• 63°

Anti-immigration efforts remain a whack-a-mole affair

Whack-A-Mole was a popular arcade game back in the mid-1970s which required players to use a mallet to strike randomly appearing toy moles back into their holes. The game’s heyday has come and gone, but the game’s concept remains a part of the nation’s lexicon in problem-solving.

In no venture is a round of whack-a-mole more descriptive than in the nation’s attempt to deal with the nuances of illegal immigration – as repeated efforts to resolve the problem are futile and produce new and varied reoccurrences.

The politically correct who read this are likely to shriek that I’m comparing immigrants to “moles.” No, not in the least. I’m comparing the federal government’s effort to deal with the entire process of immigration enforcement as being like a kid at a carnival game flailing blindly. There are two primary truths on a constant collision course.

First, impoverished, desperate people living in often dangerous foreign countries come to the U.S.  to seek a better life. In many cases, they are willing to risk their lives in doing so illegally. Once here, they are willing to accept low wage, low skill jobs that many Americans simply refuse to do just to get a start here that affords them a chance to progress.

In many cases in the poultry and timber industries, immigrant laborers were actively recruited to the U.S. by some in their industries. Labor “brokers” cropped up to meet that demand.

Second, there is an undeniable and ready market for immigrant labor (legal or otherwise) in this state and nation. In Mississippi, immigrants are willing to gut our chickens, plant our trees, process our catfish, harvest our sweet potatoes, perform the hardest construction labor, cook our food and wash our dishes in restaurants, and clean our rooms in our hotels. The companies extending jobs to those immigrants profit from their labors.

In recent days, the headlines told the tale of last year’s roundup of immigrant workers in Mississippi poultry plants. 680 immigrant workers were arrested. 300 workers were released on “humanitarian grounds.”

Some 126 have been indicted and 76 convicted. Four middle level managers have been indicted, but that’s as high into the structure of the state’s poultry industry as the investigation has reached.

The American Immigration Council identifies 72,250 immigrants in Mississippi as of 2018 with 33.4 percent naturalized American citizens and 66.6 percent undocumented or otherwise illegal. That represents just over two percent of the state’s population.

The AIC documents that as about three percent of the state’s labor force, immigrant workers generate about $983 million in spending power and pay $357.7 million in federal, state, and local taxes. The Federation for American immigration Reform (FAIR) counters that illegal immigration costs Mississippi taxpayers $156.6 million annually.

Nationally, and it is particularly true in a presidential election year, the debates rage over so-called “sanctuary cities” and President Donald Trump’s “build the wall” mantra. With a 1,954-mile border between Mexico and the U.S., U.S. Customs and Border Protection reports that 265 miles of border wall have been completed.

But if the Trump Border Wall initiative has been less impactful than the political hype would indicate, the combination of Trump administrative immigration policies with the impacts of COVID-19 have had a significant impact.

The percentage of Mexican illegal immigrants has declined in recent years, but the percentage of Central American immigrants has increased. Nor does any real basis in fact exist for the popular but erroneous myth that U.S. southern border troubles are caused by “Mexicans coming to steal our jobs.”

Central America’s “Northern Triangle” (El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala) is dominated by lawlessness and gang violence that has made the region unstable and forced as many as 3.5 million residents with families and children to flee and brave the treacherous trek north to the U.S. seeking a better, safer life away from the extortions of gangs and organized crime in their home countries.

Still, the equation is simple: Supply of immigrant workers plus demand for cheap labor equals more Whack-A-Mole public policy on immigration.

Sid Salter is a syndicated columnist. Contact him at sidsalter@sidsalter.com.