Progressive Indictment | How Pilgrim's Pride Can Really Live Up To Its Name

I was saddened a bit when I read the April  story about the illegal alien busts at Pilgrim’s Pride plants. I believe in immigration enforcement as strongly as any member of the VDARE.COM Editorial Collective. However, I don’t think it is right that all the costs here be borne by poor people—who have probably been "following the rules" from their perspective. Frankly, it is simply unrealistic to expect a Mexican peasant, who may have minimal education and may not even speak Spanish, to regard managers of a large factory as something other than "legitimate businessmen". Such " patróns" are held in awe in parts of Mexico.

As a progressive, I agree these workers should all be sent home to Mexico. However, I think Pilgrim’s Pride should bear real costs in seeing they are resettled with minimal net loss. Some of these folks may have paid real money to coyotes to take jobs at Pilgrim’s Pride. They shouldn’t be sent back home empty-handed and expected to deal with those criminal gangs. And Pilgrim’s Pride should help them find reasonable jobs in Mexico—which isn’t going to be cost-free.

I’m one of the descendants of the original Mayflower Pilgrims. (FDR, the Bushes and I share some common ancestors—though unlike them, I trace in my family some of the key anti-slavery founders of the Republican Party). The Plymouth Colony was originally quite egalitarian in its economic values. Concentrations of wealth were deeply suspect in the eyes of the religious authorities. I think our Pilgrim ancestors would be utterly aghast at corporations using their good names and reputations to lure workers here with the implicit promise to pay them in citizenship rights instead of cash—and especially aghast that one of their descendants (G.W. Bush) is involved in this process.

The enforcement of immigration laws is becoming a political necessity—it’s literally the only popular issue the Republicans have—but it should not involve inappropriate anger at the workers themselves.

I’d be willing to ramp up immigration enforcement to the degree that we see in some Asian countries—but only with a real campaign to warn those involved of what is coming. The actual crime of illegal immigrants is, in my opinion, pretty modest. It can be handled by some education, understanding, modest punishment of most, and serious punishment of a few bad apples. Most illegal immigrants have simply not made huge sums of money as a result of illegal immigration, even though there are substantial amounts of economic value involved. Simply having to endure appropriate "re-education" during a process of repatriation—and going back to jobs that may not be as good as they had in the US, may be sufficient punishment.

Ideally, I would like to see new legislation in place that would give some employer-paid compensation to illegal immigrants—with larger amounts given to those who self-deport and give evidence against their former employers, and lesser amounts given to those who require more encouragement. Those payments can be made over time, so there is some assurance these illegals actually respect American immigration laws in the future and don’t return.

We already have on the books fines of up to $25,000 per employer violation. Those fines are way too low. But they are a start at funding some reasonable solutions to the problems.

Long run, we also need to think about the mess that non-enforcement of US immigration laws has created in Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean–and how we can mitigate any negative effects that a move to enforce US immigration laws will create among our neighbors. There are a lot of innocent bystanders here. They would be dramatically impacted by even the gradual repatriation of 12-20 million of their countrymen. Doing so with no net negative impact on these fragile economies is frankly going to be costly.

U.S. employers of illegals and the coyotes need to be treated much more harshly, especially criminal organizations like Enron which deliberately used compliant H-1b programmers from India to help it commit other crimes. But, even there, I have less contempt for aliens involved in these crimes than I do for the US citizens who have willingly profited at the expense of the American public.

Immigration has allowed the wealthy to create a huge mess—and the wealthy should be held fully accountable to cleaning up all costs. Wealthy interests now run both the Democratic and Republican Parties and have been the core support for both legal and illegal immigration. We must be sure that the price to fix these problems is not paid by those who have already borne enormous costs from the last 40 year experiment in immigration.

Ultimately, I think it is a contradiction for someone to support immigration restriction and not favor substantial redistribution of ill-gotten gains away from America’s bloated elites to the broader American citizenry.

NumbersUSA’s study suggests that immigration in recent decades has added 45 million people to America since 1970. If we conservatively estimate the value of citizenship at $225,000 each, that suggests a value transfer of over $10 trillion. The total fixed tangible assets in the US are between $25-50 Trillion. About 40-50% of those assets are held by the top 1% in US society. They have been gaining while other Americans have lost ground. There appears to be a "trickle-up" phenomena here, where more asset accumulation goes to the top 1% when immigration occurs.

My $10 trillion figure for the value of the immigrant presence in the U.S, is equivalent to between 20-80% of all of the wealth of the wealthiest Americans. If we take a middle range here, then transfers of 50% of the wealth of the upper 1% are perfectly morally justified — that would translate into something like $500 Billion per year of increased taxes focused on Americans with assets over $5 Million per family.

Peter Brimelow and Leslie Spencer, writing in 1993,  put the costs of affirmative action at a similar amount of 4% of GDP. That might be handled similarly. Instead of allowing the wealthy a windfall by eliminating affirmative action, because they would get most of the resulant increased output, we should couple an end to affirmative action with taxation of any increases in the wealth of the upper 1%. 

If the US were to fix its bad trade deals and combine it with these other measures, there could be enough to close the governmental deficit, finance universal health care in the US, bring a real end to poverty in the US, end all extreme poverty in the North American region, finance a redevelopment of US infrastructure, and finance ongoing technical revolution. (As a progressive, I believe the government must play a role here).

Now, I don’t think the owners of Pilgrims’ Pride will like this approach. Frankly, the kinds of folks who make it in a country that has been corrupted by illegal immigration aren’t necessarily the same kind of folks who would make it in a growing, technologically-advancing society.

Every country has a ruling class. However, that ruling classes in countries like Japan, which have been beating the US in terms of productivity per worker and have much more equal distribution of wealth and income, are much less composed of lawyers and accountants than in the US. And the counterparts of professional political operatives like Pilgrims’ Pride director Linda Chavez aren’t raking it in nearly as well.

No, I don’t think the owners of any major corporations will like my approach—until something else threatens them even more.

However, I think our Pilgrim ancestors are smiling at me.

Randall Burns [email him] holds a degree in Economics from the University of Chicago.  He works in the information technology sector and is a graduate student at Carnegie Mellon University.  Burns has been active in furthering the introduction of immigration, trade, and tax realities into the progressive agenda. In 2004, he helped create the Kucinich campaign’s position paper on H-1b/L-1 visas.