Illegal Immigration & Social Security 31 March 2007Posted by Todd in Capitalism & Economy, Inequality & Stratification, Politics, Race & Ethnicity.
My mother forwarded an email to me today about how illegal immigrants may be granted social security benefits in the near future. It really pushed some of my buttons (this anti-immigrant hysteria is getting irritating in the extreme), so I wrote a detailed response and committed the internet faux-pas of replying to all. Here’s the original email my mother sent:
RE: Soc. Sec. benefits:
Mom was a homemaker and Dad worked all his life and paid into SS. Dad has passed away and now Mom can barely make ends meet. While the possible “illegal” alien in front of her at the grocery store buys the name brands, Mom goes for the generic brands, and day old breads. She doesn’t have out of state calling on her phone, because she can’t afford it and shops at the thrift shops and dollar stores. She considers having a pizza delivered once a week “eating out”. She grew up during the depression, watched her husband go overseas to fight in WW II a year after their marriage, and then they went on to raise, feed and clothe 5 children, struggling to pay tuition for parochial schools.
The Senate voted this week to allow “illegal” aliens access to Social Security benefits. (Benefits they themselves don’t contribute to, but use nonetheless.) I’m sorry, but how can the Senate justify this slap in the face to born and bred, or naturalized citizens. It is already impossible to live on Social
Security alone. If they give benefits to “illegal” aliens who have never contributed, where does that leave us that have paid into Social Security all our working lives?
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Attached is an opportunity to sign a petition that requires citizenship for eligibility to receive Social services. If you do not wish to sign the petition yourself, please forward on to anyone you think might be interested.
And here’s my response:
That email was so full of factual mistakes I don’t even know where to begin. But I’ll just give you the two big ones:
1) the vast majority of illegal workers in American work in SWEAT SHOPS and AGRICULTURAL STOOP LABOR, usually making (if they’re lucky) minimum wage and living in third world standards. They are not living high on the hog while grandma buys generic mac-n-cheese and can’t make long-distance phone calls. The rest of them are in non-skilled labor, such as washing dishes or pulling up weeds or raising middle class people’s children or cleaning their homes. Most of them send a large portion of their pay home to support their families in their sending countries. They live multiple individuals and sometimes families to every housing unit because they cannot afford anything else. They also on average WORK more hours a week than the average american. These are well documented and extensively studied phenomena, so such alarmist, nativist nonsense does nothing to help the real social problems caused by illegal immigration, but simply stirs up hate and fear. [It also may interest you to note that Latinos in the U.S. are the LEAST LIKELY to apply for welfare benefits, even when they qualify. WHITE PEOPLE are the MOST LIKELY to receive welfare when they qualify.]
2) If undocumented laborers are not employed in domestic labor (i.e., childcare and housecleaning for middle class people), they are actually receiving a wage and THEY PAY FICA TAXES. Contrary to the alarmism of the email, illegal migrant workers PAY social security BUT DON’T COLLECT the BENEFITS.
Let me end by saying that I’m firmly in favor of LEGAL immigration and *not* ILLEGAL immigration. However, the issue is a complex one, requiring FACTS, research and cool heads instead of punditry and alarmism. Americans today are feeling economically insecure (with good reason) and feeling the pressures of globalization, and instead of looking to the economic and trade policies of their government, they are blaming the migrants who are ALSO victims of those same global processes. For example, United States’ economic policies have decimated the economy of Mexico, destroying local markets (especially agricultural) and displacing millions of peasants in central and southern Mexico. (For example, our *subsidized* corn is allowed under NAFTA, but Mexico is NOT allowed to subsidize its corn production.) Displaced, unemployed peasants have migrated north over the past 15 years seeking jobs to feed their families. Meanwhile, U.S. industry loves and supports illegal immigration because it is cheap labor. In the low end of the U.S. labor market (i.e., unskilled jobs), the flood of workers has had two effects. First, it has dampened wages, but only on the low end of the market (that is, it doesn’t effect middle class wages at all). Second, it has created new job markets: for the middle class, it has changed their lifestyles, allowing them for the first time to have access to cheap child care and housekeepers, luxuries that used to only be available to wealthy people. Finally, “illegal” labor adds billions of dollars to the economy, through productive labor and through consumerism and yes, through TAXES; losing that would be a major blow to the U.S. economy and to the budget of governments around the U.S.
SOLVING the illegal immigration problem is not a matter of grabbing your lawn chair and your shot gun and going and sitting on the border with your fellow scared white retirees; NOR will punishing people who are doing their best to feed their children by denying them the benefits they have earned with their hard work do anything to help the problem.
Instead, it requires 1) fixing NAFTA, which has done nothing more than enrich a few hundred American and Canadian businessmen (with no consumer benefit in the U.S. or Canada, and with devastating effects in Mexico), so that Mexico can expand its economy and raise the standard of living of the 50% of its population who live in poverty; 2) being a good neighbor by helping the Mexican government fight corruption, gang wars (which have flourished as the Mexican economy has foundered) and establish a more open, more democratic society (historically, our policy has been to keep mexico unstable so they remain weak); and 3) addressing the business culture of U.S. firms who reap enormous economic benefits through illegal immigration and addressing the lifestyle culture of the middle class who are growing accustomed to having a vast pool of underclass brown people from Mexico to do their shit labor for them for substandard wages.
[I’ve focused only on Mexico here—although many asian countries and guatemala and nicaragua are also major sources of illegal immigration—mainly because Mexicans receive the brunt of nativist hysteria at the moment.]
Take home message: Illegal immigration emerges out of nexus of multinational economic and social relations and problems. It is not about individual evil immigrant actors coming “here” to “take your mother’s social security.” Please.