching that zone, 30+% of working illegals work in construction, that's a big number, but for percentage of workers it's not huge, agriculture is another story, the percentage of workers who are illegal is huge and if you don't do it, you're screwed. A blanket approach is what will work, piecemeal will only result in avoidance and ruin. Not dealing with those already here will result in the same thing that RR's Amnesty resulted in, the halfway decent bluecollar jobs will be flooded and wages stagnant or depressed. Check the stats, RR's amnesty killed construction wages, the Amnesty workers promptly got out of the crap jobs they were stuck in, and moved up flooding the next market up.

    For a lot of you this is just theory, I live it every day, we get robbed every day and there's not squat to be done about it. Fainting liberals want to pet heads and robber barons run the govt, I'd rather be robbed at gunpoint. I've been trying to do something for 15 years, and here I am listening to the same tired arguments about "do nothing" and "it's our fault" and "you're a racist pig." Keeerist, the damn statistics are available, the govt will let you see them, check them out for yourselves, just remember that they are conservative - lack of real data.

  • Phil Jones (unverified)
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    Unfortunately, the state crime statistics do not show the numerous unreported and unsolved crimes the illegal aliens commit such as DUII, Hit & Run, Illegal Drug Trafficking, etc. All one has to do is read the daily newspapers to see how these insidious crimes have increased since the invasion of the illegals has gained momentum.

  • je (unverified)
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    The crime rate has gone down sure, but the percentage of illegal aliens has gone up. Yes, it could be just that illegal aliens gross number has gone up, so their percentage of crime has stayed the same, but who cares when 30% of inmates in the Marion County Jail are illegal when 10% plus are in Marion County's population-their crime rate exceeds their percentage in the population. So less illegals mean less crime.

    Also, remember property crimes are high too, and who brings meth over the border, which fuels property crimes.

    Finally, yes, punish employers who knowingly hire illegal aliens, which depress blue collar wages, that from an evil Republican.

  • je (unverified)
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    I was in error in regards to the jail statistics as follows: one, those are old, from several years ago; two, those are for Hispanics in general, but my base assumption is that citizens and legal immigrant Hispanics have the same crime percentages as the rest of the legal population. So my contention is that illegal aliens explain the reason why Hispanics exceed their general percentage of the population when it comes to jail population. Thus my original assertion remains true that illegal aliens are disproportionately responsible for crime. Quite possibly illegals are even more responsible for crime than what my orignal comment suggested.

  • Stephen Amy (unverified)
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    Dan Petergorsky has it exactly right (as someone else, too, has posted).

    Call me unpatriotic, but I have as much concern for Latino workers, wherever they're from and whatever their status, as I do for American workers.

    I think the effort should focus on unionizing all workers in America, whatever their status, which would mean some major change in law. The IWW is inclined toward this approach.

    <h2>And the effort to improve opportunity to unionize in other countries should go ahead, too.</h2>
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