THE BLOG
05/18/2006 06:05 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Hell Yeah, I Support "Amnesty." Why Don't You?

Uggghh....the "jobs Americans won't do" meme will never die, but who am I to argue with anecdotal evidence?

Some economists say such accounts don't mean that Americans won't do some jobs, but that employers such as Gurney simply aren't paying enough.

"Every time someone says illegal immigrants take jobs from Americans or do jobs Americans don't want, I want to scream," UCLA economist Christopher Thornberg says.

This argument makes Smallwood want to scream herself. On a recent job that went into overtime, a Diversified Landscape foreman, Vincente Sanchez, was making $52.34 an hour.

"How high can you go?" she says.
. . .

Last week Smallwood wrote a flier that says she would pay $34 with experience and $14 without. The notice cautions that no application would be accepted "without verification of proper identification that allows you, by law, to work in the USA."

The flier is up in more than a dozen landscaping supply stores. So far, Smallwood says, there have been no calls.

It's times like these when I feel like the world has turned upside down in the last few years. After all, how else can you explain a situation in which conservatives are begging for government intervention in the economy and liberals (or at least some of us) are insisting that the laws of supply and demand should be allowed to resolve a situation?

The thing I find so damn frustrating about this never-ending argument is the fact that the "jobs Americans won't do" are jobs Americans did do, at least until employers figured out they could pay illegal immigrants less and not have to worry about getting in trouble for it. From what I've read, the massive influx of Mexican immigrants didn't pick up steam until the late 60's or early-70's, but it's not like we had self-picking fruit and lawns that didn't require mowing before then. The implication that Americans aren't willing to get their hands dirty and put in a honest day's work is not only factually incorrect, it's insulting as well.

And none of this is to denigrate the work ethic of immigrant laborers. I've been saying for years now that anyone who comes to this country to do manual labor for next to nothing has worked a lot harder to achieve the American dream than I'll ever have to, so if anyone's earned the right to pursue citizenship, it's them. If they're already here and working hard, why shouldn't they be allowed to become citizens and participate in all of the rights and responsibilities that come along with that?

Please spare me the hand-wringing about people who "skip to the front of the line". The reason there's a line in the first place is because the number of people we allow into the country is based on an arbitrary quota preference system that doesn't accurately reflect the number of people entering our country. If you're lucky enough to be one of the fraction of immigrants who are allowed to begin the path towards citizenship, the process for becoming a citizen is often prohibitively expensive and a bureaucratic nightmare. The naturalization process isn't indicative of the needs of our country or the immigrants themselves.

Which, in the toxic terms that define the current immigration debate, means that my position would be described in a sneering, Lou Dobbs-ian tone as "supporting amnesty". As conservatives work towards making the word "immigrant" synonymous with "criminal", this strawman argument is a way of modernizing the Willie Horton slur and broadening it to include almost every Spanish-speaking immigrant. If you support giving "illegal aliens" citizenship, you support criminals (unlike the God-fearing, flag-waving patriots in the Republican party). The racist subtext of this debate is starting to make itself clearer, but it's not like this is the first time the GOP has exploited racial tension in an election year.

Besides, there's a big difference between giving people who are already here a clear path to citizenship and granting citizenship to a large subset of our population automatically (a position I haven't heard anyone endorse). As far as I'm concerned, if they're already working here, we should be doing everything we can to further integrate them into our society, not cement their status as second-class citizens residents through a "guest worker" program that does nothing but cover the asses of employers who have been disregarding our nation's labor laws. If the President truly believes that immigrants are an essential part of our economy and are doing jobs that we "won't do", then there's no reason to exclude them from our American family.

Of course, the greatest irony is that the only halfway decent excuse for keeping immigrant laborers segregated from the rest of the working class is the faux-righteous outrage that the immigrants in question are "breaking the law". One wonders where these defenders of civic virtue have been over the past few years as the Bush Justice Department has made a deliberate effort to cut down on the enforcement of laws that make it a crime to hire undocumented workers. Apparently the only crimes worth shedding crocodile tears over are the ones committed by poor Mexicans. Perhaps we should take a cue from the Republican response to the President's own lawbreaking by working to bring immigrants' residency status back "within the scope of the law".

As I said above, my position is that we should expand our citizenship to more accurately reflect our population and ensure that the American dream is within the reach of anyone willing to work hard to achieve it. If you want to call that "amnesty", so be it, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't have a reasonable naturalization process, strong border security (at both borders), and increased enforcement of the laws that are already on the books. Of course, such an approach might put the needs of the working class and the nation's security ahead of those of lawbreaking businesses, and we can't have that.