Microkhan by Brendan I. Koerner

The Men With Weathered Hands

April 21st, 2010 · 1 Comment


Given that our stance on immigration tends to dovetail quite nicely with a certain hoity-toity newsmagazine, we can only shake our heads at Arizona’s latest legislative shenanigans. Sure, we probably shouldn’t be surprised by anything that comes out a state that often seems content to go its oddball way (to Chuck D.’s tremendous displeasure). But the moral case for the bill’s veto aside, we can’t process why more folks aren’t making light of the possible economic consequences of the proposed crackdown.

In purely fiscal terms, one of the bill’s most glaring problems is the way it essentially destroys the current day-labor market. Contractors will face huge penalties if found guilty of knowingly hiring illegal immigrants, and there are specific provisions that ban things like blocking traffic while offering one’s day-labor services. The law’s intent is clear: If contractors want day laborer, they will need to obtain it from citizens or visa holders.

But is that realistic? We find it hard to believe that citizens will provide the same quality-to-pay ratio as their undocumented peers. There’s a reason that day-labor markets the world over tend to be dominated by immigrants of recent vintage—such workers have a strong incentive to produce good labor for low pay, in part because they plan on remitting part of their compensation back home (where it will presumably go farther). And for a state like Arizona, where physical growth remains so vital to the economy, it doesn’t make a heckuva lot of sense to buck that global reality.

If the governor signs the bill, then, what will Arizona’s day-labor scene look like? Let’s turn our eyes east to Japan, which has long had a domestically produced day-labor workforce due to the nation’s hostility toward immigration. Alas, as this 2000 report makes clear, Japanese day laborers tend to be men in desperate circumstances—alcoholics, the homeless, and older workers for whom day labor merely provides a hand-to-mouth existence. In Osaka, the government has had to step in to ensure that these laborers can simply survive.

A disturbing photo essay on the Japanese day-labor scene here. The pictures provide an important reminder: Day labor needs to be a waystation to something better, rather than an end in itself. And, yes, providing economic assistance to a family abroad is definitely something better.

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