In September 2003, when I was a candidate for California governor in the Recall Gray Davis special election, El Concilio of Stockton invited me to speak at its weekly luncheon.
I was happy to have the chance to address a group of working-class Hispanics about immigration, an important aspect of my platform. I believed then, and believe even more greatly today, that immigration is the nation's most pressing social issue.
Toward the end of my talk, I asked the audience of about 50 people to explain to me in what specific way they as individuals benefit from continued, unregulated immigration.
Most had jobs; did they want more people coming into the country who would perform those jobs for lower wages?
The majority had children in public school; did they want more children competing with their own for precious teacher time?
Some were social service recipients recipients; did they think those services would be available indefinitely and as abundantly if more people kept tapping into them?
No one answered my question. But I think they all knew the obvious: no one individually gains.
If you own a business in the service sector or construction, you want more immigration.
But the average person loses from unchecked immigration.
Now that the Senate is considering a massive amnesty and a huge increase in guest worker programs and special work visas, I'll ask my question again: does the proposed Senate legislation work to the collective good of the
American people? Or is it tailored for special business interests who will profit handsomely from more cheap labor.
As Lodians engage in their own personal debates about the highly charged immigration bills before Congress, they should keep in mind what is generally referred to as "the high cost of cheap labor."
I recommend two sources to anyone who wants to understand what is really at stake.
The first is an August 2004 Center for Immigration Studies report titled "The High Cost of Cheap Labor: Illegal Immigration and the Federal Budget."
The second, the Washington Post's column by Robert Samuelson, "We Don't Need Guest Workers."
According to the CIS report, since most of the illegal aliens currently in the workforce do not have a high school diploma, they only qualify for low paying jobs. That translates into low federal tax payments.
If however those same illegal aliens were granted amnesty, their salaries would remain low but, as citizens, they would qualify for many more government services.
CIS estimates that the current federal cost of illegal immigration is $10 billion annually. This total represents a net deficit -taxes paid vs. services used - of $2,700 per immigrant family.
An amnesty would triple the federal costs to $7,700 per household or $10 billion aggregate. The report does not include the fiscal burden to state and local governments.
Samuelson makes the same argument. His main premise is that all the guest worker proposals are bad ideas because they result in importing poverty.
To support his theory, Samuelson points to the increase in the number of Hispanic families with income below the poverty line ($19,300 in 2004 for a family of four) that has risen 162 percent. Non-Hispanic whites and blacks in poverty increased only 3 percent and 9.5 percent respectively.
Admitting hundreds of thousands of guest workers annually would add 30 million residents in a decade, worsen poverty and create greater inequality.
A couple of closing thoughts are worth your consideration, too.
First, the federal government has never been able to effectively administer any kind of immigration or non-immigration work program. Previous guest worker programs were rampant with fraud. No one ever went home; illegal immigration increased. The current Senate proposals guarantee more of the same.
Second, the three thousand illegal aliens who cross into the U.S. daily will keep coming until our borders are secure.
We've tried amnesty and guest worker programs; they failed to do what they promised.
The only thing the U.S has never seriously attempted is to secure our borders and enforce employer sanctions against businesses that hire illegal aliens.
Those are two ideas whose times have come.
Joe Guzzardi, an instructor at the Lodi Adult School, has been writing a weekly column since 1988. He can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com.
First published: Saturday, April 1, 2006