Monday, March 12, 2007 New Center Report: Foreign Guestworkers Routinely Exploited by U.S. Employers

Guestworkers New Center Report: Foreign Guestworkers Routinely Exploited by U.S. Employers

Guestworkers who come to the United States are routinely cheated out of wages; forced to mortgage their futures to obtain low-wage, temporary jobs; held virtually captive by employers who seize their documents; forced to live in squalid conditions; and denied medical benefits for injuries

We want immigrants of course: who else will do our dirty work? But we want them out of sight in Bantustans, and illegal or semi-legal so that they can’t make a fuss.

Here’s a nice review America Alone, a paranoid fantasy of Europe devolved into the continent of Eurabia, dominated by Muslims who have taken over by out-breeding the indigenous population and have established an Islamicist regime. In my reading for the multiculturalism book I’ve come across similar paranoid fantasies about the rise of the Nation of Aztlan in the American Southwest.

Neither Eurabia nor Aztlan are going to happen. But these visions and the policies they promote are self-fulfilling prophecies. We don’t like the way these people behave: they don’t speak the language of the country where they live or buy into its “values,” they live tribally and they have no commitment to the public good outside of their families and clans, they treat women like shit, they loiter in public places and live their lives outdoors in a way we find repellant, they live in squalor and their kids join the “rainbow underclass.” So we don’t want them around: we want them contained in Bantustans, housing projects or camps in ravines—so that they can do our dirty work and then disappear.

We worry that they’ll outbreed us and take over so that we won’t be able to live the kinds of lives we want to live: the whole country will turn into a squalid slum and the streets will be bazaars; there will be knots of young macho-males hanging around every street corner and convenience store, hassling women who go past and getting into brawls, hustlers hawking their wares and street vendors barbequing greasy meat for sale. The streets will be trashed, families will dump old refrigerators and cars on their front lawns, and sit outside at all hours of the day and night, on lawn chairs or stoops, playing loud music and screaming to one another in foreign languages. Let’s be honest: that’s what we worry about—that combination of foreignness and the generic culture of poverty.

But it’s precisely poverty and exclusion that perpetuate that behavior. If immigrants get decent jobs they move to the suburbs and mow their lawns. If they have a fair shot at economic and social integration into the larger community they learn English, educate their children and assimilate. It’s the assumption that they prefer to live as they do that perpetuates that “culture”: we, rightly, detest it so we exclude them and their exclusion perpetuates it.

I’ve been reading Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s memoir, Infidel. After picking up her new passport at the local post office Hirsi Ali turns heads by shouting in the street, “I’m Dutch!” She loves the tidiness and order, the safety, cleanliness and fairness of Holland and regards her escape from the third world as liberation—not only from poverty and danger, but from an oppressive culture. She identifies it with Islam but there she’s wrong: it’s the generic culture of traditional societies which, under the influence of urbanization, becomes the culture of poverty. She wanted out, and got out.

But I don’t think the difference between her and others who remain stuck in this oppressive culture is a matter of preference: she was smart enough and bold enough to take the risk of exit. Most aren’t—I wouldn’t be. People stick with their clans and tribes, and live accordingly, because it keeps them afloat: breaking out is a risk they can’t afford to take. Show people what is possible, not merely abstractly possible but possible for them, and make it seriously possible for them—wind down the risks of exit, promote integration—and they will go for it.


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