Immigration reform: a modest proposal

With the latest round of protests against changing the laws regarding illegal aliens, I’ve been listening to the arguments. And it’s the same old crap — the United States NEEDS the cheap labor, we’ve become “addicted” to it as we have to oil, and our economy simply can’t survive as is without it.

I happen to think that’s a load of crap, but just for the sake of argument let’s presume it’s true. How can we possibly reconcile our needs for security and regulating our borders with this perceived need?

I think there’s a historical precedent we can look at. For nearly the first century of our existence as a nation, we had access to a large pool of very cheap labor. If we have once again reached the point where we need it, then let’s let history be our model.

It’s time to repeal the 13th Amendment.

Now, I’m not calling for the return of slavery. Even in a Swiftian vein of satire, that’s a bit much. But repealing the 13th Amendment would allow us to bring back the practice of indentured servitude.

Here’s my idea: labor agencies would travel to impoverished nations, recruit workers, sign them for a limited term (say, 3 years), then bring them back to the United States and lease them out to employers. They would be paid less than minimum wage, but no taxes would be withheld. Further, a small percentage of their pay (say, 5%) would be set aside into a savings account. At the conclusion of their contract, they would be given that money in one lump sum.

Further, once they are past the halfway point of their contract, they can begin the process to become legal residents. That will give us 18 months to handle the paperwork, investigations, and the like before they would be released from their contracts.

There would have to be some sort of controls against exploitation, though. For one, the agencies would have to be strictly regulated for issues such as OSHA regulations and the like. For another, I’d like to see the agencies be held liable if they admit any terrorists, gang members, or other undesirables — put the burden on them to screen the applicants BEFORE they come into the United States. And perhaps those who violate their contracts and desert their agencies would be subject to arrest for being in the country illegally, deported, and banned from re-entry.

Of course, if they are being exploited beyond the bounds set by the laws governing this new policy, they can complain to the government and seek to have their contract transferred to another agency. And agencies should be able to buy and sell the contracts among themselves freely.

If we truly need this ready pool of cheap labor, then for heaven’s sake let’s recognize it and address it. This notion of simply ignoring laws people don’t like is corrosive to a democracy. The laws must mean something, or they mean nothing — and that is the road to anarchy.

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