Families versus Workers, Morality versus Self-Interest

New Orleans     When Franklin Graham, Billy Graham’s son, and one of the most prominent evangelists in the country and someone with in-and-out privileges at the White House says the Trump family-separation anti-immigrant policy is “immoral,” you know there’s something truly evil in this mess.  Trump has even expressed reservations about family separation as a policy in the past, but the mad dog anti-immigrants of the administration, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and adviser Stephen Miller, have somehow managed, in the words of conservative New York Times columnist Ross Douthat, to make this “the wickedest thing done by this administration so far.”  There’s no one in America who wants to look at that long list, so you know this ranks as the worst of the worst.

So, we now have 2000 children in what some very sober-minded commentators are calling Nazi-like concentration camps that are converted Walmart supercenters along the border.  The Trumpsters are lying about this being a policy forced on them, but the fig leaf covering this atrocity is the notion that the nuclear option of family separation will act as a deterrent.   We have to ask whether families going through the trauma of fleeing their home countries in fear for their own lives and those of their children can really effectively be deterred under any circumstances.  Trump’s draconian policies in fact might deter some families, but these families are going to go somewhere, and some or many will still rate the odds and come here.  We can look around the world or at our own national experience.  We cannot stop migration.  We can potentially control migration, but the right is wrong to believe immigration can be banned, no matter how evil our policies might become.

Douthat argues that a least-worse policy would be to ramp up E-verify, the program that scrutinizes employers’ workforce in order to root out and deport any undocumented workers.  The irony here is so rich.  The paradox is so painful.  This isn’t going to happen, because in a period of less than 4% unemployment, employers, especially in the service industries are crying for more workers.  Business wants immigrant workers and will continue to demand them.  Neoliberalism loves a mobile and transient workforce but hates the families they leave behind and has no plan or place for the ones that workers bring along.

Reading about the suicide of Anthony Bourdain, I realized I had never read his classic, Kitchen Confidential.  I have now done so, and it’s a wonderful read in addition to being chock full of insights.  Bourdain is being mourned in some quarters as an unabashed advocate for immigrants and their rights, which is all true, but it is also true because he saw his Latin American kitchen staff as his hardest, most faithful, and easiest to manage workers.  The number two lesson he offered at the end of the book was “learn Spanish.”  Bourdain’s commitment, it’s fair to say, was as much business as personal.

Business doesn’t want E-verify.  They want cheaper, harder working, even precarious employees. They also don’t want anything to do with their families.  The United States will be more willing to endure human rights complaints from the United Nation and around the world for the inhumane conditions of our family-separation child-incarceration policies than we will be willing to create problems for businesses.  Case closed, but what a tragedy.

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