When I worked for electronics giant Hamilton-Avnet as a copywriter, I had an enviable position: I got to go anywhere, meet anybody. I didn’t have to stick in a single corporate niche, because everybody communicated (eventually) through me or my one fellow writer. I made friends all over the company.
One of my best friends there headed the human resources department. Sometimes his job was dangerous. Sometimes he had to fire people who were caught stealing.
“They come to think of it as part of their salary,” my friend said. “So when you catch them and fire them, they act like you’re stealing from them, instead of them stealing from you. They’ve worked out a whole rationale for why they deserve that extra income.”
Thus threatened, the guilty employee may attack. Whole HR booklets get written about stuff like this. It happens a lot. In the 1990s, I wrote several articles about employee theft for business papers and magazines. Stealing almost sank Williams-Sonoma, for example, and back then the estimate for the total amount lost to business through theft ran into the billions per year.
BUSINESS FIGHTS BACK against employee theft. It has to. Losses to theft come right off the bottom line. Employers cannot catch every dishonest employee. But they catch enough of them to deter many of the rest, or even to make some miscreant employees quit stealing before they get caught.
In Los Angeles last week, half a million people marched in indignation that illegal immigrants might actually be held to account for breaking the law. I was reminded of my friend the HR director. “When you catch them, they act like you’re stealing from them, instead of them stealing from you.”
Indeed, the protesters quoted in the press mainly protested that they deserved what they got from America, whether their status was legal or illegal. Some of them proclaimed an irredentist devotion to “reclaiming” the southwestern United States for Mexico. (“This company steals my time and pays me crap, so I’m just getting my own back.”) Thomas Sowell, pleading for (at least) some honesty in language, points out that one invites guests to one’s home, thus “guest workers” does not apply. He says “gate crashers” better defines the illegal immigrant worker in the U.S.
THIS CANNOT HOLD. Not because there’s such a split between the two houses of Congress over an immigration bill, not because there’s an even sharper split between elite opinion and the people’s opinion, but because a country, no more than an individual or a business, cannot hold two opposing moral ideas at the same time. A business cannot run for profit and yet wink at employees stealing 10 percent off the bottom line. Mob-run businesses collapse from the skim. A country may get away with a little bit of illegal foreign labor. But not a lot. (Cf. France.) A country may escape a reckoning for some moral hypocrisy. But not a lot of it.
And in illegal immigration, we have lots of hypocrisy — from the idea of “jobs that Americans won’t do” to the hare-brained notion of a double-six-year-plus-$2,000-fine qualifying a former illegal as a “guest worker.” Right. If I’m an illegal, I’m really going to go for that.
A caller to the Howie Carr show got it exactly right in a jape that conflated two issues, illegal immigration and a local Massachusetts concern over raising the driving age. “If my 16-year-old daughter has been driving illegally since she was 11, I think we ought to have a law that says if she can prove she’s been driving illegally, we’ll let her pay a $50 fine and then she can get a provisional license.”
IMMIGRATION MAY BE SEEN as the flip side of hypocrisy on drugs. On drugs, no enforcement — that is, no punitive law — would work better for society than the kind of prohibition we have now. With immigration, we have had non-enforcement for going on four decades, forty years of having, in reality, no immigration policy at all. With immigration, almost any enforcement, even absent new laws, would work better than what we have now.
Start with arresting, punishing, and deporting illegals. I myself wrote some months ago that it would be impossible to deport 11 million people, that America would be scored for “cultural genocide” and worse by the BBC and NPR and the rest of that pack. And maybe we would, but I got brought up short and sharp by a clear-thinking John Derbyshire. Derb pointed out correctly that you don’t have to deport 11 million illegals. Just catch, punish, and deport regularly, on a rational basis, and many of the rest will go of their own accord. We don’t catch all burglars. It doesn’t stop us enforcing the laws against house breaking.
For the rest, employer sanctions, border enforcement, a much tougher diplomatic stance with Mexico (which is, after all, taking full advantage of our hypocritical neglect), and most important, a complete overhaul of the legal immigration procedures so it’s not such a laborious slog to become a citizen. The former INS, whatever they’re calling it these days, is rotten. Believe me, I dealt with it when we adopted a child some years back.
It comes back to hypocrisy, which must end. If would-be immigrants knew what our policy was, if that policy were run efficiently, that’s how they’d come. The way things are now, I’d duck the immigration process myself.
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