The government is reporting a huge uptick in the number of arrests in their efforts to crack down on illegal immigration. In 2004, there were only 845 arrests. In 2007, there were 4,940 arrests. Only 8 million more to go.
This is a farce, except for the families who are arbitrarily chosen to be made an example. It is telling that of the almost five thousand arrests last year, only 93 of them were of supervisors or managers in the companies that were knowingly hiring illegal workers. So, it is alright to arrest and deport Mexicans, but stay away from the employers who entice the Mexicans here in the first place.
The sad truth of the matter is that in our free market economy, there are some jobs that would never get filled if we did not hire undocumented workers. The agricultural sector and the construction industry are two areas where undocumented workers are disproportionately represented. The work is hard and/or sporadic. Undocumented workers will undertake it. Try hiring a full-time dishwasher in downtown D.C. or New York: Most of your applicants will not have proper papers.
High profile raids on Midwestern plants, raids that have netted several hundred arrests at one time, have not stemmed the flow of undocumented workers. These raids have succeeded only in disrupting the local communities, the schools and churches, the Little League teams. Sometimes the plants re-open quickly, other times not. The laws of supply and demand argue that the undocumented workforce will move, and move quickly, to some other line of work. Maybe the administration feels it is accomplishing something with these raids. But, it isn’t.
Securing America’s borders is an important task. Our nation should know who is here and who isn’t, and it should make it more difficult for criminal elements and terrorists to make it into America. But, half-hearted enforcement of immigration laws will not do the trick. As far as we know, there were no terrorists working at the meat packing plant in Iowa or the poultry plant in Arkansas when the government descended upon the workforce there. Nor will the much-discussed fence between Mexico and the United States stem the tide. Many undocumented workers enter the country legally, on a tourist visa, and then simply stay. The fence won’t stop that practice.
America has to come up with a sane immigration policy with both short-term and long-term goals. In the long-term, we need to bolster the economies of our neighbors to the south: People with good job prospects in their native lands will not feel the need to trek northward. In the short-term, we need to embrace a path to citizenship that does not so threaten the livelihood of the undocumented workers that they fail to come forward. This is not brain surgery. It just requires courage. And, what it does not require is 4,940 arbitrary arrests of people who are merely trying to provide for their families. Our government should be ashamed of itself, and so should the rest of us.
Michael Sean Winters