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Immigration reform: a modest proposal

With the latest round of protests against changing the laws regarding illegal aliens, I've been listening to the arguments. And it's the same old crap -- the United States NEEDS the cheap labor, we've become "addicted" to it as we have to oil, and our economy simply can't survive as is without it.

I happen to think that's a load of crap, but just for the sake of argument let's presume it's true. How can we possibly reconcile our needs for security and regulating our borders with this perceived need?

I think there's a historical precedent we can look at. For nearly the first century of our existence as a nation, we had access to a large pool of very cheap labor. If we have once again reached the point where we need it, then let's let history be our model.

It's time to repeal the 13th Amendment.

Now, I'm not calling for the return of slavery. Even in a Swiftian vein of satire, that's a bit much. But repealing the 13th Amendment would allow us to bring back the practice of indentured servitude.

Here's my idea: labor agencies would travel to impoverished nations, recruit workers, sign them for a limited term (say, 3 years), then bring them back to the United States and lease them out to employers. They would be paid less than minimum wage, but no taxes would be withheld. Further, a small percentage of their pay (say, 5%) would be set aside into a savings account. At the conclusion of their contract, they would be given that money in one lump sum.

Further, once they are past the halfway point of their contract, they can begin the process to become legal residents. That will give us 18 months to handle the paperwork, investigations, and the like before they would be released from their contracts.

There would have to be some sort of controls against exploitation, though. For one, the agencies would have to be strictly regulated for issues such as OSHA regulations and the like. For another, I'd like to see the agencies be held liable if they admit any terrorists, gang members, or other undesirables -- put the burden on them to screen the applicants BEFORE they come into the United States. And perhaps those who violate their contracts and desert their agencies would be subject to arrest for being in the country illegally, deported, and banned from re-entry.

Of course, if they are being exploited beyond the bounds set by the laws governing this new policy, they can complain to the government and seek to have their contract transferred to another agency. And agencies should be able to buy and sell the contracts among themselves freely.

If we truly need this ready pool of cheap labor, then for heaven's sake let's recognize it and address it. This notion of simply ignoring laws people don't like is corrosive to a democracy. The laws must mean something, or they mean nothing -- and that is the road to anarchy.


Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Immigration reform: a modest proposal:

» Church and State linked with Senate Judiciary Committee Prefers Amnesty To Law

» Conservative Outpost linked with Immigration Idiocy

» Echo9er linked with Today around the Blogs

» basil's blog linked with Picnic 2006-03-28

» Crystal Clear linked with Really Not Modest at All

» The Thunder Run linked with Web Reconnaissance for 03/29/2006

» Peakah's Provocations... linked with In Defense of the Law

» Mensa Barbie Welcomes You linked with Fox Policy on Mexico's Immigrants

» MacStansbury.org linked with Gut check

Comments (29)

Hmmmmm, interesting proposa... (Below threshold)

Hmmmmm, interesting proposal. Only one weak piece:

Where do they live?

Oliver and David will have ... (Below threshold)

Oliver and David will have breathless headlines stating "Wizbang Racists Call For Repeal of Anti-Slavery Amendment" in 3....2....1.....

I'd prefer to set up a simp... (Below threshold)

I'd prefer to set up a simpler path for legal immigration. Put everyone here illegally here on notice that they have six months to apply. Anyone's whose application did not pass muster is deported. Anyone found here illegally without having applied for immigrant status after six months deported and they cannot apply for 1 year.

K.I.S.S...enforce current l... (Below threshold)

K.I.S.S...enforce current law...just a thought...

Actually slave labor wasn't... (Below threshold)
Charles Bannerman:

Actually slave labor wasn't very cheap. A slave could cost thousands of dollars. The biggest advantage to the slave owner was that the slave couldn't quit, and couldn't refuse to do work that others wouldn't do.
Howfyl Plantation in McIntosh County, Ga. is a good example of why slave labor was needed. This rice plantation was developed in a salt marsh under conditions that no free person would have tolerated.

Jay,You have never... (Below threshold)


You have never lived in California, or the west for that matter. I can go back to before 1940 and say that we have been doing just what you suggest.

Cheap labor has always appeared in California just in time to harvest crops. People, whole families are brought in by a "person," they are delivered each morning to the fields, and taken away each night. The "boss" is paid, who gives (I assume) money to the workers.

I saw this happen for years in my Grandfather's orchards. I have no idea where these people went each night, or if they actually got paid.

At the end of the picking season, all of these people disappear. You can drive up and down the central valley in California and see small groups of shacks - for some ranches actually provided some sort of shelter for these workers - only during harvest.

What has happened is modern machinery - displaces the bulk of these seasonal workers - so they still come - but now just stay and do other work. They have also figured out that other states provide opportunities for work.

But it was interesting to see fathers, mothers, and their children (those old enough to carry a bucket) working in the fields and orchards every harvest season.

Funny during all of this, I have not heard one thing about Cesar Chavez. Remember, he organized a whole group of farm workers...most were illegals, who were also trying to end what I describe above (that was only one of Chavez's goals).

This has been a problem for years, and no laws are going to fix this...unless we do something to raise the poverty level of other countries - they will continue to come into the US. Walls wont keep them out.

Still- not a great idea. Th... (Below threshold)

Still- not a great idea. The opportunities for abuse are just too plentiful. Plus, I really don't trust any government agency OR government department regulating private agencies on something like this.

Look- if we really have 4.8% unemployment in this country then that's almost 15 million people out of work that combined with the 20 million "immigrants" already in the country (that we don't have the manpower or the court space to deport) should be plenty of people to fill these jobs.

And many of the "immigrants" are working seasonal labor and entry level jobs that our youth and unemployed could fill. Obviously there's no shortage of those jobs AND it's not that we don't have enough people to do those jobs. It's that we think that we're too good for the jobs. (Coming from a guy that did bean walking and hay baling during the summers in the midwest.)

Great proposal ... but just... (Below threshold)

Great proposal ... but just one provision ... Only the unemployed and poor can run the agencies. Low interest loans will be provided to get them started. .....BTW am I the only one wondering where I.C.E. was during yesterday's march in Washington?

Hey wavemaker " where ar... (Below threshold)

Hey wavemaker " where are they living now ?

First off, the chances of r... (Below threshold)
Mac Lorry:

First off, the chances of repealing the 13th amendment are as close to zero as can be said for anything political.

The larger issue is the claim that American citizens won't do certain jobs, but that's only half the truth. The reality is that American workers won't do certain jobs for the wages that are now being paid. Many of these jobs are in agriculture where the availability of cheap labor dissuades business from investing in mechanized harvesting equipment and techniques. Some growers, such as the orange growers of Florida face stiff completion from offshore growers, and drying up the pool of illegal cheap labor may put them out of business. It's not that we won't have oranges, it's just that they won't be from Florida.

I believe that any business that requires illegal cheap labor to be competitive is not viable and should go out of business. There are lots of business that would be viable if only they didn't need to pay taxes, or comply with environmental and safety regulations. If we're not willing to allow that kind of illegal behavior for the sake of business, then we shouldn't allow illegal cheap labor either.

Many business that use illegal cheap labor only need to do so because similar business use illegal cheap labor. Most of these business are in the service industry and face no offshore competition. Drying up the pool of illegal cheap labor would force these business to rise wages and benefits to attract and retain American workers. Because all the similar business find themselves in the same labor market, there's no competitive disadvantage. No hotel is going to not have maid service, they'll just have to add maybe five or ten bucks to the room rate to pay American workers. Same for garbage haulers, truck drivers, gardeners, nannies, landscapers, retail workers, unskilled construction workers, etc. Drying up the pool of illegal cheap labor would benefit millions of unskilled and low skilled American workers without jeopardizing the competitiveness of American businesses.

I still believe we can keep illegals out of the workforce with a few simple measures that take much of the enforcement out of the hands of politicians and bureaucrats. One element of the plan requires the government to provide an ready means of verifying someone's status in this country. Being that we're talking about jobs, the status could be indexed to a person's social security number. To minimize identify theft, the government should store a biometric identifier of the person the number was issued to. The technology already exists to verify a person's fingerprints and some retail stores are now using that technology to authorize sales. Anyone who was in the military already has their fingerprints on file, so it's not an invasion of privacy to ask workers to provide the same data. An employer submits the typical employment data on-line along with a fingerprint scan and receives a confirmation number. That number immunizes the employer from the second element of the plan.

The second element is a bounty offered to anyone, including illegal aliens, who identify an employed illegal alien. The fingerprint makes it possible for a private party to expose employed illegal aliens. Everyone leaves fingerprints all over the place as they work and they are easily lifted from most hard surfaces. A person would just need to submit a print (any one of 10) and the name of the business. The list of all the employees for any business is on file, so it's a quick search to check the print with those on file for that business. If there's no match, the employer is notified to submit the employment information. If the worker turns out to be legitimate, then no further action is taken, other than a small fine for not providing the data sooner. Otherwise, the employer is fined for hiring an illegal alien and the person who blew the whistle gets a reward. Obviously there's more detail that needs to be fleshed out.

With the risk of illegal workers being discovered so high, employers are not going to skip the simple step of submitting the required data. Once they have done so, they are off the hook even if the person is an illegal alien. With the data in hand, the INS can just show up and take specific individuals into custody with no need to detain anyone else. Within a short time there simply wouldn't be any jobs available for illegal alien and without jobs there's few reasons to enter the U.S. illegally.

The crappy plans coming out of Washington do nothing to solve the underlying problem and the guest worker part creates even greater problems in the future. It's time for real change and if elected supreme grand ayatollah I'll shove this down the throat of... Woops, sorry I forgot we have to get this through our political system. Dang, that means we're likely stuck with the slow invasion and take over of our nation.

Mac,While there is s... (Below threshold)
Steve L.:

While there is some validity to what you say, you left out the one thing that everyone always seems to forget. Who is going to pay for the increased wages that the growers and hotels and construction companies have to pay? That's right, everyone else. While $10 a room might seem like a minor increase, multiply that by 3 nights a week and 25 weeks a year that some people travel for their jobs. That's an extra $750 that has to come out of someone's pocket. What if that someone is a salesman who works on commission? That $750 isn't "pretend" money that some company just won't make in profits; it's real money that comes from that man's family.

Illegal immigration is a real issue. Quite honestly, I don't see it as an employment issue, but as a security issue. Too many people in this country won't do those jobs because the jobs are beneath them. They are much happier sitting around hoping that some magical job will come along paying them twice as much as they used to earn for doing half the work.

JAT stated:... (Below threshold)

JAT stated:

This has been a problem for years, and no laws are going to fix this...unless we do something to raise the poverty level of other countries - they will continue to come into the US. Walls wont keep them out.

That's the crux of the issue. The reason we have such a problem with our Mexican neighbors entering our country illegally is really two fold: (1) because there's great motivation for and (2) because there's not much determent against.

There's nothing magical about the land north of the Rio Grande. The problem is the corruption south of the river and the lack of the rule of law (yeah, we've been heading that way on the north side as well).

My own modest proposal is that we annex Mexico. Instead of having all of the Mexicans illegally entering the U.S, we simply bring the U.S. to the Mexican people.

- MikeB

Steve L.I understa... (Below threshold)
Mac Lorry:

Steve L.

I understand your argument, but it's the same argument that's made against raising the minimum wage. However, each time the minimum wage is raised the economy actually benefits as a whole probably because the extra money paid to workers goes right back into the economy.

With one of the strongest economies on earth, I just don't believe that we need to depend on illegal cheap labor.

When are you people going t... (Below threshold)

When are you people going to listen? What you're seeing on the evening news is a fallacy. These people are not doing jobs no one else wants. I'm in construction, so I know the wages these illegals make. I'm in HVAC (air conditioning)I just finished a 2 year project at Duke University. We had 40 workers onsite and only 3 were American. I had 2 guatemalan helpers, 20 years old, green helpers with no experience making $15 an hour. 6 Mexicans with experience making $18 an hour. They had health insurance, vacation, 401k and got unemployment when the project was finished. Their kids are in school and are eligible for in state college tuition when they graduate. So now you're looking at a new generation of illegals taking white collar jobs.

America may have a strong e... (Below threshold)
Steve Crickmore:

America may have a strong economy but as President Bush said today "We have a global war to fight and win." That is his number one priority, which requires a domestic economy on a war-footing, and a continual drain on financial resources and legal American manpower to support it; for example, the men and women who are pulled from civilian jobs, if they are in the Guard or Reserves. At the end of the food chain, the domestic labour force is hollowed out, and must be in part, be subsituted by illegals.

Tim, I'm curious -- all tho... (Below threshold)

Tim, I'm curious -- all those illegals "taking white collar jobs" (did you mean white-collar, or just white?) -- Are you suggesting that the boss took the illegals in preference to equally inexperienced whites (um, I mean, Americans)? Or were they the first in the line? Why would your boss take the risk of hiring large numbers of illegal immigrants instead of citizens?

Do you want to see who hire... (Below threshold)

Do you want to see who hires illegals? Go here: http://www.wehirealiens.com/default.asp

Tim and Steve Crickmore,</p... (Below threshold)
Mac Lorry:

Tim and Steve Crickmore,

I respect your insights, but I believe we simply don't need illegal cheap labor. The proof is that many areas of the nation have few if any illegal workers, but the economy in those areas is just as strong as in the southwest and the work gets done. It's not that American workers won't do the work, it's the ready supply of cheap or at least cheaper labor that drives American workers out of certain jobs.

The U.S. economy is not on a war footing nor is the absents of national guard members an undo burden on the economy. Once again the proof is the fact that areas with few illegal workers are not seeing an impact any more than areas with high numbers of illegal workers. Sure, there are small towns where prominent members of the community are off to war and greatly missed, but it's silly to think they could be replaced by illegal workers.

If it's ok to have cheap illegal workers for the sake of business, then let open up auto manufacturing jobs so that American manufactures can compete head on with offshore manufacturers. Why send high paying jobs to India, lets just open the door and bring those folks here. We would all be working for a third of what we make now, and if that's not good for you, why allow it for any American worker?

Hmmm.1. According ... (Below threshold)


1. According to CNN, so take this with a grain of salt, there are 1.8 million illegal kids currently in the school system. At an average of $11,000 USD per kid, per year that comes out to $19,800,000,000 USD, per year.

That averages out to $76 per American citizen, regardless of age or gender, per year to educate these kids.

Frankly I'd be surprised if the economic gain from illegal labor even approached the costs and expenses of supporting that labor with our tax dollars. It's not just education that's involved but medical care, social services, law enforcement and incarceration and a whole host of other costs.

2. If President Bush is trying to use the GWOT to push through this crap, then I have even less respect for him now than I had before. I don't buy that argument, not even for a second, and if anybody tries to push that meme then I will call you on it and force you to prove it.

3. There is also the issue that illegal aliens, due to a Supreme Court ruling, now have access to Social Security. If an illegal alien uses a false SSN to gain employment then that illegal alien can use the earnings from illegal labor to draw from Social Security later on.

We now have the interesting situation where our Pay-As-You-Go Social Security system is paying benefits to illegal aliens now retired and living in Mexico. As the Social Security benefits are paid without respect to either total annual earnings or total lifetime earnings. So as long as Mr. Illegal Alien is employed in enough quarters to qualify for benefits, we're on the hook to support him for the rest of his life.



I respect your insights, but I believe we simply don't need illegal cheap labor.

I'd suggest a correction. We don't need cheap illegal labor. Whether or not we need cheap labor I don't know. Perhaps in some industries there might be a need, or rather a desire. But the opportunities for automation are rather extraordinary now.

If the DOD can produce a robotic truck that doesn't need a human driver to travel in a war zone, then I think we can devise a machine to pick fruit.

5. As for repealing the 13th Amendment. Not a chance. There is no way I'd support implementing a system that is even worse than the guest worker program. The aim isn't to justify illegal behavior.


Tim, I'm curious -- all those illegals "taking white collar jobs" (did you mean white-collar, or just white?)

I think his reference was that the kids of the illegal aliens were eligible to go to college with in-state tuition and so *they* would become competitors for white collar jobs.


My own modest proposal is that we annex Mexico. Instead of having all of the Mexicans illegally entering the U.S, we simply bring the U.S. to the Mexican people.

Or it'll go the other way around and we end up fighting a civil war.

IMHO if we do end up fighting a civil war then I'm going to Washington to hang somebody from one of those cherry trees.

I agree with MikeB, no wall... (Below threshold)

I agree with MikeB, no walls will keep them out. All they want is the oppurtunity to succeed.(something that is hard for immigrants in their native countries) There is just too much corruption over there. I'm sure they would rather die in their attempts to make it to the US(as many have) than settle for what is offered over there. It sounds like a good plan to annex mexico.

As for the undocumented immigrants who have been here most of their lives, contributing to the economic growth in many ways, they should be granted some kind or process to become legal residents after paying a fine or something. Those who have children born here aren't going anywhere. They are going to work, drive, and get educated whether we like it or not. Personally, I much rather have them doing it the legal way.
I don't want to be on the road with people who have fake licenses..

For months now, I have been... (Below threshold)

For months now, I have been reading and viewing anything I can on the Immigration subject and opinions have been overwhelmingly against any form of amnesty or guest worker program. So why would our elected officials vote 12 to 6 in favor of such a bill.
This vibrant economy and the President's "AMERICAN DREAM" for illegal immigrants will be transformed to a nightmare of a two class society rich and poor. And when the housing bubble deflates and the wealth effect dissipates the results will be an excess of labor.

I think MikeB hit the jackp... (Below threshold)

I think MikeB hit the jackpot - annex Mexico - problem solved. It also solves one other issue - that many think California to Texas should belong to Mexico.

Jay Tea, The 13th amendment... (Below threshold)

Jay Tea, The 13th amendment bans INVOLUNTARY servitude. Indentured servitude is VOLUNTARY and is irrelevant to your thesis. No matter! The commenters follow your illogic up and down like crackheads with a hooker in the room!

bryanDNo ... (Below threshold)
Mac Lorry:


No matter! The commenters follow your illogic up and down like crackheads with a hooker in the room!

I wouldn't have thought crackheads care anything about hookers, but if you're speaking from experience I'll take your word for it. Aside from that, most of the commenter's completely ignored the issue of indentured servitude and instead offered ideas about immigration and illegal workers.

Hmmm.Inde... (Below threshold)


Indentured servitude is VOLUNTARY and is irrelevant to your thesis.

Modern American labor laws have effectively outlawed indentured servitude so that's irrelevant. The most current equivalent is the H1-B work visa but even that doesn't *force* the worker to continue working for that employer whereas someone under indentured servitude would be required to do so.

That's the entire point behind indentured servitude; the worker doesn't get to choose and cannot quit the contract.

The commenters follow your illogic up and down like crackheads with a hooker in the room!

What an odd comment.

There is an argument that w... (Below threshold)

There is an argument that we need cheap labor so we should turn a blind eye to illegal activities, for example illegal immigration, paying less then minimum wage, and not paying taxes. This argument is full of holes. If you want workers working for less then minimum wage then do away with minimum wage. If we need immigrants to do jobs that U.S. citizens won't do then we can increase the number of legal immigrants. Of course would have to follow the laws like minimum wage.
Also Mexico wouldn't like it because they are a border country that can easily circumvent our laws.
A wall has proven to work in other countries and on parts of the border in our country. Would it stop 100 percent, no but it would stop the greater majorities of them especially if we had shot to kill on illegal crossing.

Ted Kennedy's message to Al... (Below threshold)

Ted Kennedy's message to Al Qaeda: "Sneek in the country guys!!! While you're here. we'll give you in state college tuition so you can learn bomb making. After you get your degree, you can blow us all up as an American citizen!!!"

Jay, I give you credit for ... (Below threshold)

Jay, I give you credit for thinking outside the box, but you will need to go back to the drawing board on this one. There are two glaring problems with your suggestion:

1. The 13th Amendment will never be repealed.
2. Your solution does not address the issue of illegals crossing the border.

Just giving them a safe and legal solution is not enough. You have to either remove their ability to cross the border illegally (i.e. a wall) or make the penalties for doing so quite oppressive.

Note to those who are objec... (Below threshold)

Note to those who are objecting to the repeal of the 13th Amendment:

If you'll brush up on your English lit., you may find this less objectionable... but I could be wrong.

- MikeB






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