Bush’s “immigration crackdown” won’t solve anything

By Martin Bosworth

Yesterday the Bush regime announced a new series of “get tough” moves against illegal immigrants and their employers, in the form of cracking down on employees using unverified Social Security numbers, more raids and border protection measures, and streamlining existing guest visitor programs. The press (doing its job for once) largely recognizes these manuevers for what they are–petulant responses to the collapse of the “guest worker compromise bill”, and a frantic appeal to the immigrant-hating base of the shrinking GOP support bill.

Let’s be straight–I don’t have a lot of sympathy for the businesses crying foul that they’ll be fined for hiring illegal immigrants. But rather than face the fines or–gasp–paying their employees decent wages, they’ll probably just fire the illegals, which will leave them on the streets, looking for other work, or otherwise clogging our already-strained public welfare system. As the pointless raids on the SWIFT meatpacking plants showed, using black-armored stormtroopers to intimidate frightened border jumpers doesn’t do a thing to curb illegal immigration–or the theft of personal information that enables undocumented workers to get SSNs in the first place.

The basic problem with illegal immigration remains the same–the underground economy where thieves sell personal information to immigrants or other crooks. Every laptop theft, data breach, or outside hack by black hats feeds this economy, enabling millions of pieces of personal data to be remixed and recombined into new identities which sell on the cheap.

Undocumented aliens who buy these identities also pay taxes and support the Social Security system. The “pool” of unidentified or unmatched benefits has swollen to the hundreds of millions, if not billions, of dollars. The government likes this because it helps maintain the Social Security fund. The IRS loves it because of the tax revenue. Corporations love it because it “legitimizes” the workers they hire–“Hey! He’s got an SSN! He can’t be illegal.” And Americans love it because it enables us to buy cheap goods thanks to the never-ending supply of low-cost, low-maintenance labor.

The only people who really lose in this situation are the immigrants themselves, who live with a Sword of Damocles over their heads for the day they get found out and arrested, and the identity theft victims who never know their SSNs and other information are being misused–until the day they are hit with bills and charges they never incurred, with names on accounts that are not theirs.

The Chamber of Commerce and other business lobbies supported the guest worker bill because it would create a permanent underclass of non-voting workers who are rotated in and out of the country without ever having a clear path to citizenship, thus assuring labor stays cheap and wages stay low. The plan would have done nothing to address the issues of ID theft and security caused by information selling–if anything, the proposed new database would have made matters worse. But that bill failed, and now the Chamber and company are apoplectic because Bush has chosen to placate the nativists and xenophobes who fear brown people above and beyond all else.

Until we get serious about cracking down on the underground economy and plugging the massive holes in our information security on every level, all these moves are is political theater mixed with racism and a little passive-aggressive revenge on the side.

7 replies »

  1. I wonder, Martin, if, now that this underground economy of illegals exists, if anything can be done to integrate them properly into the American economy. One has to wonder at whether business can ever be brought round to thinking of them as anything but a way to undercut labor. The numbers of immigrants who’d have to be deported to put pressure on business to deal justly with workers seems to be unattainable. And with systems already strained by cuts forced on state and federal agencies by the Iraq War, one can only think that enforcement will be, as you say, mostly for show….I wonder if this will turn into a “war on immigrants” that mirrors the “war on drugs” in its futility.

  2. You made some points I hadn’t considered, so thanks 🙂 When I first heard the great Rictus(TM) talk about going after the illegals. I knew Dubs was having a major snit., but I just assumed he was doing some kind of Rovian/ Chenyite strategery, seperating the jingoist nativistic haters in his party from the monied interests. That basically after a few high profile mass arrests, the big money would be informing those R’s up for re-elction next year, that there would be no money coming to their campaigns, unless immigration reform passed this year.

    That’s my for whatever it’s worth opinion. Immigration was one of the few things I ever agreed with Bush on, even partially. Well, ok to be totally honest, I thought the man on Mars thang was pretty cool too 😛

  3. “Until we get serious about cracking down on the underground economy and plugging the massive holes in our information security on every level …”

    How should this be done in a manner that’s 1) politically feasible and 2) effective?

    Thanks. I had not followed this as closely as I should.

  4. Jim and Denny,

    Probably the first and best thing that can be done is to seriously crack down on cybercrime, data breaches, and security leaks. If there’s a real, concerted, serious effort to bust the black hat chat rooms that deal in stolen info, the sellers will realize that there are real consequences to their actions. As it stands, businesses that suffer data breaches write it off as a cost, and both government and industry would rather cover up the link between data breaches, ID theft, and illegal immigration than actively deal with the problem. See this article I wrote on the GAO’s findings on data breaches:

    The second, and much tougher choice, is to drastically reduce the usage of SSNs for identification purposes. That means no posting of SSNs anywhere on public Web sites, no usage of it for third-party business identification, and no requesting of it from anyone who isn’t with the IRS, the SSA, or your direct employer. I’d even recommend creating unique taxpayer IDs that could be used solely for the IRS and assigned to every American, and for employers’ use as well. This is a pipe dream at the moment, but I think it would really help.

  5. Dee,

    Glad I was able to enlighten and interest. Oh, and I always thought of ol’ Rictus as “Skeletor,” myself. 🙂

  6. Hmm… I can’t say I’m up on any official statistics, and I’m not an illegal immigrant myself… born here, all white and all that good stuff. But I can say that I’ve known a lot of illegal immigrants, some very personally. None of these people have gone through the trouble of identity theft. Mind you, this is a limited regional sample. From what they’ve told me, however, if they need a SSN, they just think up a bunch of numbers and write them down. As for banks and credit cards, you go in and no one asks you about your immigration status. Plenty of people go in not speaking the least word of English and open up accounts.

    Not to mention… as far as I know, it’s not a common practice for employers to do actual background checks on their employees. It might have become *more* common, but it’s still not common, I wouldn’t think.

    And definitely not for the types of jobs in which the illegal immigrants are working. An ex of mine worked 80-100 hrs a week painting houses over the summer. You really think someone’s going to do a background check for that?

    So, my concluding thought would be that while identity theft is certainly plausible and probably convenient for those seeking major social advancement, most of the people I know (especially men) are here to work. Not to enjoy the freedom and benefits of the US society (God knows we wouldn’t give them to them so quickly anyway), but to get money and use it to buy things. It’s really pretty useless to go through the bother of identity theft if people will pay you *without* you being a person!

  7. Would you please stop calling those who play by the rules, follow laws and hate those who flaunt federal law “immigrant haters”.
    Very few of those you refer to as “immigrant haters” have any problem with legal immigration. What we hate are settlers who come here illegally as a first step in breaking many laws as well as those employers who encourage them to do it.