Dear Ethicist: I have a strong suspicion that my landscaper Manuel gave me forged Social Security paperwork. Moreover, I am increasingly convinced that he is, in fact, the "El Paso Strangler" who's responsible for almost 20 border murders this year. They sure do look identical, right down to the telltale parallel neck scars. Should I call the cops, or just turn a blind eye?
Randy Cohen: How dare you. How dare you sir. It must be nice, living in that comfortable house with the landscaped garden, sipping on Chardonnay and listening to the crackle of the fire - while all the time Manual stands out in the cold, performing back-breaking physical labor for slave wages, all so that you can have a manicured driveway. Shame on you. Do you KNOW that the documents were forged? You say he's a criminal - are you a criminal investigator by trade sir? You sicken me. A person risks life and limb to immigrate to this country, seeking nothing more than a honest job and a future for his family, and your only thought is to persecute him. Does his brown skin scare you? It does, doesn't it? Does it fracture the ediface of your sham of a house of cards of a blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah....
You see, one of Randy's common tropes is that we all should aid and abet illegal immigrants, underground railroad style. We should be out there setting up water tanks along their ingress routes. We should deliberately overlook fake paperwork. And of course we need to make everything available in espanol to ease their burden. And "ethically", what's his justification for the willful lawbreaking? Well, his argument is that an unjust law need not be obeyed, and our immigration law is unfair, cruel, and a shambles.
Let's consider. Yes, an unjust law can be righteously broken, but..... don't you have to have an overwhelmingly strong case that the law is unjust? Is it acceptable to simply go with your gut? Can we, as individual citizens simply decide that laws 3, 16 and 41 are unjust and then just casually disregard them? Thinking that our immigration policy is unjust and/or disfunctional does not meet the rightous lawbreaking standard by a huuuuuge mile. Randy has a misguided admiration for the nobility and work-ethic of the lawbreaking alien and he confuses his passion for their plight for some kind of solid conviction that immigration law is unjust.
I want to take a moment and try to wrap my head around the logic of Randy's immigration position.
Okay, so we have these jobs out there in agriculture and construction and meat-packing, etc. which we are told "Americans just won't do." Why won't Americans do them? It feels like the implied answer is that we Americans are fat and lazy, and our Mexican friends are just more industrius by nature. But of course that's not the case. We have a globe-straddling economic empire and they have abject poverty and rooster fights. The reason Americans "won't do" the agricultural field labor is that - given how arduous, backbreaking and unpleasant it is - and given that it pays $2.30 an hour - and given that it's 6 days a week with no benefits, perks, or any legal recourse for complaint - well, you'd have to be pretty damn desperate to take a job like that.
It's not that Americans won't pick lettuce, it's that we seem have a national shortage of starving, indigent, frightened, illiterate, desperate people to enlist into slave labor. And this, according to the logic of Randy and our other enlightened and progressive friends, is a BIG PROBLEM.
When they say "Our economy can't run without migrant labor." what they are really saying is "Our economy can't run without a steady supply of miserable, impoverished human beings risking their own lives to come here and be our indentured servants." This, once again, is the "progressive" perspective.
It's never phrased like that though. It's tarted up in the whole kum-ba-yah, help-the-poor, what-are-you,-a-racist? routine. You really need to consider the logical end result of the Randy Cohen immigration philosophy.
If we put all the illegals on a citizenship path - then guess what? The moment they become Americans they cease being desperate enough to take the inhuman field labor jobs. Now we need *new* illegal immigrants to do that work. Am I the only person on earth to realize this? That the "Jobs Americans Won't Do" argument, and the "Bring them out of the Shadows" argument are completely contradictory? As soon as we bring them out of the shadows and give them access to welfare and unemployment and medicare and social security and all the rest, they won't do the "Jobs Americans Won't Do" anymore - and we'll need to import a new freshman class of miserable, starving slave labor.
"Which is why we need a Guest Worker Program" comes the response. And the mechanism that will keep them from overstaying their permitted guest allotment time is...... what, exactly? It's utter fantasy to expect that the Mexican "guest worker" will say to himself "Well, my job's done here. Time to go back to my family in Oaxaca." Unless the guest workers are working with ankle shackles, chain-gang style, why would a single Mexican elect to obey the law and return home, when all 90 of his cousins are living here illegally, making more, and on a "path to citizenship"?
I have to say this one more time, because it really does blow my mind. The PROGRESSIVE opinion, the LIBERAL and ENLIGHTENED position on immigration is that we need a permanant caste of second class citizens to tend our crops. The enlightened position is that the lifeblood of our economy depends on the failure of Mexico as a state, and the resulting desperation and poverty of it's inhabitants. We need the average Mexican to have a life so miserable and hopeless that escaping his own country and working for us for $2.30 an hour is his best plan.
If I say sensible things like "Seal the Mexican border air tight." then I'll be called a racist. If I say "Citizenship should be contingent on true English fluency, a respect for our laws, an admiration of our way of life, a working knowledge of our history and civics, and some useful skill that we need more of." then I'm a racist. If I say "We should be working toward helping Mexico stand on it's own two feet so that it's people don't dream of sneaking in here." then again, I'm a racist. If I say "Americans should do field labor for real market wages." then I'm naive.
But that's how it should be. Yes the price of produce and textiles will go up. But that in turn spurs innovation - he who can build the automatic bean-picker will make the money. And building the automatic bean-picker is the true goal, because, really, NO ONE should be out there doing the back-breaking bean-picking labor. (with apologies to Mario Batali of course)
Well there. I went and did it and got all political. But man it gets me steamed. These pro-illegal-immigration people are like the homeless advocates who work tirelessly and zealously to achieve their noble goal: that every homeless person can be out there legally - begging, squatting, panhandling, loitering, sleeping on steam vents and in the subway - what a tremendous victory!!! You win, homeless advocates! They do have the right to beg and live in squalor on the street! Go on, do your victory lap, what a tremendous accomplishment!