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Dear Editor:
Re: Mr. Anderson's letter, if employers in Mr. Anderson's community truly need unskilled labor, then there already exist temporary visa programs such as H2-A (agriculture) and H2-B (other unskilled). They can legally bring in workers with these programs. But tell me, how much effort have these selfsame employers been exerting to get Congress to reform the green card process to allow in unskilled workers legally?? Sure, they're willing to have an amnesty program--it will do nothing to stop the importation of illegal workers, so there will be continual pressure to keep wages down even for "legalized" workers. No need to "prove" they can't find American workers already. Sheer numbers of unskilled workers will also relieve them of any need to offer or bargain for healthcare benefits--and, of course, the US taxpayer will continue to pay that tab. As for rising costs of food--first, there is no reason food cannot be imported, which keeps prices down. I work daily with foreign industries who would love freer access to the US market, but US industries successfully lobby for laws to keep them out. Free trade in agricultural labor, but not in agricultural goods? Second, capital can be substituted for labor in agriculture as has been done with tomato production, again, to keep the price down. It's just easier for agribusiness to write off labor as a short-term expense than to invest in improved products and methods which are long-term, much more expensive, capital expenses. Third, why shouldn't people pay more for agricultural items, if that's what they cost to produce? (Judging by the products I see in the grocery store, there are already plenty of people willing to pay $2.50 for a bag of shredded lettuce, and several dollars for organically grown tomatoes or hothouse fruit.) Why should they, and the producer, benefit on the backs of low-wage labor?

Re: Ms. Wilson, Panrayee, and Mr. Murray's letters, Ms. Wilson and Mr. Murray omit to assign all the blame for the plight of illegal immigrants. Consider that the first source of blame is the sending country, more often than not Mexico, which does not provide educational or employment opportunities to its own citizens--even though it has a healthy, wealthy and largely European ruling class. Pres. Fox is now looking to pass the buck to Canada to absorb 125,000 or so Mexicans a year, citizens which Mexico is unwilling to provide for. Then, consider that the immigrants themselves, by being willing to come illegally and in large numbers, lose any bargaining power they might have with their employers--for wages, for benefits, for getting legal status. I agree with Ms. Wilson and Mr. Murray that unscrupulous corporate executives and self-interested politicians and ethnic lobbyists play a major role in such problems as come from illegal immigration, issues I believe I addressed in previous letters. But then, shouldn't Ms. Wilson and Mr. Murray rejoice in and support enforcement of immigration laws, particularly against employers? And shouldn't they argue against the use of matricula consular, and offers by the States such as tuition and driver's licenses, which encourage illegal immigrants to remain here and work illegally? Or do they support such practices, as a means of "forcing" an eventual amnesty from Congress? If the latter, they themselves are part of the reason illegal immigrants live in the conditions they do. My 1970's mentality believes in, "if you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem". As I have stated in previous letters, I have no problem with unskilled labor being legally imported--as long as the companies importing it (1) show they can't find American workers, and (2) agree to sponsor the immigrant and be responsible for paying a living wage and for medical insurance. If illegal immigrants truly are "essential" labor, employers should have no problem in proving it, and putting their money where their mouths are. But as long as companies can get cheap illegal labor, without penalty, and with taxpayers paying for medical care, there is no incentive for them to comply with laws--or to support an overhaul of the green card system.

I do not hold illegal immigrants responsible for all the ills of America--they frankly aren't that large a portion of the US economy, however much some people would have us believe they are "essential". (And if as Mr. Murray believes illegal immigrants are responsible for California's economic growth, it follows that they are also responsible for its economic ills. Personally, I believe it's legal immigrants, particularly those in Silicon Valley, who contributed the most to California's economy and created the wealth fueling many of the service jobs illegal immigrants have filled.) However, illegal immigration certainly aggravates such problems as exist, particularly in individual states, certain industries, and for certain groups, particularly high school drop outs. Mr. Murray seems to think I am misinforming the public. My sources are publicly available information. He has his interpretations; I have mine. For example, in yesterday's (Feb. 12) New York Times, the author notes that unemployment in California is at a 5-year high of 6.6 percent. The article is about jobless, illegal immigrant workers who congregate at Home Depot seeking casual labor, and are not included in the unemployment figures because they are not entitled to unemployment benefits. For these workers, unemployment is virtually 100 percent. Are these "essential" workers? In fact, the article mentions that even some Americans are now showing up, looking to do day labor. Illegal immigrants do the work Americans won't do?? Another example, also from Feb. 11's Times (the article, by the way, doesn't say one word about immigration) Florida school districts gain 50,000-70,000 new students a year, and are not able to provide facilities and the smaller classes mandated by state law, so that all students might learn. The state simply hasn't the money and will have trouble raising it. That, in my opinion, is a problem. It's a safe bet that much of that gain in students is from immigration, legal and illegal--not from elderly retirees heading south, or from natural increase by native US citizens, which is now barely at replacement level. Shall we hope that most of these students drop out of school in frustration at not learning under poor conditions and will be eager to work as low-skilled labor to care for Florida's elderly? A coincidence that Miami is one of, if not the, poorest city in the US? And yes, I have met many illegal immigrants--the East Coast is also a magnet for them. I do realize that there are illegal immigrants who do not use medical care, who do not put kids in school--but they are still here illegally, and still contributing to a culture which treats observance of the law as trivial. While I have compassion for the problems they face as individuals (our cleaning lady at work, for example, now has TPS, but came illegally from El Salvador), in the aggregate illegal immigration (and its economic and social costs) are now simply too large to ignore.

Ali Alexander