President Elect Obama’s pick to be Secretary of the Treasury, Tim Geithner, was caught in a mini-scandal last week over employing a housekeeper whose employment authorization had apparently lapsed. This is reminiscent of other prominent people involved or interested in becoming involved in government getting involved in similar immigration-related mini-scandals, including Republicans, such as Mitt Romney and Bernie Kerik, and Democrats, such as Zoe Baird and Kimba Wood. Some wonder if this has something to do with the proclivity of those in the public eye for being cavalier about immigration laws – or laws in general. A moment’s serious thought would have to lead to the conclusion that this is a ridiculous theory.
My theory is that the reason why there are so many scandals is that there are so many workers in America ready to be gardeners, housekeepers, and nannies, as well as construction workers, bankers, and scientists, that are not “legal” that we all encounter them all the time. The Pew Hispanic Center indicates that one in twenty workers in the United States is “illegal.” Encouraging the ubiquity is that these people are competent and available. They are also needed. Also encouraging the ubiquity is that people flow in and out of being illegal based on a myriad of factors as innocuous as the post mark on a piece of mail, the backlogs at immigration-law administration offices, the never-ending, nearly-daily, twists and turns in the law, as well as their complexity [average critic of Mr. Geithner, write me a one paragraph essay generally explaining what employment authorization is, where you get one, what it looks like, and what the criteria are for getting one and keeping one], and the needlessly harsh interpretations of them by immigration adjudicators, law enforcers, and courts.
Hostility to illegal workers is sometimes related to safety concerns. One illegal alien somewhere kills someone with his car and some imagine illegal aliens are the cause of all the traffic deaths in America. [Remember Bill O’Reilly’s shouting match with Giraldo Rivera?] One illegal alien murders someone somewhere in America and some imagine illegal aliens are the cause of the United States’ murder rate. [Guns don’t kill people, illegal aliens kill people]. This faulty thinking is easily discounted.
What the mini-scandals show is that is workers without documents exist throughout our society, even serving the leadership classes (whose wealth results it their consumption of more personal service worker hours), including large numbers that pick our crops, butcher our meat, watch our children, clean our houses, cook and serve our meals, invest our savings, bathe our parents, and lead our prayers. Finding them is not hard because they are everywhere doing good and important things.
The hard part in being displeased with this fact, that is, considering it a “problem” that needs to be solved, and wanting to use law enforcement to remedy the situation, is having the stomach to banish good people whom we trust and depend on, to separate them from their (legal) families – including U.S. citizen spouses and children – that are highly dependent on them, and to face the consequences of eliminating their vital contributions to our economy and society.
You don’t have to be a bleeding heart like George Bush or John McCain to realize that there are better solutions than brute force.
Like Starbucks, they’re everwhere.