26 May 2006

Reforming Immigration Reform

We Americans don't much like learning from others. We often forge ahead with laws, policies, even wars...despite what history might tell us. So amid the continuing debate on immigration reform, an article in The Christian Science Monitor may well be ignored, despite obvious relevance.

It seems that the German Labor Ministry has decreed that at least 10% of seasonal farmworkers should be Germans, not immigrants.

With only 170 German field hands in the state of Brandenburg so far, the experiment is off to a rocky start. And German farmers are angry, saying native-born pickers are only half as efficient as the Poles. Unemployed Germans lack both practice and motivation, farmers here say.

The unemployed are giving it a go in part because they can get a paycheck for picking asparagus and other crops, while still drawing unemployment compensation. But their lack of skill and motivation makes them about half as productive as Polish pickers, the article says. The bottom line, one asparagus-farm owner says: "Were it not for the Poles, we'd have to close down."

The USA, with some 8-12 million undocumented, mostly working immigrants, might well consider this example, as politicians debate criminalizing certain groups of foreigners. As in Germany, however, the immigrants are arguably a crucial part of the economy. What may be more needed in the US is tougher government policing of businesses that employ "illegals".

The core problem illegal workers pose for the native-born is that the illegally employed are less likely to demand their rights and to complain about unfair treatment. The problem would be much less severe if the federal government were doing its job. (workingforchange.com)

We tend to agree with those who see the immigration problem as a symptom, not a disease.

[T]he solution has nothing to do with immigration policy. It has everything to do with economic policy. ... We need less yelling about immigration reform, and more creative thinking applied to helping raise Mexico to some measure of economic parity, if not by U.S. standards, then at least closer to Canadian standards. (Seattle P-I)

Hmm. That's true: we're not rushing National Guard troops to the Canadian border...

Immigration is an issue not just in Europe and the USA -- Australian opposition leader
Kim Beazley says in The Age that Australian employees are beginning to feel threatened by migrant workers who are prepared to accept poorer pay and conditions.

If the US government showed any inclination to multilateral solutions, we might expect to get together with the Europeans and Australians and others at an international conference to address the causes of unwanted human migration. We could deal with the roots: poverty, war, political instability, ethnic oppression. But as long as politicians' best solution is to militarize borders, I won't get my hopes up.
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