This week marks the 100th anniversary of Ronald Reagan’s birth, and Republicans are planning celebrations to commemorate their man-turned-god figure as the avatar of all things conservative. Although Reagan could not pass a conservative purity test today, Republicans worship an idealized version of the man who championed immigration by all nationalities and sought an open border with Mexico and Canada. His reasons though, were not altruistic.
The new Republican majority in the House is pressing the Obama administration to start raiding businesses to arrest undocumented workers instead of citing and fining the employers who hire them. Workplace raids were George W. Bush’s way of dealing with illegal immigration by punishing workers instead of the big businesses who hired them. According to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), from 2007 – 2008 the Bush administration deported 369,221 undocumented workers through the workplace raid program. The Obama administration, by contrast, deported 392,862 undocumented workers which is a 6% increase without wasting money on workplace raids.
During Bush’s last two years, the fines to employers for hiring undocumented workers was $675,000 while Obama’s policy of targeting employers instead of workplace raids netted $6.9 million for a similar 2 year period. The Obama administration’s cases against employers who hire undocumented workers quadrupled the number that Bush prosecuted and saved money in the process. Republicans are sure to ramp up their vitriol against immigrants as the 2012 election season gets closer and their House Judiciary subcommittee on Immigration Policy and Enforcement is planning on holding hearings to criticize the Obama administration for allowing illegal workers to steal Americans’ jobs.
There is more than just a philosophical difference in the approach to handling illegal immigration. Large workplace raids unnecessarily fill jails and clog the courts, and each deportation costs taxpayers approximately $12,500. Republicans are not interested in stopping illegal immigration because they use the issue every two years at election time and then balk at immigration reform. The truth is that their corporate masters who operate large factories benefit from undocumented laborers and easily replace them after high-profile workplace raids. After sweeping raids, jails and the courts are filled and the Obama administration wants the space used for more hardened criminals. During the State of the Union speech, President Obama asked Congress to address “once and for all” illegal immigration through better border security and a path to legalization. By making noise about more workplace raids, Republicans are attempting to thwart efforts at immigration reform and incite anger at President Obama.
Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) defended returning to workplace raids by claiming that with unemployment so high, “it is hard to imagine a worse time to cut worksite enforcement efforts by more than half. Citizens and legal immigrants should not be forced to compete with illegal workers for jobs.” The Republican approach to illegal immigration is like their nonsensical idea that lower taxes for the wealthy creates jobs. The Obama administration is focused on holding employers accountable because if employers didn’t hire undocumented workers, they would be less likely to come looking for work. It is simply supply and demand. Republicans are protecting corporations by allowing them to pay low wages for more profits, and they do not have to pay fines if only the laborers are punished.
Holding employers accountable is cost effective and forces employers to hire American citizens or legal immigrants at higher living wages. Some of the large meat-packing plants have lost up to 400 workers to immigration raids only to replace them with more illegal immigrants. Many of the workers caught up in workplace raids get off the deportation busses and board another bus to return to the same factories.
The Obama administration’s approach is working because coupled with increased border security, employers are less likely to hire undocumented workers if they think they will be fined. Obama has also hired more Border Patrol agents and sent 1,200 National Guard troops to the Mexican border to help stop illegal border crossing. According to the census and labor statistics, 300,000 immigrants entered the country illegally down from 850,000 from 2003 -2007. It is unclear if the sluggish economy or increased enforcement efforts are responsible, but it is likely a combination of the two. Returning to just focusing on workplace raids most certainly will not slow illegal immigration, but it will benefit the corporations who hire undocumented workers. Helping corporations was a major policy of Ronald Reagan, and his reason for open borders was the same reason that Republicans today want to increase workplace raids.
The difference between Reagan and Republicans in 2011 is that Reagan was upfront about letting immigrants come to America to provide low-cost labor for corporations. Today’s Republicans still want to provide low-cost labor, but they use hateful fear mongering tactics to achieve the same result. However, the American people are paying to incarcerate illegal immigrants once they are caught up in the sweeps instead of denying immigrants jobs in the first place. The added bonus for Republicans is they get to demean the Obama administration for not arresting immigrants who are taking Americans’ jobs. If Ronald Reagan were alive today, he would not recognize the Republican Party, but he would applaud their efforts to enrich corporations. The tactics are different, but the results are exactly the same. Republicans cost the American people jobs and lost enforcement revenue while giving corporations cheap labor. That addled old fool Reagan would be pleased.