Island View: Bundle ’em up, return to sender

The following opinion piece, conducted by the Siamerican, was initially published in the Island View column of the Phuket Gazette newspaper’s July 30-Aug 5, 2011 edition.

“HOW dare those conniving migrant workers steal our rights, identities and jobs – they need to be dealt with, pronto!” This is the type of nationalistic sentiment that is perpetuated by both politicians and civilians alike.

It is not limited to Thailand either. A similar dilemma has spurred the ire of “patriots” in the United States where migrant workers are used as a scapegoat for everything from the low standards of education and health care to rising unemployment rates.

It’s true that most employers in the US now prefer, if not require, applicants who can speak English and Spanish, and that schools and hospitals are struggling to accommodate the swelling population of alien children.

Let’s be fair, most Americans can’t be bothered to do the back-breaking labor for the same wages and hours that immigrants are willing to accept. Moreover, those who think that fundamental health and education services are exclusive rights to be determined by immigration status have a lot of catching up to do.

These points do beg the question, however, whether the livelihoods of Americans and Thais are really threatened by alien laborers. Let’s recall the underlying reason why there is even a demand for a migrant workforce in the first place.

Does anybody really believe someone wakes up one day and has a revelation: “Today I’m going to cross the border and steal my neighbor’s job, and while I’m at it, I’ll make sure my child goes to school and seizes opportunities from the local children too… catch me if you can!”

In reality, there is a reciprocal nature to the exchange. Profit-driven labor markets are dependent on long-hour-low- wage services. One cannot exist without the other. It is those emerging from poverty who are most willing to provide these services – which locals are either unwilling or incapable of doing.

Shipping migrant workers and their children back to where they came from will not solve education and health care issues. However, it just might free up a lot of jobs.