Just Because You Are Inarticulate Does Not Mean You Are Wrong

John Kelly made some blunt comments about illegal immigrants. It does not mean he is incorrect.

Sometimes it takes me a day to catch up with the outrage du jour and the find the source. There's so many on any given day that chronicling all of them would be a full time job. So I am scrolling along and see this:

My first response was, "Well.....duh". Maybe it's because I understand history, the Industrial Revolution or the nature of many entry level jobs in the current economy, but I wondered why Karen was putting out this highly emotive tweet about ancestors who for many American emigrated decades or centuries ago. So I went looking. And I found it.

In an NPR interview John Kelly said something in response to a question about family separation for illegal border crossers (emphasis mine):

Let me step back and tell you that the vast majority of the people that move illegally into United States are not bad people. They're not criminals. They're not MS-13. Some of them are not. But they're also not people that would easily assimilate into the United States into our modern society. They're overwhelmingly rural people in the countries they come from – fourth, fifth, sixth grade educations are kind of the norm. They don't speak English, obviously that's a big thing. They don't speak English. They don't integrate well, they don't have skills. They're not bad people. They're coming here for a reason. And I sympathize with the reason. But the laws are the laws. But a big name of the game is deterrence.

Cue liberal freakout. First of all, John Kelly is career military. I am not sure why anyone is surprised he believes in the rule of law when his entire career is based on following rules and regulations to the letter. Second, I am not at all surprised that his answer cuts to the chase, talks about tactics and is direct. It is typical of almost every high ranking officer I have ever met. So of course, every freakout, to include Karen Tumulty's, focuses on this portion, "They're overwhelmingly rural people in the countries they come from – fourth, fifth, sixth grade educations are kind of the norm. They don't speak English, obviously that's a big thing. They don't speak English. They don't integrate well, they don't have skills." They intentionally omit the context.

Kelly is clearly talking about the challenges presented to low skilled workers in a modern economy. These challenges exist whether you are a citizen or an illegal alien. Fact is in the U.S. economy, to be self sufficient and not rely on some form of government assistance, skills beyond the sixth grade level are almost always required.

To illustrate, I will use my own family history. Most of the family members who emigrated very early, (in my family that predates the American Revolution), took up agriculture on family farms that may have included several branches of the family and multiple generations. This continued through about the 1980's on some level, whether it was renting the land to a corporate farm or maintaining a hobby farm while pursuing other work for income.

The current landscape of agriculture is made up largely of corporate farms. Family farms are disappearing as children do not have an interest in farming as a career and land is being bought up by companies. Agriculture has also become filled with various types of technology and that trend will not stop. Low skill workers in agriculture are relegated to those tasks that have not yet been automated such as picking and harvesting vegetables and fruit.

This type of labor is also rife for abuse if performed by illegal immigrants, which is very common out west. Essentially if you advocate that this is an entry into the U.S. workforce, you are just fine with illegal immigrants receiving subpar wages while doing back breaking labor. It is nearly a form of indentured servitude, which would be abhorrent in any other segment of society due to the grossly uneven exchange. Also, what happens when fruits and vegetables are harvested like this? Wheat has been for decades.

For those who emigrated later, the men entered industrial jobs in the northeast. My maternal great grandfather settled in Ticonderoga, New York and went to work in the paper mill. Jobs in a paper mill in the early 1900's were extremely physical and very manual. Also inherently dangerous as evidenced by the fact my great grandfather died while working in that mill leaving a pregnant young widow and four children. This is what a typical mill looked like in the 1920's:

Oddly, one of my first management jobs was in a paper company. Running a paper machine is no longer the manual job it once was. It is full of computers, programmable logic controllers, and intricate converting systems. Even as a member of the management team not in operations, I was required to understand the basic process so that I could hire appropriate staff for the floor. Our minimum requirement was testing for 8th grade English and 8th grade Math proficiency. That was to take what was called a "paper tender" job. Maintenance employees had to have technical degrees or be journeymen from an apprentice program. Like other companies, we had eliminated janitor and other low skill jobs through continuous process improvement, manufacturing programs like 5S and outsourcing general cleaning. This is what a paper machine operator's (top job making a very good wage) station looks like now:

The most obvious manufacturing industry, and you can tell by historical ICE activity within it, that lends itself to low skill work is meat processing and packing. I will spare you descriptions of the job categories in the meatpacking industry which I was introduced to in grad school, but will say this. For the first time in my life I live near a meat processing plant. My far northern Atlanta ex-burb has a significant population recent immigrants from Central America and that is the industry that brings them here.

I have no idea if these residents are legal or illegal. But they generally have several children and the parents speak little to no English. It is a tremendous drain on the local school district to support ESL for the children and I observe these families use of food stamps and WIC frequently while shopping. And while the children do go to school, you do not routinely see these families at community events in town or popular local establishments. Even church attendance is separate with Spanish speaking services. It is a community within a community that does not seem either willing or motivated to integrate.

These are observations, not judgements or criticisms. Like John Kelly, I fully understand why these families are here. We live in the greatest country in the world and my little ex-burb is pretty awesome. However, we also have to have a very real conversation about how many people we can bring into this country who will have a hard time being self sufficient due to lack of the skills necessary to function at the level the vast majority of our economy requires. And how to ensure those who do come, follow the process to obtain legal residency.

Intuitively, every pundit, policy maker and politician knows unbridled immigration is a drain on our resources. Their motivations for not acknowledging it and having a data driven debate must be relentlessly questioned.

Were Kelly's comments artful? No. Do they contain a thread of truth about something that needs to be a part of the conversation about securing our border and reforming our immigration policy? Absolutely. Legal immigration is wonderful and the policy should consider the economic, social and security interests of the United States. This is most certainly a conversation the political Left does not want to have as evidenced by their rejection of the four very reasonable pillars that Trump has outlined for immigration reform. Details aside, Trump's four pillars enjoy broad public support.

Hold the line President Trump. Immigration policy can not be based on the political left's yearning for a bygone era in our economy.

Comments
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meh130
meh130

I made this point on Twitter. It is intellectually dishonest to compare desired educational achievement level of immigrants today to the educational achievement levels of immigrants in the past without comparing today's societal expectations of educational achievement for native born Americans to historic educational achievement levels of native born Americans.

Yes, we could take in more low education immigrants in 1890 because they typical work required a lower education level and the typical native born American had a lower education level. Agricultural, mining, and industrial labor required lower educational levels. Women were primarily housewives and stay at home mothers and therefore had lower education requirements. Many of these task-based roles did not require proficiency in English.

Today, however, societally we expect most to attend college. Reality may not require that, but reality does require a level of technical training. Those with only a high-school diploma and no further technical training increasingly find themselves in low-paid service jobs. Those without a high-school diploma are limited to the most basic of unskilled employment.

Bernie Sanders is in favor of reducing immigration because he thinks it harms American workers, especially young and minority workers. Immigration restrictionism may become a political trend on both the populist left and populist right.

Billie
Billie

According to an article in Red State this week about the labor force, it appears that the number of jobs available and the number of people without jobs is a 1to 1 ratio. Perhaps if some of these people who could work but don't lost their unemployment benefits we would need outside labor to do the jobs America won't do because they're getting paid by the state to do nothing.

Dave_A
Dave_A

When my grandparents came to the US (And yeah, I'm only a 3rd generation American), college educations were rare, manual labor dominated the job market, and anyone with a good work ethic could make it...

Now? It takes more skill, and an even stronger work ethic. Plenty of immigrants have those things - even some illegals - but the fact of the matter is that while there are plenty of really stupid reasons proposed to limit immigration (people whining about lost jobs & low wages can go pound sand), the prospect that a given immigrant cannot earn an above-poverty wage in the US is a VERY legitimate reason to keep them out...

Back when we didn't have any numerical quotas for immigration (A good thing that should be re-examined), we still excluded people who were likely to become 'a public charge'.

And we still should today. It's one of the few specific immigration restrictions that is absolutely essential (the other is a criminal or foreign-intelligence/terrorism flag)

JaneKMiller
JaneKMiller

I once dated somebody whose parents would slap him if they saw him speaking Spanish outside his home. His parents were poor and from Mexico, but they desperately wanted him to fit in to the US, which he had (you'd never know he was anything but an American as a grown-up).

What I'm trying to say is, judging people by the grouping you place them isn't always very accurate, and it can be down right unjust.

CMacchiato
CMacchiato

One of the reasons Europe has the problems that it does with its immigrant communities is that it has, well, immigrant communities. Immigrants are not encouraged to integrate, therefore you have large groups of people who continue to hold societal values that are different and sometimes in direct conflict with those of the people that have taken them in. This is getting to be more of a problem in the U.S. as well, and it gets worse with illegal immigration. Illegal immigrants don't seek out the programs that are available to help them learn English and integrate into American society. This is exacerbated by the fact that the left has decided that it's wrong to even expect them to integrate.