Republicans routinely criticize the Obama administration for overregulation. I believe this criticism is just in many instances. It is interesting to see this administration back away from a whole host of regulations in the present recession because they realize (pragmatically) they cannot defend these and be re-elected in this bad economy.
But the Republicans are sometimes guilty of the same problem, just in different ways. Consider the immigration issue. Recently the House Republicans have made noise about trying to counter the costs of their own version of restrictive policies. The House Judiciary Chairman Lamar Smith has routinely fought what he calls “cheap foreign labor.” One of Smith’s pet political projects is to harass American business into becoming the line of defense in keeping immigration laws in force. The Texas congressman recently introduced what is called the Legal Workforce Act, a bill that would require employees to run the names and Social Security numbers of all new hires through E-Verify, a federal database. Employees can use E-Verify voluntarily at the present but they tend to rely heavily on ID documents to verify the immigration status of their workers.
Smith’s Republican bill has produced a huge business backlash from agricultural producers for good reason. As many as half to three-quarters of the workers who pick America’s fruits and vegetables are undocumented workers. Farmers says Smith’s bill could do great harm to a $300 billion industry.
The case for the farmers is very strong in my view. The Wall Street Journal reports that there are “chronic problems with speed, cost and accuracy that bedevil E-Verify.” The Immigration Law Center has studied this issue and believes that with all the inaccuracies in the database up to 1.3 million U.S. Citizens and legal workers will be mistakenly flagged for problems if E-Verify passes. The Wall Street Journal adds, “Good luck to those who will have to sort out their records at the local Social Security office.”
The greater problem here for farmers is that this bill will scare away workers. This will result in labor shortages and leave un-harvested crops in the fields. We already know that one state, Georgia, implemented E-Verify. The results are clear—11,000 agricultural jobs left the state.
Several weeks ago Smith introduced a new bill that would provide 500,000 temporary visas for workers. California Republican Dan Lungren plans to introduce a bill that would allow guest farm workers. This is a huge step and one I personally hope is pursued.
I am glad some Republicans are waking up to the hard reality about immigration reform but it is still too little and, even now, a bit too late. We should already have an expanded guest-worker program in place if it were not for Republicans who worked so hard against it.
I am convinced that this is one of many consequences of pursuing immigration problems without a comprehensive solution in place. Listening to both parties talk about this heated issue, especially Republicans, is at times hard to handle if you have a conscience at all about people and the multitude of human persons who are tragically caught in this mess. Simple answers will not solve this problem.
One bright light in the recent Republican presidential candidate discussion has come from Governor Rick Perry, a leader who has rather powerfully shown us why a wall will not work on the Mexican border. This is one thing Perry seems to understand quite well—after all he has been the governor of a state where the largest and longest border with Mexico and America exists. I hope political conservatives will listen to Governor Perry and not to leaders like Texas Congressman Lamar Smith. But I am not sure they will since President George W. Bush had a truly wonderful program for total immigration reform but his own party killed it. Conservatives really need to rethink this issue before things get much, much worse. Christians should especially rethink this issue, and as Christians first, not as Americans who fear losing their culture to an outside group. The mission of the church is involved in this national debate and I despair of hearing this stated clearly from most Christian conservatives.
I believe that xenophobia is really at the heart of this problem. Xenophobia has been defined as "an unreasonable fear or hatred of foreigners/strangers.” It comes from the Greek words xenos, which means "stranger or foreigner" and phobos, which means "fear." Xenophobia will often manifest itself in ways that are very particularly related to the relationships and perceptions held by an in-group towards an out-group. It includes the fear of losing our identity. (In this case as “real” Americans in response to these “illegal” criminals who broke our laws!) Sometimes xenophobia reveals itself in the form of an “uncritical exaltation of another culture" in which a culture is ascribed "an unreal, stereotyped and exotic quality” (Guido Bolaffi. Dictionary of race, ethnicity and culture. SAGE Publications Ltd., 2003. Pp. 332, taken from www.wikipedia.com).
Make no mistake about this—xenophobia still has a major impact upon a great deal of how we think and respond to immigrants in this country, especially if we hold to strongly conservative political views. Christians should lead the way in challenging xenophobia but I’m not holding my breath right now because we would rather defend our nation against these foreigners than include undocumented workers among the people who are within the mission and love that Christ has given to the church.