The recent Arizona law encouraging stricter enforcement of immigration law has led to a huge national debate.

Forget about the Arizona law for a few minutes.  Set aside the issue of how to find (or potentially deport) illegal aliens, and just consider the results of the current situation in the United States.

Here’s my question about illegal immigration — why are people who are anti-sweatshop in Asia so pro-illegal immigrant?  Why are liberals who are so pro-union and pro-workers’ rights so pro-illegal immigrant?

A lot of anti-immigration folks try to focus on all the supposed negative impacts on Americans: loss of jobs, more crime, public benefits paid to illegals who aren’t contributing, etc.  But what about thinking about the perspective of the immigrant from a basic human rights perspective?

A company or person who hires illegal aliens has two options — do it secretly or do it officially (using false documents, etc.).

Hiring someone secretly means you can do anything to that person.  You don’t have to obey minimum wage laws.  You don’t have to provide any benefits.  You don’t need to provide a safe working environment.  In essence, you can treat the person as awful as you’d like, and they have absolutely no mechanism to complain.  But they may be willing to do it if it’s better than their situation in Mexico or wherever.  If we allow such a situation to exist and even promote it, aren’t we going against all the liberal goals and benefits from worker safety, a guaranteed living wage, etc. through unions (which couldn’t exist in such a situation)?

(Note: Many labor unions have recently attempted to recruit illegal immigrants, much to the consternation of many rank-and-file union members.  While there have been some successful alliances between unions and illegal immigrants, the very nature of being undocumented means that many such workers may be more hesitant to participate in union activities, and many workers — particularly those working alone, in small companies, or in occupations that aren’t traditionally unionized — may not even know of unions that could help them.  Moreover, even if unions can perhaps get workers decent working conditions and a living wage, how many undocumented employees would be willing to take action on a more specific or personal problem — like harassment at the workplace or discrimination, for example?  It’s hard to lodge a complaint under federal rights when one’s very existence in the country is a violation of federal law.)

And this doesn’t even deal with the actual indebted servitude experienced by some immigrants.  This is a larger problem from immigration elsewhere, but even a number of cases involving Mexican traffickers have been prosecuted, for example, where women were forced into prostitution to cover the tens of thousands of dollars they were charged to be transported into the U.S.  Being “illegal,” what recourse do they have?

Okay, but say immigrants are hired officially using falsified information — at least they are generally guaranteed a minimum wage and reasonably safe working conditions.  And yet, isn’t this still a problem?

Generally, the pro-illegal camp says “Well, these are jobs that Americans wouldn’t want anyway.”  With current unemployment, I’m not sure about that, but let’s assume that Americans wouldn’t be willing to pick fruit or clean toilets or whatever for minimum wage.

Why is that true?  Perhaps the job is damn hard work, perhaps expectations are too high, perhaps there are no benefits, or perhaps the work is a little dangerous or whatever.

So, instead, an undocumented worker is hired “officially” through forged documents.  While that person is still getting a better situation than someone hired under the table, they may still be working really hard for minimal money — in fact, most Americans might be unwilling to do that kind of work for that money because it actually borders on the “sweatshop” scenario.

But what recourse do those workers have?  They can’t complain.  If they do, they can be replaced by another illegal worker who is in a worse-off state and willing to work.  They can’t make any complaints against an employer for safety violations, sexual harassment, or any other normal violation for workers’ rights — anything that would draw attention to the employer would risk exposing the illegal status.  Even if they are on the books, they could be forced to work illegal overtime with no benefits, etc.  And what recourse do they have?  Sure, if they can find a better employer willing to employ someone with questionable papers, they can move jobs — but there will probably be another immigrant willing to take that place.

In effect, the fact that Americans who are actually unemployed are unwilling to take such jobs should signal something: maybe there’s something “wrong” with those jobs.  Maybe those workers should be paid more, given better benefits, etc. for their hard work.  But that will never happen if there is a continuous stream of undocumented workers who are willing to take such positions — regardless of how they might be abused — and who have no recourse to complain.

How can people from a political party that recognizes the benefits that unions have brought to American workers sanction a situation that effectively encourages employers to try to get away with as much as they can?

Now, obviously there are a lot of illegal workers who have perfectly reasonable jobs.  But isn’t the only advantage for supporting actual illegal immigration to create sweatshops?  If we really wanted these same people to actually be employed in the U.S. and be contributing members of society, wouldn’t the correct response be to raise the number of worker visas, accepted applications for citizenship, and such for legal workers, rather than simply ignoring the illegal problem?

We have some cities actually requiring companies in their cities to consider hiring illegal immigrants, and federal lawsuits brought by such companies trying to avoid such a situation.  Shouldn’t we actually be putting employers in jail for knowingly employing such workers, which creates a situation ripe for abuse?

I’m really confused about this.  Doesn’t a pro-illegal immigration policy effectively endorse a kind of modern corporate “slave class” in the U.S.?  Yes, they have their freedom (and are thus not technically slaves), but if they want work, they are pretty much forced to take what’s given to them.  Various studies and reports have tracked the squalid living conditions many illegal immigrants suffer through to avoid detection or simply because their menial wages don’t allow them to afford anything better.

To avoid looking racist, aren’t liberals overlooking serious bad effects of illegal status?  Aside from Bush’s short-lived proposal to give amnesty, I’ve seen very few liberals actually proposing ways to make more legal immigrants.  Instead, the focus mostly seems to be on providing various benefits and such to illegal immigrants.  Why do that, rather than focus on legalization — unless you really just want to promote various abuses?

Or do we really want to believe the argument that such jobs are better than what they have in Mexico?  And if we’re willing to accept that workers can effectively be abused because they are willing to do it, is it really that much different from sweatshops in China or elsewhere?  Studies have demonstrated that allowing such conditions (in other countries) tends to lower overall wages and working conditions in a country — isn’t that perhaps part of the reason behind an increased bifurcation between lower and middle class in the U.S. these days?

I’m actually seriously wondering this.  By ignoring (and even tacitly promoting) illegal immigration, are we actually lowering the human rights standard of our American society?

Those who target the Arizona law are focused on the wrong thing.  Unless we change federal law and policy to encourage more legal immigrants and to severely punish those organizations that make illegal immigration possible and sustain it, we’re encouraging the creation of an underclass that isn’t regulated and isn’t subject to the minimum standard of living that liberals fought so hard to achieve in minimum-wage legislation, worker safety, etc.

Arizona’s approach may not be the best, but at least it’s taking the problem seriously.  Here I’ve focused only on the employment issue, but those who lack proper documents may also be afraid to seek proper health-care, education, etc.  Punishing abusive employers may seem to be a start, but even if they have decent jobs, persons with “illegal” status are still forced to live apart in various ways.  Illegal immigration is a problem and a threat to maintaining a standard of basic human rights in the United States.  There are a number of potential solutions, but ignoring the problem or even tacitly promoting it is not actually in line with liberal ideals.