Bush League Efficiency

After Katrina, Iraq and the VA Hospital scandal, trust us on immigration

Frank Talk

by Frank Cagle

Late last summer, before congressional elections, a law was passed to build a fence along the Mexican border. I told you at the time it was a farce, because no money was appropriated to build it, and that President Bush had no intention of doing so. It was a pre-election stunt that didn't fool anybody.

It is the kind of cynical action that has destroyed Congress' and the president's credibility on border security. It's why no one believes the current â“comprehensiveâ” immigration bill will lead to increased border security. Bush and Sen. Lindsey Graham have observed that opponents of the bill are un-American and bigots. They also declare over and over it is not amnesty for 12 million illegal immigrants because the path to citizenship requires several arduous steps, including a fine.

What they don't talk about is that all illegals will, overnight, get documentation in the form of a temporary visa that makes them legal. If it's not amnesty to make 12 million illegals legal overnight, then what is it?

I live in a farming community and have lived around migrant Mexican workers for more than a decade. I have seen river bottom land in Cocke, Grainger and Jefferson County that used to produce $400 an acre in corn be turned into vegetable crops, like tomatoes, that can generate up to $20,000 an acreâ"if you catch the market and the weather doesn't kill you.

The availability of Mexican labor has created and expanded a new farm economy in East Tennessee. As these workers have moved to town they have become the backbone of area construction firms, landscapers and the food service industry.

I have seen with my own eyes the economic benefits of this labor on our community, and one assumes it has been the same in Georgia carpet mills, Iowa packing houses and Alabama cotton fields.

What we have to ask ourselves is what kind of country we want to be and whether we are trading short term economic gain for long term social upheaval.

The idea that opposition to the immigration bill means the alternative is deporting 12 million people is a false choice. What concerns most of us is making all the illegals legal before the border is secure. That is an invitation for a wave of new illegal immigration.

We also doubt the ability of the Bush administration to properly manage a massive influx of 12 million people into the immigration system. Given the management of Katrina, the war in Iraq and the operation of VA hospitals what gives anyone any confidence in the government to manage this looming fiasco?

Get control of the border. Then we'll talk about what to do with those already here. They didn't get here overnight, and there is no need to remove them or make them legal overnight. It will be a long process involving workplace enforcement, deportation of criminals and working on a path to citizenship.

Putting these people ahead of the line of legal immigrants (which the government seems to have trouble handling already) is just not fair.

There is also the issue of what an illegal workforce is doing to wages. I will grant you it was hard for farmers to find tomato pickers without Mexican workers. But Americans have been willing and able to do construction jobs, work in carpet mills and in the meat packing industry.

Big business loves illegal immigration. If you are illegal you don't complain if your wages get shorted. If the workplace isn't safe, you don't go complaining to the government. If the packing plant is nasty, you don't tell the FDA.

The Southern Poverty Law Center, hardly a front for conservative causes, has documented abuses within the legal guest worker program. Of the 121,000 â“guest workersâ” brought to this country in 2005, they found hundreds of cases of workers being cheated on their wages, held in captivity, living in squalid conditions and not receiving medical treatment for on-the-job injuries.

Democratic Congressman Charles Rangel, a leader of the Black Caucus, is quoted in the report as saying: â“This guest worker program is the closest thing I've ever seen to slavery.â” Is Rangel a bigot? The guest worker program is a return to Colonial America and indentured servitude.

Pass a realistic bill to control the border, and then we can talk.

CORRECTION: Last week I made the point that just because Riverside Tavern owes the city $85,000 in rent you could not assume it is 1 percent of one year and thus it grosses $8.5 million a year. I suggested it might be for two years. The city says the rent has accumulated over a six-year period. Because various expenses are deducted before arriving at the â“gross,â” no conclusion can be drawn from the $85,000 as to the actual yearly gross of the restaurant. The owners owe $5 million on the building.

Frank Cagle is a political analyst and the editor of Knoxville magazine. You can reach him at frank@frankcagle.com .

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