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Nathan Newman on February 28, 2006 - 9:24am
A new proposal in Georgia supposedly to deter undocumented immigration has all the earmarks of failed conservative policy-- it punishes individual immigrants while doing nothing to end the exploitation of immigrants that makes employing them so attractive to businesses. The bill sounds tough-- businesses can be fined for hiring undocumented immigrants or denied public contracts if they do so, but as long as an immigrant has a fake document, the employer cannot be penalized. And contractors who use subcontractors using undocumented immigrants would be off the hook as well. So the bill is toothless in punishing those who exploit immigrants. Nothing in the bill combats the business conditions that lead to exploiting low-paid undocumented workers. The bill has no toughened enforcement of the minimum wage, of safety conditions at work, or any other provision to end the underground economy of exploitation that feeds the demand for more low-paid immigrant labor. So the only real penalties in the bill are for the immigrants themselves, including denying most adults medical care. And while the bill sponsors says it will save public funds, a lot of physicians think otherwise:
Physicians have argued that illegal immigrants will wait until they are severely ill before seeking basic medical attention, resulting in emergency room visits that will be covered by taxpayers. "They're throwing out a fear that the ineligible immigrant community is greatly abusing the services, and that's really a red herring," said Larry Pellegrini, a spokesman for Coalition for a New Georgia, an umbrella group concerned with immigration policy. "It's a myth and a fear that plays well with the public." "We're all better off when our neighbors and our co-workers are healthy," Pellegrini said. "We really need to stop and listen to our medical community."Almost 500 people died in 2005 trying to cross the border to find work in the US, so if new immigrants are willing to risk death to come to the US, there is little evidence that denying a few health benefits will make much change in immigration numbers. In fact, creating more fear among immigrants will just make them more attractive to employers who know that immigrants will be that much less likely to report labor violations to authorities. As reported here yesterday, the New York high court emphasized that anything that lessens immigrant rights "make it more financially attractive to hire undocumented aliens" and "would actually increase employment levels of undocumented aliens." But we shouldn't be surprised that Georgia's leaders would coddle low-wage employers while scapegoating immigrants. This is the rightwing leadership that last year prohibited the city of Atlanta from encouraging government contractors to pay a living wage. As one of the sponsors of the bill striking down the Atlanta law said:
"The marketplace is what will determine what wages will be paid,” Harp said. “When the marketplace can’t determine that, jobs will go off offshore. That’s what’s been happening for the past 20 years. We can’t artificially legislate wages, and keep propping them up.”If the Geogia political leadership thinks third world workplace conditions are required for the state to compete economically, they shouldn't be surprised when low-wage employers enthusiastically provide those conditions through exploiting immigrant labor.