[Hat tip Kevin.]
Michael O’Hare has a very nice (and snarky) take on new immigration policy that will cross-reference Social Security numbers and force employers to fire workers with false numbers. It’s a good take – but my guess is that he’s wrong about how it will play out. The move may force Bush’s guest worker proposal to the fore and possibly get him the votes to enact it (or at least convince the GOP to adopt it as the party’s position). The guest worker program contains many of the (perverse) “benefits” of illegal worker hiring, including forced dependency and limited rights, but also has the perceived advantage of improving national security through better tracking. It may make it harder to pay less than minimum wage – but I’m not sure by how much in the end. The guest worker program seems a variant of the H-1b and L-1 programs for “specialty” workers – only for lower skilled workers, and it effectively “outsources” foreign labor in-country.
For people who care about democracy the guest worker programs create an underclass where non-citizens do labor and lack political rights – separating workers from political clout. It harms, and should scare, all American workers including citizens.
In a similar anti-democratic development America’s hired mercenaries and other contractors for the Iraq War now outnumber U.S. government forces and employees. Donald Rumsfeld, a long-time proponent of an all-volunteer force, was very clear about how this effects our democracy when he argued against a draft for the Iraq War, saying
“The disadvantages of using compulsion to bring into the armed forces the men and women needed are notable. The disadvantages to the individuals so brought in are notable. If you think back to when we had the draft people were brought in, they were paid some fraction of what they could make in the civilian manpower market because they were without choices. Big categories were exempted – people who were in college, people who were teaching, people who were married – it varied from time to time but there were all kinds of exemptions. What was left was sucked into the intake, trained for a period of months, then went out. Adding no value, no advantage, really, to the United States Armed Services over any sustained period of time.”
Rumsfeld was complaining that you had to convince drafted soldiers that the war was necessary – that it merited their sacrifice – otherwise you had the problem of training and employing the unwilling. Writ large, you had to convince the public in our democracy that your war was a just cause worth fighting. Of course, one need only look at the draft’s effect on the “greatest generation” in WWII to recognize that service and sacrifice could become a great unifier that crossed socio-economic lines. While not perfect, WWII succeeded in mobilizing over 10 million soldiers and winning a war.
Today, of course, we assume that the wealthiest and most educated are the least likely to join our all-volunteer military – perhaps more so with things going so disastrously in Iraq. That is one of the reasons veterans complain that despite a war going on, few seem to notice it back home. It’s easy to recognize the implications for democracy when those who vote the most (and rule) share least in the sacrifice their decisions require. President Bush illustrated this perversely when he told us our country was under attack – so go shopping. Democracy requires more – it requires the active political engagement of the citizens who rule. Increasing our dependence on non-citizens for in-country labor, and on highly paid mercenaries for the military, weakens our democracy and our country by distancing citizens from their country. American citizen are America – it’s our birthright and history.