Onions, Beds, and Free Trade

Supporting the "doing jobs Americans won't do" argument for guest workers and a possible path to legalization is further evidence of a shortage of labor on at least in some farms in the USA. The always-excellent blogging of Scott Henson points out the further damage more reckless enforcement inflicts on U.S. farms and the lunacy of spending much more taxpayer money on immigration detention centers to hold the people who have traditionally worked those farms.

But Henson leaves out a point that I think must always appear in this section of the immigration debate: Sufficient guest worker provisions or a path to legalization would provide higher standards for all workers because no one would be working illegally. Therefore, no one would undercut the labor market, workers' rights, or opportunities for "American workers". No cheaper, illegal Mexican labor would take jobs (at least some of which it seems U.S. workers won't staff anyway). The playing field would be even.

(The cheap-labor-for-low-food-prices argument so often attributed to and espoused by pro-comprehensive-reform advocates doesn't fly at the top of the flagpole for me, though affordable food is very important to those without unlimited budgets.)

Next comes the tough question as to whether more farms will be forced to cross the border in the other direction to reap the benefits of cheaper labor as certain free trade agreements not only allow them to do but mandate the other nation to provide. That would certainly undercut the U.S. workers and economy.

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