I’ve been following Brendan I. Koerner’s blog Microkhan for a while now. Koerner is the author of Now The Hell Will Start, the fantastic account of a black GI who went AWOL in the Indo-Burmese jungle during WWII (this, after killing a superior officer) and then proceeded to marry into a very reclusive tribe, all the while being sought by the U.S. Army. But that’s not what this post is about.
Koerner points to some of the possible economic consequences of the Arizona immigration bill, noting that it will decimate the current day-labor market, forcing contractors to only hire citizens (or visa holders), and asking:
But is that realistic? We find it hard to believe that citizens will provide the same quality-to-pay ratio as their undocumented peers. There’s a reason that day-labor markets the world over tend to be dominated by immigrants of recent vintage—such workers have a strong incentive to produce good labor for low pay, in part because they plan on remitting part of their compensation back home (where it will presumably go farther). And for a state like Arizona, where physical growth remains so vital to the economy, it doesn’t make a heckuva lot of sense to buck that global reality.
If the governor signs the bill, then, what will Arizona’s day-labor scene look like? Let’s turn our eyes east to Japan, which has long had a domestically produced day-labor workforce due to the nation’s hostility toward immigration. Alas, as this 2000 report makes clear, Japanese day laborers tend to be men in desperate circumstances—alcoholics, the homeless, and older workers for whom day labor merely provides a hand-to-mouth existence. In Osaka, the government has had to step in to ensure that these laborers can simply survive.
A disturbing photo essay on the Japanese day-labor scene here. The pictures provide an important reminder: Day labor needs to be a waystation to something better, rather than an end in itself. And, yes, providing economic assistance to a family abroad is definitely something better.
Yes, the immigration bill in Arizona is terrible for a whole host of human rights reasons, but it will have measurable effects on the economy, as well.
AFTERNOON UPDATE: Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer signs the bill into law.
Brewer, who faces a tough election battle and growing anger in the state over illegal immigrants, said the law “protects every Arizona citizen.”
“We in Arizona have been more than patient waiting for Washington to act,” Brewer said after signing the law. “But decades of inaction and misguided policy have created a dangerous and unacceptable situation.”
Obama said in Washington that he’s instructed the Justice Department to examine the Arizona bill to see if it’s legal, and said the federal government must enact immigration reform at the national level – or leave the door open to “irresponsibility by others.”