I am not an economicist; I am not a sociologist. But I do have a few thoughts on the huge numbers of Haitians attempting to cross over into the United States.
Why do we seek to turn them away? It seems to me that America could find such an influx of immigrants very useful.
Through an ironic paradox, there is much work to be done in our country, yet not much work to be found; massive lay-offs and corporate reductions crowd our daily headlines. Although I am familiar with the "Workforce 2000" statistics on the estimated educational prerequisites for employment in the next century, I also see a need for massive reconstruction efforts in the Miami, Florida area; I see Interstate highways disintegrating across Ohio; and many more infrastructure projects besides. Many of these projects advance only slowly, sometimes not even keeping up with the natural breakdown they struggle to combat. Proud ventures become stymied in cost-overruns while the blue-collar workforce from which they draw accumulates overtime pay, work-related disability, &c.
I look back to an earlier age when the first great railroad empires began seeding their steel tendrils across the American prairie. The brunt of the labor which goes into these tasks does not currently require post-secondary education, nor does it demand more than a basic competence in the English language.
Just think what you could do with 100,000 workers who do not have American citizenship! I don't know, maybe there are certain protection laws for such cases, but I'd have the legislature scrap most of them. The point is, this work force wouldn't necessarily qualify for insurance; social security; tax guidelines; or qualify for minimum wage. Although I would certainly insist on educating them (or trying to), I assume they would not qualify for admittence into the public school system. No, I am not trying to exploit them--I am envisioning an honest program for which they could apply and receive admission, knowing fully well what they were leaving behind in Haiti and the kind of work they would do on moving to America.
Now, what would they stand to gain from such harsh labor conditions? Citizenship, of course. That would be the eventual goal. Anyone who could hold to the conditions of the contract for, say, seven years, would qualify for citizenship, a new social security number, and a hell of a recommendation from their previous employer. (If I were in a hiring position, I would look very favorably at anyone with the determination and wherewithal necessary to win through such conditions.)
What would be included in the deal: the base pay, say $2 - $3 per hour. Meal tickets for a low-cost, low-quality but healthy communal cafeteria set up at the residence/work site. Lodging by family in cheap 1-, 2- or 3- bedroom mobile homes (or some sort of pre-fab, modular, portable housing). Discount coupons on clothes. And how about if the site included a library (not a great one, but with lots of basics and textbooks and with the ability to order from larger metro libraries). And large (probably free) night classes in English, Business, Agriculture, Technology--your basic Vocational skills. Hell, qualifying individuals could perhaps be received into a local Associates of Arts program.
Many rules would have to be laid down, too. Expulsion from the program would be automatic on the third unexcused absence (deteriorating point system), the second time found drunk at work, and so on.
Americans, chiefly white males and some black males, would complain, naturally, that a minority was encroaching unfairly on the entry-level job market, a field which was their God-given domain. They'd scream reverse discrimination, quota-crap, and how the whole world generally spurned them and their dignity. Even though most (not all) of those complaining rarely take advantage of the opportunity they're given, seeking to pull down others rather than lift up themselves. Well, here's an answer for them: they can qualify for the exact same program, exact same benefits, the whole deal. But that means the whole deal--same rules to abide by, and while I suppose you can't easily revoke someone's citizenship who was born with it, you can flag their social security number and never let them into the program again. On the other hand, there are a lot of homeless and simply disadvantaged people out their who might find such a program a god-send: the ability to start over again, rebuilding your self and your future through the efforts of your own hands. A sort of proletariat Foreign Legion.
The entire concept is reminiscent of the Indentured Servants who helped build America in the Colonial days. And, like that notion, it has an inseparable capacity for abuse. The shadow of exploitation taints everything in our society. There would be abundant room for corruption in such a system, and to be honest, it is America's amply-demonstrated capacity for depravity that frightens me most about the idea. When exactly did the system of indentured servants deteriorate into simple servanthood, and finally slavery? What sort of abuse might go on in a camp, perpetrated by unscrupulous security guards, foremen, even camp administrators, all knowing that their victims could never cry out for fear of their (or their husband) being sent back to the hell from which they had fled? So some sort of appeals process would be called for, which would be horrendously expensive, time-consuming, and make for bad press. I'd like to eliminate the problem of corrupt officials althogether, but I haven't found a way yet.
So, how about it, Mr. Vice-President? Can you think of any applications for such an industrious, highly motivated yet cheap work force? Would it be cheap (I really don't know the price tags on things like relocatable housing, food services, and group education...but you do, or you can find out). I've read Earth In the Balance, and The Next 100 Years before that, and lots of Wendell Berry in between. Could this be used to meet any of the concerns voiced in those books?
To be honest, I don't have many applications in mind for the group I propose. My principle motive in suggesting such a course is that I hate to see America turn its back on a struggling nation we helped to destroy, and actively cordon off many excellent workers--men who built entire flotillas and orchestrated the escapes of whole villages--while protecting the interests of a bunch of slovenly Budwiser drinkers who just happened to be "born here."
Well, that's all I had to say. Think about it, and drop me a line some time.
Mark V. Zieg