The Immigration Con Artists

I once got suckered by con artists. As I was walking by, they baited me into betting that I could guess which shell a little ball was under. Moving the shells at lightning speed, they diverted my attention and tricked me into taking my eye off the ball. When I lost the bet, I felt bamboozled, just like we all should feel today watching the illegal immigration debate. After all, we're witnessing the same kind of con.

As our paychecks stagnate, our personal debt climbs and our health care premiums skyrocket, We the People are ticked off. Unfortunately for those in Congress, polls show that America is specifically angry at the big business interests that write big campaign checks.

So now comes the con -- the dishonest argument over illegal immigration trying to divert our ire away from the corporate profiteers, outsourcers, wage cutters and foreclosers that buy influence -- and protection -- in Washington.

Republicans like Rep. Tom Tancredo (Colo.) are demanding the government cut off public services for undocumented workers, build a barrier at the Mexican border and force employers to verify employees' immigration status. Democrats like Rep. Rahm Emanuel (Ill.) are urging their allies to either embrace a punitive message aimed at illegal immigrants, or avoid the immigration issue altogether. And nobody asks the taboo question: What is illegal immigration actually about?

The answer is exploitation. Employers looking to maximize profits want an economically desperate, politically disenfranchised population that will accept ever worse pay and working conditions. Illegal immigrants perfectly fit the bill.

Politicians know exploitation fuels illegal immigration. But they refuse to confront it because doing so would mean challenging their financiers.

Instead we get lawmakers chest-thumping about immigration enforcement while avoiding a discussion about strengthening wage and workplace safety enforcement -- proposals that address the real problem.

Equally deplorable, these same lawmakers keep supporting trade policies that make things worse. Just last week, both Emanuel and Tancredo voted to expand NAFTA into the Southern Hemisphere. This is the same trade model that not only decimated American jobs and wages, but also increased illegal immigration by driving millions of Mexican farmers off their land, into poverty and ultimately over our southern border in search of subsistence work.

The con artists' behavior is stunning for its depravity.

First they gut domestic wage and workplace safety enforcement. Then they pass lobbyist-crafted trade pacts that push millions of foreigners into poverty. And presto! When these policies result in a flood of desperate undocumented workers employed at companies skirting domestic labor laws, the con artists follow a deceptive three-step program: 1) Propose building walls that would do nothing but create a market for Mexican ladders 2) Make factually questionable claims about immigrants unduly burdening taxpayers and 3) Scapegoat undocumented workers while sustaining an immoral situation that keeps these workers hiding in the shadows.

The formula allows opportunists in Congress to both deflect heat away from the corporations underwriting their campaigns and preserve an exploitable pool of cheap labor for those same corporations. Additionally, these opportunists get to divide working-class constituencies along racial lines and vilify destitute illegal immigrant populations that don't make campaign donations and therefore have no political voice whatsoever.

Of course, diversionary scapegoating is nothing new. As Ronald Reagan pushed his reverse Robin Hood agenda, he attributed America's economic stagnation to "welfare queens." Similarly, Bill Clinton championed NAFTA while telling displaced workers their enemy was "the era of Big Government." This bogeyman, Clinton said, would be vanquished by ending "welfare as we know it."

Undoubtedly, the media will keep claiming illegal immigration is complicated for both parties. But Republicans or Democrats could begin solving the issue, if they simply stopped letting corporate lawyers write trade pacts and started punishing employers who violate wage and workplace laws.

Sadly, even those modest steps probably won't be taken. In a political system that makes it difficult to tell the difference between a lobbyist and a lawmaker, both parties employ the art of distraction to perpetuate the crises that enrich their campaign contributors. Indeed, whether their target is undocumented workers or indigent recipients of public assistance, the political con artists attack the exploited to avoid cracking down on the exploiters -- and with immigration, they are hoping America once again gets duped.

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