Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Border control dilemma

That proposed guest worker program Congress has discussed, off and on, probably for 30 years, or more, might be best seen in legislative action soon if word of a labor shortage is true.

Alan Tonelson wrote about the facts facing business and government for the San Diego Union and Tribune's online arm in May of this year. There could be a serious crisis looming ahead, which could make life very uncomfortable and raise prices on many objects. Online research says D.C. lawmakers need to get off the fence and do something.

The essence of what Tonelson wrote follows here.

"Take restaurants. According to the Pew Hispanic Center, illegal immigrants represent 17 percent of the nation's food preparation workers, 20 percent of its cooks and 23 percent of its dishwashers. National Restaurant Association spokesman John Gay recently stated that his industry will need about 1.9 million workers in the near future though he “doesn't know where they will come from.”

According to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, though, inflation-adjusted wages for the broad Food Services and Drinking Establishments category fell 1.65 percent between 2000 and 2005.

Urging Congress to loosen immigration controls, Marriott International Chairman J.W. Marriott Jr. insists that the hospitality industry “needed a supply of immigrant workers to fill jobs” and condemned those “in Congress [who] want to criminalize the undocumented and their employers.” Ten percent of the nation's hotel workers are illegal immigrants, the Pew Center estimates. But the BLS data show that their inflation-adjusted wages fell nearly 1 percent from 2000-05.

In the booming construction industry, illegal immigrants make up about 12 percent of the work force. But from 1993 – when median home prices began surging at a record pace – through 2005, inflation-adjusted wages in the sector rose only 3.02 percent. And from 2000 to 2005 – the height of the boom – inflation-adjusted construction wages actually fell by 1.59 percent.

Illegal immigrants are even more prominent in food manufacturing, where they represent 14 percent of the work force. From 2000 to 2005, inflation-adjusted wages in this sector dropped by 2.24 percent. And in the “animal processing and slaughtering” sub-category, where Pew research contends illegal immigrants make up fully 27 percent of all workers, inflation-adjusted wages fell 1.41 percent between 2000 and 2005. Similar figures emerge for many other illegal immigrant-heavy sectors as well, ranging from dry cleaning and laundry services, to parking facilities, golf courses, and country clubs.

These wage trends in illegal immigrant-heavy industries make clear that these sectors are not facing shortages of native-born workers. They're facing shortages of native-born workers who can accept poverty-level pay."

It has been suggested that this guest worker program would also save the lives of many crossing through the U.S.-Mexico border's deserts, but that would allow the Border Patrol and Customs to concentrate more on drug smugglers, terrorists and such. Do we want that?


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