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Guest Workers

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Back in 2006, I pointed out that the “guest worker” that Congress was trying to ram through would probably less serve to legalize Mexican illegals than to import Asian cryptoslaves, while encouraging Mexicans to continue to illegally immigrate. I wrote in VDARE, using the example of procurer Mordechai Orian’s business:

A reader sent me this revealing article about the H-2A system by Lornet Turnbull in the Seattle Times (2/20/05):

“New state import: Thai farmworkers”

“The 170 Thai workers imported into the Yakima Valley to harvest apples and cherries last season were a curiosity in this part of the state where Latinos, not Asians, have been a familiar presence.

“The men, mostly poor farmers from rural Thailand, were the first foreign workers brought to Washington to pick fruit under a decades-old federal guest-worker program meant to fill labor shortages in agriculture. …

And here’s the bottom line: Thai cryptoslaves, excuse me, “temporary workers” have a “lower runaway rate.”

“[Mordechai] Orian [the procurer] says he isn’t whipsawing one group against another and in the past has brought workers from Mexico and Central America as well as Asia. He said the Thais have a lower runaway rate than the others and are more productive.” [Emphasis mine]

A lower runaway rate. Have we come to this?

From yesterday’s NYT:

A federal grand jury in Honolulu has indicted six labor contractors from a Los Angeles manpower company on charges that they imposed forced labor on some 400 Thai farm workers, in what justice officials called the biggest human-trafficking case ever brought by federal authorities.

The charges, prepared by Justice Department civil rights lawyers, were brought against the president, three executives and two Thai labor contractors from Global Horizons Manpower, which recruits foreign farm workers for the federal agricultural guest worker program, known as H-2A.

The indictment, which was unsealed Thursday in Hawaii, accuses Global Horizons executives of working to “obtain cheap, compliant labor” from guest workers who had been forced into debt in Thailand to pay fees to local recruiters. The company, according to the indictment, sought to “to compel the workers’ labor and service through threats to have them arrested, deported or sent back to Thailand, knowing the workers could not pay off their debts if sent home.”

The number of workers who are said to be victims is the largest ever in a human trafficking case, said Xochitl Hinojosa, a Justice Department spokeswoman.

… Since then, Ms. Martorell said, the center has identified 263 Thai guest workers who were brought to the United States on legal temporary visas by Global Horizons, but later fled what they described as oppressive conditions.
The indictment says recruiters in Thailand charged the workers — who earned as little as $1,000 a year farming in their home country — as much as $21,000 to obtain visas for the United States. Global Horizons did not disclose these fees to United States labor officials, the charges state.

Workers who were dispatched to a pineapple farm in Maui and orchards in Washington were paid far less than they had been promised, and were often housed in shoddy conditions, according to the charges; Global Horizons impounded their passports.

In recent weeks, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has issued findings against Global Horizons for civil rights violations, Ms. Martorell said. About 100 Thai workers have been granted residency visas for victims of human trafficking.

Swell. That will encourage Thais to avoid getting sucked into slavery — you get a free green card out of it!

Among those facing charges are Mordechai Yosef Orian, president of Global Horizons, and Pranee Tubchumpol, director of international relations. Mr. Orian surrendered in Honolulu on Friday and pleaded not guilty, The Associated Press reported.  
The AP’s report is a little more colorful:

Orian appeared in Honolulu federal court with his ankles chained and wearing a blue collared shirt with gray pants. He was represented by a court-appointed attorney based on his contention that he couldn’t afford one himself.

Orian, an Israeli national, faces a maximum sentence of 70 years imprisonment. He was ordered deported from the United States last year, but he has remained in the country during his appeal. The reason for his pending deportation is unknown.

U.S. Attorney Susan French called Orian’s arrest “a major saga” because his public relations agency had told authorities varying stories that he was in Los Angeles, Texas and Albuquerque, N.M.

Authorities intended to arrest Orian when his plane arrived in Honolulu, but they later learned he had tried to “trick” authorities by boarding a separate flight, said French, an attorney with the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division. They didn’t know his whereabouts until he had already caught a taxi from the Honolulu airport.

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Of the tens of thousands of economists in America, George Borjas is one of the handful who specialize in doing empirical research on the effects of immigration. His crucially-needed expertise has taken Borjas all the way to an endowed chair at Harvard, yet few other economists have followed his successful career path, preferring to theorize (and moralize) about what immigration ought to be doing based on a handful of bumper-sticker notions. An interesting case of market failure that some economist should investigate Dani Rodrik:

1. The thing I object to most in the proposal is the amnesty of 12 million illegal immigrants WITHOUT addressing the fundamental border enforcement problem. For a number of reasons (fairness, incentives), it is irresponsible to address the question of what to do with the current 12 million illegals without first resolving the issue so that we do not have to revisit this again in a few years. I have no problem with taking some sort of action that will bring the illegals “out of the shadows” at some point. But it’s probably prudent to do nothing about this until we make sure that this is not a problem that will recur yet again.

2. As for the guest worker program, I think that your perspective [in favor of a guest worker program] involves more than a little wishful thinking. Can you really guarantee that the guest workers will in fact be temporary workers? How are you going to get them to go back? Have you thought about how the U.S. judicial system will react to a lawsuit brought about by someone who doesn’t want to get into the plane ride home? What’s to prevent them from becoming illegal immigrants in the end?

Think of the German experience. As a very wise person once said about that experience: “we wanted workers and we got people instead.” Guest workers tend to get sick, tend to get married, procreate, etc., and all of these inevitable life events open up entitlements in the U.S. system that cannot be ignored–some of which are very costly. So your guest worker idea is, to a significant extent, a permanent immigration increase being sold as a temporary inflow.

Now, you and I can debate over whether such an increase is desirable. I don’t think so, but I’m willing to be convinced otherwise if you can prove to me that the gains to “us” are sufficiently large (and it is the definition of “us” that we probably disagree most about). But the debate must be conducted in a transparent and honest way: this is not really about temporary workers at all, it’s really about permanent immigration.

And, again, because it is people we are importing–not just workers in a widget factory–there are non-economic issues that cannot be ignored (culture, language, security, etc.) unless you are proposing that the guest workers be packed away in some warehouse from the day they arrive until the day they are shipped back home.

3. I’m glad to hear you and I agree on the underlying economics–there are downward pressures on wages. I don’t know if Lant would agree–I saw him give a talk in Milan the other day and a big bullet in the PowerPoint was: no evidence of wage effects! It’s funny how people (on both sides of the political divide) are willing to put aside the elements of supply and demand when they want to argue for open labor flows.

4. The point system is great. I would love to think that, at last, someone paid attention to something I said! But I doubt it.

Steve Sailer
About Steve Sailer

Steve Sailer is a journalist, movie critic for Taki's Magazine, columnist, and founder of the Human Biodiversity discussion group for top scientists and public intellectuals.

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