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That Border War

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Immigration Issue Is All About Cheap Labor

By James Donahue

The following text was passed on to me in my e-mail about a year ago and it got tossed in my file of things to do. It is an unsigned letter supposedly written by a teacher in a California Title I high school that gets state and federal grant money to help educate children from poor (migrant) families.

This person noted that “Title One schools are on the free breakfast and free lunch program. When I say free breakfast, I’m not talking a glass of milk and roll – but a full breakfast and cereal bar with fruits and juices that would make a Marriott proud. The waste of this food is monumental, with trays and trays of it being dumped in the trash uneaten.

The writer also complained that over 50 percent of the students in the program are obese, or at least moderately overweight. Also the teacher complained that most, an estimated 75 percent of these “poor” students came to school with cell phones.

The school also provides day care centers for the unwed teenage pregnant girls so they can attend class without the inconvenience of having to arrange for babysitters or having family watch their kids.”

The letter continued: “I was ordered to spend $700,000 on my department or risk losing funding for the upcoming year even though there was little need for anything; my budget was already substantial.”

While we could not prove these allegations, we did some research on Title One programs and learned that they are, indeed, financed by state and federal tax dollars and designed to provide training and meals for underprivileged children.

And in my years of reporting township, city and county government, and especially public schools, I know that department heads are always under pressure to follow a basic rule when it comes to state and federal government grant programs. That is “spend it or lose it.” Every dollar that comes in one year must be used up or the size of the grant gets cut proportionately the following year.

This rule was apparently designed to curtail wasteful spending but it had an opposite effect. Recipients of such grant dollars discovered three things about obtaining grants. 1.) It takes a lot of skill and paperwork, sometimes requiring hiring professional people to write successful applications for grants; 2.) Once you get the money, the only way to assure that you keep every penny of the allocated money is to use it all, and 3.) State and federal money is considered pork-barrel or “free” money that is over and above the meager amounts usually available in local allocated or voted taxes for operating schools.

To use up her allocation of grant money, this teacher wrote that it was used to buy new computers, “half of which, one month later, have been carved with graffiti by the appreciative students who obviously feel humbled and grateful to have a free education in America.”

We must explain at this point that this program was obviously designed to help children of Mexican-American families who were in California to find work. Many of them were apparently the sons and daughters of the so-called “illegal immigrants,” and it is clear that the writer was not in support of it. In fact, the letter goes on to describe what appears to be an ongoing drama of racial tension that should not exist in any school.

The teacher said that many of the “illegal immigrant students” in the school “raised so much hell with the female teachers, calling them ‘putas” (whores) and throwing things that the teachers were in tears.

As well as a free education, day care and food, the students in Title One also receive free medical assistance, the letter said. “Is it any wonder they feel entitled to not only be in this country but to demand rights, privileges and entitlements?”

The writer makes a point that the school program is only part of an immigration problem that involves a mixing of two cultures that refuse to assimilate and an American public that is paying heavily in taxes to support the influx of “cheap labor” for business interests.

Cheap labor – Isn’t that what the whole immigration issue is about? Business doesn’t want to pay a decent wage. Consumers don’t want expensive produce. Government will tell you Americans don’t want the jobs. But the bottom line is cheap labor.”

The writer then goes on to suggest that the concept of cheap labor is a farce, since our tax dollars are paying for not only the education, the meals, the day care and medical needs of the immigrant worker, but the worker qualifies for subsidized housing, food stamps, relief from high energy bills and even Social Security and Medicare after retirement.

Even though the migrant worker takes a farm job that pays five dollars an hour, “he and his wife qualify for an equivalent of $20 to $30 in benefits,” the writer argues. The worker also “doesn’t worry about car insurance, life insurance or homeowners insurance.

All this is being financed by American taxpayers who, in turn, are losing their good paying jobs to outsourcing as big corporations move out of the United States in a quest to find cheap labor overseas. Thus many American taxpayers are earning little more than the Mexican migrant worker. Yet their costs of living are generally much higher.

This is what the tension at the Mexican border is all about. It is not an issue that can be resolved by building bigger fences and hiring more police officers to patrol that border. What is needed is a cooperative effort by the Mexican and United States governments to find solutions without the use of force and avoiding ethnic prejudice.