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Sunday, April 01, 2007

"Illegal" Immigration

Yesterday, I attended a forum on immigration put on by the League of Women Voters and the World Affairs Forum, held at Hewlett-Packard, one of the many high tech companies in the Silicon Valley that is deeply interested in immigration policy. Richard Hobbs, the Director of the Office of Human Relations for Santa Clara County told us that 36% of our county's population are foreign born and when you add in their children, it comes to 67% of the population. That's hard to believe from my rather "gated" perspective living in affluent Palo Alto.

In California there are nearly 3 million illegal immigrants among the 10 million foreign born, though the path for "illegals" is now taking 75% to other states with more jobs.

Hobbs made it clear that most immigrants come either because of economic desperation or because they are fleeing a dangerous political situation.

NAFTA and GATT free trade agreements have led to the loss of about 8 million jobs in Mexico across numerous sectors including farming, retail, manufacturing, and artisans. While somehow the US can subsidize its farmers to the tune of $11 billion (annually I think), NAFTA eliminates protective tariffs that used to keep US crops more expensive in Mexico. Add to that our superior productivity and bingo!, we've conquered the Mexican grocery shoppers. While the average cost per hour of a Mexican factory worker is $2.82, the average in China is now 70 cents p/hr. In Monterrey, Mexico, 80,000 factory workers have lost their jobs as corporations have moved to ever cheaper locations. Another speaker at the forum told us about a community in Mexico, famous for its tequila products. They make a good living there and nobody has ever left to illegally cross into the US.

Obviously, if we focused more on helping third world countries raise their standard of livings we wouldn't have the flow of impovershed people coming to the U.S. to clean our homes, trim our grass, and flip our burgers. Some of that translates to FAIR trade rather than FREE trade agreements. Debt forgiveness, an end to agribusiness subsidies, a world minimum wage, and a world MAXIMUM wage were all mentioned by Hobbs on the solutions side of the equation.

Regarding political refugees, there are now 12 million people worldwide who are languishing in refugee camps. This doesn't impact the U.S. as much because most of them are an ocean away from our Statue of Liberty. For example, there are now 1 million Iraqis displaced by the war. So far, the U.S. has decided to allow 7,000 into our country. During the Reagan years when Salvadorans and Nicaraguans would come to escape death squads, we'd send them back if we caught them, because we were supporting the governments that spawned those death squads.

As is often the case, the average age at this kind of event was over 60. At least the room was packed with over 200 gray heads.

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