Immigration raids

As a resident of Georgia, the following Associated Press (AP) story hits close to home and captures the competing feelings we have about immigration, small towns, low salaries, and employment.


STILLMORE, Ga. (Sept. 15) - Trailer parks lie abandoned. The poultry plant is scrambling to replace more than half its workforce. Business has dried up at stores where Mexican laborers once lined up to buy food, beer and cigarettes just weeks ago.

This Georgia community of about 1,000 people has become little more than a ghost town since Sept. 1, when federal agents began rounding up illegal immigrants.

The sweep has had the unintended effect of underscoring just how vital the illegal immigrants were to the local economy.

Here is a photo they provide that cites the "12 million" illegal immigrants figure that has already been questioned by John Allen Paulos (because it's based on a dubious claim that 3 million additional illegals enter this country every year).

Click for larger picture

One of the comments that struck me is how the local community, despite being Republican, recognized the contribution of the workers:

The B&S convenience store, owned by Keith and Regan Slater, the mayor's son and grandson, has lost about 80 percent of its business.

"These people come over here to make a better way of life, not to blow us up," complained Keith Slater, who keeps a portrait of Ronald Reagan on the wall. "I'm a die-hard Republican, but I think we missed the boat with this one."

The other issue, quite frankly, is the appalling low wages offered by the main local employer, a chicken canning factory. They pay $6.75 an hour, while a local Wal-Mart (exercising its typical monopoly practices) pays only $5.60 (barely above minimum wage). Many of the commentators on this story repeat the charge that immigrants drive down wages.

Georgia's response? Increase anti-immigration leglislation in the Republican-controlled state government. Increase the difficulty of voter ID.

Here's an interesting perspective putting it into a more global context, a talk by Dr. Marcelo Suárez-Orozco of New York University:

One of the biggest issues that arises in the immigration debate is that immigrants are bad for the economy because they drive down wages, but Suarez-Orozco said that economist have found that, “The cities that have done best, in terms of wages, are the cities that have had large flows of new arrivals. The cities that have done the worst in terms of wages are the cities that don’t have immigrants.”

It’s a problem of supply and demand, the professor contended, because if the U.S. economy demands it the laborers will come, whether through legal or illegal means.
This view is close to the structuralist view I discussed in an earlier post, regarding neoliberalism. Whether Suárez-Orozco operateds within the neoliberalist philosophy or critiques it I can't say from this article.

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