earlier… You have a decision to make as a society: would you rather bring in higher-skilled or lower-skilled? And we’ve made a decision as a Congress to put a little greater emphasis on the higher skilled, and that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a roll for lower skilled… and there isn’t a roll for people of all backgrounds. But we decided that we would in a world in which more and more kinds of competitive aspects are related to higher skills and we have put an emphasis on that, and we also put an emphasis on family, and family implies any skill, and so we have a mixture of emphasis, it’s no accident that we have a slight tilt towards higher skilled.
Working in a welfare program here in Cedar Rapids …county, a lot of people that we see as clients are NOT immigrants. We don’t have that many on our case load at all. I would say my case load is 99 percent just local people, not any immigrants. I had that one battered alien, that’s here, and a couple of others, in a case load of maybe about 180. The… what Congressman Leach is talking about that the people that are coming in from Chicago, Milwakee, that are on our rolls that we are having a problem with, so… unskilled people who are coming in to just find work here, because we are considered safe, quote, safe city, so that’s kind of … our welfare rolls, not so much the immigrants that are that population.
Most immigrants are not eligible for, to receive welfare. Most immigrants are not eligible to receive any kind of means tested benefits. When someone sponsors a family member for… to immigrate here, that person has to sign an affidavit of support, and that person has to be making at least 125 percent of the poverty level to be able to sign that affidavit of support, and that person is liable if the immigrant ever receives any kind of … benefits. That person has to reimburse the government for that.
I do think that our emphasis legally on the skilled is part of what causes the illegal immigration. And having worked in the Chicago area where there was a demand for minimum wage positions… those were usually filled by illegal immigrants. And if we have that need that is highly unlikely to be met by either people from the United States or the highly skilled that come in as immigrants, and I think that we have to recognize the need that we have in this country for minimum wage positions that are not going to be met by our own… native workers. I think that is shown in Iowa by the packing plants which are … the concentrations in Iowa of eh… immigrants, and some of those probably are illegal.
There is something … I wanna say, too, though, about those jobs as… at one time those jobs were higher paid jobs, and then the wage floor has reduced such that it’s not … it’s not a livable wage anymore. Also, I think there are fewer union protections, so when workers are there, they are not protected, and so… ah…eh… there is an economic situation that’s so complicated eh, to me, I, I think… eh… oh, I’ve lost my train of thought…
I think that’s an excellent point, though, that puts tremendous, it’s, it’s, I studied economics and, and, you know, when you have extra supply, it does force wages down. And it does hurt people who are already here, eh blue collar that live here unskilled … I don’t think there’s any question that across the country… you know, there’s isolated places where this won’t be true, you know, maybe in Iowa, ‘cause we’re labor short, yes… but around the country it’s forcing wages down, and it’s putting a lot of pressure on the blue collar that are, that are here already.
Well the second major stance on this issue is that, is that we should um raise the quotas in effect on on ya know all three prongs of the immigration policy—family sponsored, skilled worker, humanitarian, that we should ya know we should raise all of those.
Is our ability to do that, to respond to that position affected by our inability to control illegal immigration? If we had less illegal immigration would we be able to raise those quotas?
Well, I think a factor, Jim, that, maybe the elephant in the corner, is that as an American consumer I want cheap goods. You know, the example that, some might be familiar with, would be having roof put on your house. You can choose a company that pays fair wages, fair benefits, deals with the benefits that you were talking about, or you could choose another company that would be… substantially less expensive to engage… ah… you know, and as an American consumer I might choose, choose the cheaper one. As a tradeoff for that choice I am also creating a vacuum, so to speak, that attracts people that would work for less, a lesser wage. Food, housing, you know, I think every quarter hotels, every place, you know, what we want is something cheap and we are seemingly unwilling to pay the difference between fairness and cheapness. And I find that disturbing and, and… you know, I really… that seems to be a major part of the issue that we don’t talk about.
SOMEBODY (a female)
Well, people get exploited at a certain point… too.
BREAK IN THE TAPE
…the lowest price, let’s talk about the lowest legal price, maybe, so, as long as you are geting the best price, maybe, you don’t pay more, ‘cause you don’t have an option; it is really shameful that a company like Walmart, they can say “We didn’t know”, well, come on… they surely knew, there were hundreds of thousands of people who were working there, we could do something about that, we need to do something about that…
So do we want to talk heritage and humanitarianism as long as it serves capitalism?
What we don’t talk about… we crouch it a lot in economic model, but I think really where – at least for me… and maybe for some other folks here – I think … a lot of this discussion here about the quote immigration problem is based on color. And it’s based on race. Immigration’s fine when everybody looks like you, but when all of a sudden people look a little different I think that’s when we’ve put some of these caps on some of these… I guess some… some caps on some of the quotas. On so many people who come into this country. What concerns me is the terrorism problem. And, and, and I really… I think what I heard earlier is that most immigrants who come in this country come in wanting to work and pay taxes and wanna be, they don’t wanna be illegal, they don’t have problems going through the system if the system is set up to accommodate ‘em, I also think this country to some extent we can handle, we see that they are not on welfare rolls per se, and so the drain the fallacy that they are a drain on the economy that’s out there might not be as true as what a lot of people think, and so when you come to places like the heartland and when you see that conflict, I think it’s based more in the fact that people just look different.
I would tend to disagree with that. ‘Cause my mom worked in the SCS – it was called SCS at that time, soil conservation service, - in Marion several years ago, twenty years ago, and at that point time there was Affirmative Action already taking place, she saw as a secretary there three young men that were coming in to interview for a job, they were all high school age and the one who got hired, no, you know, no more credentials than any others, in fact he was lacking in some, was a black person. And my mom said that was fine with her, because she had done a lot of work with a lot of black women when she did waitress work and when she went to the…Pepsico company in Chicago, and she found them to be excellent workers, but she said that she was sorely disappointed that this young man didn’t show up for work, the boss who had hired him made a point that he should quote “a feather in his cap” for hiring this person. So, that was an affirmative action decision, it was not one based on equality. We could go back to our constitution, we talk about being created equal, and then we throw that out of the window just like the young women who were not able to enter Michigan University because they were white, their grades were actually higher than those who were of another race, a minority race, and yet those young women weren’t allowed into the school, they were not until President Bush and some of the people in this administration entered into that and discussed that situation, and asked for these merits to be weighed out… So, I think we wanna be really careful, it’s a fine line to walk, we definitely wanna be accepting, I grew up accepting people of all colors, because my mom always had that viewpoint, because she’d worked with people of other colors and other cultures, we had … my father was a serviceman, so we were over in Tehran, Iran, when I was only a year old. We’ve had foreign-language visitors, foreign visitors who speak other language to our farm, … to two hundred visitors… enjoyed them thoroughly, we’ve had some of them to our dinner table, we had… have hosted for an exchange student to go to high school. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed that experience.
So, I just feel that it’s a fine line, because when we bring someone else in to do the job, then we are displacing people who have been here for many many years before, if we are bringing in immigrants, people who are vying for these same jobs. Who is gonna get the job and who is gonna go without? There’s always been…’cause there is not enough jobs to go around.
I think you are mixing your groups here. You are talking about affirmative action, we are talking about immigration. Two different issues completely.
Completely different. You’ve got immigration ‘cause people want to come here for a better life, you’ve got affirmative action to balance out the workforces of people that are already here. I think a lot of people take immigration issues… if it is someone from Europe – fine! – if they are white, with light skin, blond hair, hey, let them in! But they are not, they are dark-skinned people from Latin America, people from the South America and Central America, and the Arab countries…
After 9-11, the government’s response to 9-11 forced a lot of people from the Arab countries, from the Muslim countries underground; those who tried to come in and do the right thing and take the paperwork, they were, some of them were in the grey area, they were scooped up, a lot of people in our community just disappeared! Completely off the radar, gone! Either they were deported or they just went underground. I think the US’s response to immigration, the government itself, I think, there is a huge imbalance right at this moment, this very moment. My husband was lucky enough to come here 15 or 20 years ago, and he came as a student and he went through the system and got his paperwork. But we got married when he had his green card, and they gave him an incredibly hard time… I’ve got a brother-in-law right now; he and my sister have two children, and… they were hauled into court no less than 20 times to prove that they were married. They have two children, how can you not? My sister is pregnant and she is going to have a baby any day, and the court had a gall to look at her and say: “Is your marriage real?” (NO LAUGHTER) You know, I mean, the immigration system is very unbalanced in this country, completely! Especially after 9-11. I think the, I think that you’re mixing your groups when you say affirmative action and…
KAREN tries to respond, but MATT forcefully takes the conversation over.
I would like to say that it is very important to realize that unfortunately there is a small minority of people that do oppose immigration on racial issues, but as to the majority of people that oppose immigration are not racists, and actually do because they are concerned about a lot of social and economic costs. And what I really appreciate for this type of forum to take place and this debate… because it is so crucial in terms of the issue to overcome the misinformation that drives a lot of times the very negative view of immigration which is unfounded. For example, you know, I completely agree with you by hearing a lot of us …giving undocumented immigrants no free ride, and not on taxes… Of course, I am gonna oppose it, that is why we have such a hot burning issue, but I think that the issue here is that there is a lot of misinformation and unawareness, and lack of debate…
SOMEBODY (a female, MIRIAM?)
…and once a debate takes place actually we realize that immigrants… the contributions outweigh the costs, the costs are very real, but the contributions or the potential contributions , if we actually integrate immigrants successfully, over the long term would greatly outweigh the costs and most importantly there is that shared … that is what I believe the most important to the issue of immigration is that we have common ground of those shared values, in a lot of ways it’s who we are as a nation. And over a long term it is really… a benefit to everyone.
One of the issues, though, it is… short term… you know, what ARE the economics of that? And I don’t know if we have good numbers, I can tell you, I’ve read… And I’ve stated that sort of earlier… I think that first generation, it’s possible that they actually cost us, but by the second and third generation, they are hard working people, they get educated, most of these folks … The guy that worked for me is… from… eh, Ir-Iran… his kids went to college, now he is hoping for better, that’s what parents want… better… and then by the second-third generation, usually is much better… this has been our history. The problem is, the first generation, low skilled, there is a lot of costs associated and so when you roll through the economics… it gets very complicated, are there a net winner or a net loser, and… I would say that we really don’t know.
I think you … point… short-term/ long-term. I mean where would this country be today without the massive immigration that took place in the early 1900s? Would we be as wealthy a society as we have? And there were certainly … economic costs back then, and at that time my sense is society was a little less welcoming and supporting them, opening arms to help. But I do think the short-term and long-term cost is a good measure. I think also that issue of concentrations. You can overwhelm … probably makes sense. And I think that one of the public services that deals… pays the toughest cost, the most cost is schools. Because we really do have, in particular in this state – and other states too, – a commitment to all kids. And we want them all to do well. Heard the superintendent of the Des Moines schools talk the other day: in Des Moines they have kids speaking native languages, forty seven native languages,… who are attending school. And so some of them are English-full others of them are not, and they really need help to work through there. And that is a very direct expense and cost. What’s interesting, you know, is usually we see those kids a few years later and they have assimilated in terms of language very effectively and very well, but it is a cost upfront. To help prepare them to be a part of society and help make their own contribution to our greater society’s growth.
One question that keeps coming back to me, and I doubt if I have nearly the knowledge of immigration law and how it’s created and so on and so forth as most people do here, but I am really questioning how is our immigration law formed? I don’t know. When you think about most important things that are really important and have a lot of impact on our society, what do we hold for beliefs? What do we believe about immigrants, about immigration, about people’s rights? Whatever it may be, I am wondering are those written down somewhere? Like you said, I think you have to have discussion like this to create those… but what are these decisions being based on is what I’d like to know. Obviously a lot of them are short-term, economic, foreign policy, whatever, but … I am just wondering how those laws are created. Do we have a set of beliefs and who decided on those beliefs, and this is just a question that keeps coming up to me.