With Immigration Reform, the Consumer Matters

Article excerpt


The recent Supreme Court ruling in Chamber of Commerce vs. Whiting highlights a fundamental and before now underappreciated factor in the immigration debate: Immigrants come here illegally because they know that U.S. companies will hire them.

While most of the immigration laws have focused on the illegal immigrants themselves, very few of them have focused on the consumers of their labor: companies, and, by extension, the consumers they serve.

Americans have become addicted to immigrant labor to fill jobs that Americans won't do (at the wages and under the working conditions immigrants are subjected to), while complaining about the side effects - overburdened social services, crime and cultural dilution in the border states. But it's not hard to spot the illegal immigrants in any given neighborhood. In fact, it's quite simple. They are the only people tending your lawn, baby-sitting your children and running your restaurants on the cheap.

But up until now the focus has been on curbing the supply. The approaches have ranged from the pure silly - like trying to erect a wall along the Mexican border - to the downright diabolical - private citizens forming vigilante groups and terrorizing hapless brown people who may or may not be illegal immigrants. The recent Arizona law, which revokes the business licenses of employers who knowingly hire illegal immigrants is the first real measure focused on the demand side.

Illegal immigrant labor is a performance enhancing drug with wide side effects. By hiring illegals, companies get an edge over other firms that don't. They buy cheap labor from individuals who have no civil rights whatsoever: They cannot complain if they are cheated on their paycheck, protest unhealthy working conditions, or reject wages less than the minimum federal wage. If they do complain, they can be immediately detained and sent back to their countries of origin with none of the due process that would be accorded to an American citizen. And so this keeps them in their place - a place of legal limbo - and gives U.S. firms access to what is essentially slave labor.

Before now, we've had a tacit agreement between big business and big government to leave the immigration issue unresolved. …