A former student, who I'll call Miguel, stopped by last week to share some good news.
He told me he had just gotten a job on a construction crew earning $22 an hour. Miguel receives full benefits, too.
Miguel was one of the best students I ever had. He came to class every night and studied hard. Although it was a struggle for him, Miguel always made an effort to speak English. And his hard work paid off. Today, Miguel's English is pretty good.
After he first arrived in the United States, Miguel worked in the fields. Then he was hired at the cannery and worked the swing and graveyard shifts. But Miguel always wanted more and now he's found it.
If it weren't for the fact that Miguel entered the U.S. illegally, I wouldn't have one bad thing to say about him.
Now that an amnesty for illegal aliens is back on Bush administration's front burner, you'll be reading story after story about how illegal immigrants only take jobs Americans don't want. This falsehood has been written so often that it goes unchallenged.
But with the country knee deep in pink slips, no one can convince me that Miguel's job isn't coveted. Thousands of the 800,000 Americans who lost their jobs in the last two months would be happy to earn $22 an hour.
What makes Miguel's story so timely is the AFL-CIO vote to support President Bush's amnesty plan. For the first time in its 46-year history, the federation adopted amnesty as its official policy.
Even the Teamsters union, which opposes Mexican truckers delivering goods in the U.S. because it knows American drivers will lose jobs, backed amnesty.
AFL-CIO President John Sweeny said, "We are now a beacon of hope to millions of workers who've come to our country seeking a better life."
But AFL-CIO spokeswoman Kathy Roeder revealed the sub-rosa reason for the endorsement. Said Ms. Roeder, "We're always looking for opportunities for people to join unions. That's our number one reason for working with immigrants."
Union membership has been steadily declining over the last decade. The union share of the American work force fell to 13.5% last year, the lowest in more than a quarter of a century.
The unions need members to survive. What better pool of prospective new members than the millions of illegal aliens who have come to the U.S. during the last decade?
But when Ms. Roeder claims that there is no evidence that "immigrants take away American jobs," she is spouting the company line.
All across America, illegal immigrants are doing jobs once held by Americans.
My student, Miguel, has a job once done by an American. For decades, hotel, restaurant and janitorial jobs were entry-level jobs held by black Americans.
And while some might discount the significance of a janitorial job, such positions were eagerly pursued as recently as the early 1980s. In his book, "The Case Against Immigration," Roy Beck wrote that in the period from 1945 to 1980, janitors earned excellent wages because of their strong union. But in the early 1980s, when an abundant supply of immigrant workers became available, non-union firms hired them at half the going wage. Now, you rarely see a black hotel or restaurant worker.
Meatpacking is another job that Americans supposedly "won't do." But author Eric Schlosser, whose recent "Fast Food Nation" had a long run on the New York Times best seller list, wrote that 20 years ago jobs in packing plants were among the most well paid and highest skilled in America.
What happened? In an interview with "The Atlantic" Schlosser provided the answer:
Until the late 1970s, meatpacking was one of the highest paid industrial jobs in the United States. And then the Reagan and Bush administrations stood aside and allowed the meatpacking industry to bust unions, to hire strike breakers and scabs, to not only hire illegal immigrants but to transport them here from Mexico in company buses.
The result said Schlosser is that meatpacking is now one of the country's lowest paying and most dangerous jobs. [VDARE.COM NOTE: The Centers for Disease Control has been forced to provide Spanish translations of all its worker safety posters, since there is no longer a reasonable expectation that workers can read and write English.]
And, more ominously, Schlosser claims that while we've had a migrant agricultural workforce for over a century, we are now developing a migrant industrial workforce.
For the AFL-CIO to embrace amnesty can only mean disaster for America's blue-collar wage earners. As we saw in the late 1980s, amnesty begets more immigration. And new waves of immigrants will always be willing to work for less money.
As long as the job market has an inexhaustible supply of cheap labor, wages will remain stagnant. And the low-skilled native workers who are replaced by immigrants with equally limited skills have few places to turn.
As Bush's amnesty plan moves relentlessly forward, newspaper stories will be chock full of sentences like this one:
An unprecedented coalition of labor and business has joined the rising chorus of voices across America who want to regularize millions of undocumented workers. These workers, who do jobs Americans refuse to do, are a vital cog in our economic machine.
Read as follows:
Labor, desperate for new members, has added itself to a growing list of institutions across America that support amnesty to illegal aliens for its own narrow interests. The list includes but is not limited to craven politicians, greedy businesses big and small, universities and the mainstream media. Such an amnesty would insure the never-ending flow of low-skilled, poorly educated workers. Through the laws of supply and demand, these new workers will continue to replace American workers.
Joe Guzzardi [email him], an instructor in English at the Lodi Adult School, has been writing a weekly column since 1988. It currently appears in the Lodi News-Sentinel.