I've just finished watching the full two hour House of Representatives subcommittee hearing. Although I'm a certified political junkie, I watched for one reason, to see Colbert testifying in his character of right wing pundit. I read the reviews and saw the clips on the news, while describing his satire, ignored the more important story.
At the beginning of the hearing, as has been widely reported Representative John Conyers asked Colbert to leave, to "remove himself" as he had served his purpose of getting the public interested.
I'm glad he didn't comply, as it was only to watch his humor that I, and my wife, came to understand the immigration issue at a deeper level.
There were three witnesses other then Colbert who spoke, and the most valuable to me was an apple farmer. He conveyed the bind he was in as a businessman, whose product is now competing with similar ones imported from Chile that are keeping selling prices depressed. If he was denied the "unauthorized employee" labor pool, the higher wages would have to be incorporated into his pricing structure, which quite simply would put him out of business.
This was confirmed by the other witnesses, if not directly. He also pointed out that, unlike other manufacturers, the profit margin is low and all farmers work on credit that is due and payable at harvest. If labor were not to be available, as it wasn't for a while because regulations allowing in Jamaican workers were held up, the crop would rot in a few days, and he would be bankrupt.
There are several illusions that are promoted by the two parties on this issue. On the Democratic side there is the assertion that a comprehensive immigration bill, with a "path to citizenship" which, like it or not does entail amnesty for the criminal act* of illegally entering the country, would be a one time permanent fix. What could lead to this conclusion? It is modeled after the bill passed during the Reagan administration that was also touted a one timer.
It is agreed that these jobs are the lowest level of employment, and if those who hold it come close to achieving the American Dream, their children will aspire and achieve something better. So, as the 1986 bill only worked for a while, so this one will also not be stable.
America imports almost all that we use, our clothing, appliances and cars. Food is something different. We spend hundreds of billions on our military, which enables us to destroy countries at will. It does not give us the power to conquer these countries, to occupy them to our benefit.
This is what Japan did in the early 30s, not because they were evil, but they were dependent on others to provide their island with the vital sustenance of food. If our food production were to go the way of televisions, clothing, and other industries that are now off shore, we would be vulnerable to economic sanctions or to blockades. We could destroy such a country, but we couldn't make them feed us.
It turns out the the country that would benefit if our agriculture industry were to be lost is, you guessed it, China. They are able to produce at lower prices the apples and other crops now made economically viable only because of low cost labor, that is low cost because these people are not here legally, and have few options.
The chairperson of the committee, Zoe Lofgren, who had been an immigration lawyer before a legislator, had some genuine insights, beyond realizing the exposure value of having Colbert as a witness. She pointed out the employment multiplier effect of each illegal worker. "Upstream" in food processing and "downstream" in services, housing and sustaining these workers. This has to be balanced with the social costs of this system of accepting the de facto necessity of the current system. Is the public subsidy, real even though denied by many, worth the manifest benefits if this system keeps this vital industry, and others, in this country?
It would be nice if I could tie this together with a bow, one that would ring true to this audience preferably, since I have to read the comments. But the issue is actually even more thorny that I had realized, and I learned this only because of a comedian, who got me to watch two hours of an intense conversation. He made all the more real when he blew his cover by explaining his involvement in this issue because of his concern for, "those who are the most vulnerable in our society, none being more so than those who pick our food. We need what they do, yet we want to arrest for doing it."
You have to watch the entire hearing, but by the end we get to know the real Steven Colbert, a caring and perceptive human being; and he will never live it down.
*It is often argued that those who surreptitiously come to this country from Mexico are not criminals, only committing a civil infraction. This would make the terms "illegal" and "amnesty" inaccurate distortions.
It turns out that such people have committed misdemeanors, a class of crime, as described in this article:
Section 1325 [of Title 8, Chapter 12, Subchapter II, Part VIII]. [U.S. Code as of: 01/06/03]
Improper entry by alien
(a) Improper time or place; avoidance of examination or inspection;
misrepresentation and concealment of facts
Any alien who (1) enters or attempts to enter the United States
at any time or place other than as designated by immigration
officers, ...........shall, for the first
commission of any such offense, be fined under title 18 or
imprisoned not more than 6 months, or both, and, for a subsequent
commission of any such offense, be fined under title 18, or
imprisoned not more than 2 years, or both.
(b) Improper time or place; civil penalties
Based on these facts, the term "illegal" is appropriate to define the immigration status of such persons, as is the word "amnesty" to describe the removal of existing punishments for such crimes, which is the definition of the word. In this case, unlike use of the term "death" to describe taxes on only a small subset of those who die, it is the left that is inappropriately politicizing our common language.
Here's an interesting articlefrom Vanity Fair, on Steve Colbert, the man and the character