Thank an Immigrant Today

Politico kicked up a small cloud of dust last week to make sure that economic stimulus didn’t benefit, uh, those people:

In their bipartisan zeal to quickly cut a deal on an economic stimulus bill, GOP lawmakers overlooked something that will certainly inflame the conservative base — illegal immigrants could receive a tax rebate check from the government.

But late Wednesday, the Senate Finance Committee was scrambling to fix the problem — contained in the House bill — by only allowing taxpayers using legitimate Social Security numbers to receive rebates.

The text of the House passed bill contains language making “non resident aliens” — illegal immigrants (sic)  — ineligible for the tax rebates. But every year, hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants use individual taxpayer identification numbers, known as ITINs, to file income tax returns with the IRS. These ID numbers are used instead of Social Security numbers. There are no exact statistics for how many illegal immigrants file tax returns, but this New York Times story from last year details the significant increase in use of ITINs. This story also lays out the issue.

Yet it has been long known, if under-reported, that those without social security numbers put a great deal of money into the United States. Reporting during President Bush’s failed attempt to privatize portions of social security in 2005, the New York Times reported:

…As the debate over Social Security heats up, the estimated seven million or so illegal immigrant (sic) workers in the United States are now providing the system with a subsidy of as much as $7 billion a year.

So we owe these workers our thanks, do we not? 

Yet do any of the yakkers in front of TV cameras or at kitchen tables throughout America stop to ask why we have such a large source of donations to our social security system by people who are not entitled to benefit from it? Or do we just prefer simpleminded racist memes to the effect that Americans are advanced, enlightened folks and they, well, are not? It’s just not that simple.

As Usual, Jim Hightower nails it:

…The question that policy makers have not faced honestly is this one: Why do these immigrants come? The answer is not that they are pulled by our jobs and government benefits, but that they are pushed by the abject poverty that their families face in Mexico. That might seem like a mere semantic difference, but it’s huge if you’re trying to develop a policy to stop the human flood across our border.

… Because in the last 15 years, Mexico’s longstanding system of sustaining its huge population of poor citizens (including small self-sufficient farms, jobs in state-owned industries and subsidies for such essentials as tortillas) has been scuttled at the insistence of U.S. banks, corporations, government officials and “free market” ideologues. In the name of “modernizing” the Mexican economy, such giants as Citigroup, Wal-Mart, Tyson Foods and GE — in cahoots with the plutocrats and oligarchs of Mexico — have laid waste to that country’s grass-roots economy, destroying the already-meager livelihoods of millions.

The 1994 imposition of NAFTA was particularly devastating. Just as Bill Clinton and the corporate elites did here, Mexico’s ruling elites touted NAFTA as a magic elixir that would generate growth, create jobs, raise wages and eliminate the surge of Mexican migrants into the United States. They were horribly wrong:

Economic growth in Mexico has been anemic since ’94, and the benefits of any growth have gone overwhelmingly to the wealthiest families.

Since NAFTA, Mexico has created less than a third of the millions of decent jobs it needs.

Average factory wages in Mexico have dropped by more than 5 percent under NAFTA.

Unemployment has jumped, and unskilled workers are paid only $5 a day.

U.S. agribusiness corporations have more than doubled their shipment of subsidized crops into Mexico, busting the price that indigenous farmers got for their production and displacing some 2 million peasant farmers from their land.

Huge agribusiness operations, many owned by U.S. investors, now control Mexican agricultural production and pay farmworkers under $2 an hour.

Since NAFTA passed, there has been a flood of business bankruptcies and takeovers in Mexico as predatory U.S. chains have moved in. U.S. corporations now control 40 percent of the country’s formal jobs, with Wal-Mart reigning as the No. 1 employer.

Nineteen million more Mexicans live in poverty today than when NAFTA was passed.

So, here’s the deal: Thanks to Mexico’s newly corporatized economy, wage earners there get poverty pay of $5 a day (about $1,600 a year), while a few hundred miles north, they might draw that much in an hour. What would you do?

Here’s a rule of thumb: in times of plutocratic control, smoking guns are usually found in corporate suites.

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