Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Kitchen Staff

Jay Bookman at the AJC interviews an anonymous restaurant owner whose business is going to be smacked by Georgia's new immigration law. While the anonymous subtext may threaten the credibility of the interview in some people's eyes, as a former member of the service industry caste, the entire scenario is far more than plausible.

Hell, I've had the same conversation with dyed in the wool Republican small business owners. My position on illegal immigration has always been to start with the businesses who hire workers illegally. Sorry. I know it will cause a lot of people a lot of problems. I know a lot of good folks who might go out of business because of the rapidity of change.

But there's political power to be gained by demagouging this populist issue. The problem with an unstable or unpredictable policy is that you can't plan for it. You can only react to the facts on the ground. For a restaurant owner, where margin is everything, you go with the most dependable employee you can get on staff for the lowest price. Guess who fit that mold for the last decade or so?

But that leaves you vulnerable to the politics. A lot of folks have exploited the xenophobia for a long time, without having to actually fix a problem. At the same time, a lot of folks have exploited the marginal lives most illegal immigrants maintain in this country - hidden away from legal protections and workplace laws.

The bottom line as I see it? Illegal immigration hurts this nation's economy, it hurts those who immigrate here legally and illegally, it creates unsustainable economic conditions, it kneecaps development in home countries, and no one has been able to do anything effective about any of it. Now, as the previous status quo changes to a different ineffective policy, you'll have shocking changes full of unintended consequences. Unscrupulous business owners won't really change, they'll just find new and exciting ways to keep cutting corners. Those who try to do right by their employees and keep their businesses afloat are the ones who will get hammered in the middle.

Build all the walls you want, if there are jobs here folks will find a way around them. Deport all the illegals you want, if there are jobs here folks will replace them faster than you can get rid of them. Harass them all you want, you'll only kneecap your own businesses who depend on paying low wages to make their margins. Throw in the added luxury of curbing civil liberties so undermanned and undertrained authorities can participate in enforcement. Hell of a policy we've got going on here.

But the writing has been on the wall for quite some time. As soon as you lose the protection of the developers (and their money and connections) where most illegals were employed during the "boom" years, they're going to come after the agriculture and hospitality industries. As they now will. And they aren't going to go about it out of some deep seated desire for justice - this isn't about respect for the law, this is about winning elections and controlling political donations.


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