Meaningful guest-worker program needed

Freedom New Mexico

One might expect a crowd of cattle at the National Cattle Congress Fairgrounds in Waterloo, Iowa. Instead, today’s visitor to the cattle grounds would see hundreds of mostly Hispanic workers, herded into the fairgrounds cattle-style to live as prisoners in a modern American internment camp.

And why are they here? They’re herded together to protect us all from identity theft, of course. And nobody, but nobody, favors identity theft.

Federal immigration agents raided the world’s largest kosher meat packing plant in Potsville, Iowa, on May 12. They arrested more than 300 immigrant workers, threw some in jail and drove most to the cattle yards. The majority came from Mexico and Guatemala.

Immigration officials told The Associated Press the raid was necessary so that federal officials could look for evidence of identity theft and stolen Social Security numbers. Of those arrested, 44 were released for “humanitarian reasons,” mostly to care for children. Immigration officials sprung their raid after arriving in buses, vans and two helicopters.

Typically, we expect law enforcement to already have evidence of a crime before showing up to make arrests. But in this case, the raid was for the expressed purpose of finding evidence to use against the workers.

Identity theft is a major concern for sure, and it’s one that has formed the foundation of a growing industry in the United States. More and more companies are springing up to sell packages that offer insurance and protection against identity theft.

Some angry pseudo-conservatives speak as if the problem of identity theft is first and foremost the result of illegal immigrants. They would have us believe that millions of Latinos sneak into the country, steal the identifications of rich people in order to fleece their credit cards and take out massive loans, and then go to work picking grapes and processing meat.

People who fret about illegal immigration have a legitimate gripe. Millions of immigrants reside and work in the United States illegally, and illegal activity should seldom be defended. Few of the critics, however, seem to have interest in resolving the conflict between outdated immigration quotas — enacted at a time of vastly different demographic and economic circumstances — and the country’s need for an unskilled labor force. They desire to maintain and enforce laws that were designed to protect jobs for Americans, even though they are jobs most Americans no longer will do, at any reasonable price.

In the crusades against immigrant workers, we frequently hear about identity theft. But the facts don’t support it. A survey by the Federal Trade Commission found recently that more than half the victims of identity theft were violated by culprits who they know well, such as co-workers, friends, employees, neighbors and family members.

Other major offenders include computer science graduates who know how to hack and steal information from the Internet.

In one of the most serious identity theft cases, an employee at a New York software business used the password of a former employee to steal thousands of credit reports. His crime cost consumers more than $100 million. Had the employee not been caught, reports security company Privacy Matters, he could have netted more than $500 million from his crimes.

Waiters and waitresses also have easy access to personal information whenever someone hands over a credit card. The vast majority of computer engineers and wait staff don’t steal identities. The vast majority of immigrant workers don’t either. Why would someone committing a crime so profitable as identity theft, after all, process meat every day? If we’re really concerned about identity theft, we should be more suspicious of a computer whiz than an unskilled laborer.

Some immigrants use false identities in order to obtain work. That’s a problem that must be solved, and it could best be solved through a meaningful guest-worker program that doesn’t force essential labor underground. Nothing will be resolved with internment camps, however, established mostly so federal authorities can grandstand for the evening news.