Pro-Amnesty Mags Debate Reviving ‘Indentured Servitude’

AP Photo/David Goldman

The very pro-amnesty The Atlantic magazine is slamming the merely pro-amnesty Politico news site for trying to revive the discarded practice of importing temporary-slaves — AKA “indentured servants.”

The Atlantic‘s counterblast to the Politico op-ed was posted under the headline, “America Cannot Bear to Bring Back Indentured Servitude”:

It’s a lesson as old as European settlement of the present-day United States: Treating migrant workers as property for the benefit of others leads to terrible consequences. But judging from a recent immigration-reform proposal, the country hasn’t entirely learned that lesson. In a Politico piece originally titled, “What If You Could Get Your Own Immigrant?”—a headline that provoked such anger it was quickly changed—Eric Posner, a professor at the University of Chicago’s Law School, and Glen Weyl, an economist at Microsoft Research New England, described a plan that amounts to reintroducing a form of bonded immigrant labor to the United States. Their idea, in essence, is to give every American citizen the right to “sponsor” an immigrant, put that person to work, and then take a portion of his or her wages.

If these two scholars at elite institutions were aware of their plan’s historical precedent, they gave no indication of it. But it’s clear from American history that such a proposal would be a disaster not only for immigrants, but for American democracy. Once set in motion, any policy that creates conditions for exploitative labor practices is likely only to encourage more exploitation.

The history of how indentured servitude transformed into racialized chattel slavery in America provides a particularly vivid example of this vicious cycle. In theory, colonial Virginia’s intense labor scarcity ought to have meant favorable terms for migrating workers. But as Jane Dickenson learned, the men who governed the colonies changed market dynamics by imposing harsh laws that allowed them to control and capture laborers in new ways. Whereas contracts of indenture for agricultural workers in England typically ran to only one year, in America they stretched out to seven. And colonial authorities routinely punished servants who tried to escape—or simply displeased their masters—with whippings, split tongues, sliced ears, and extra years of service. As the late American historian Edmund Morgan put it, even before slavery took root, Virginia’s masters were moving “toward a system of labor that treated men as things.”

The criticism is surprising because The Atlantic is now owned by Steve Jobs’s widow, who is using his billions to promote mass immigration throughout the United States.

The Politico op-ed article was approved by the publication’s pro-amnesty editors. It was intended to promote public support for mass-immigration (and the resulting wipeout of Americans’ culture) by arguing that Americans should be allowed to import their own immigrant servants under commercial-style contracts.

The article downplayed the many obvious opportunities for cruelty and exploitation, and it ignored the many costs that all Americans would pay when indentured servants flood into the United States. It said:

We need a new immigration system that offers liberal admission policies but targets its benefits to native workers rather than corporations.

So, immigration expands the economic pie but gives too meager a slice to ordinary people [vs. companies] . The goal must be to retain, and in fact expand, immigration while ensuring that its benefits are distributed fairly. The current system does the opposite: channeling the benefits of migration to immigrants and domestic elites. Right now, special classes of citizens—mostly corporations (and in practice, big corporations) and family members—can sponsor temporary or permanent migrants, benefiting shareholders mainly, as well as ethnic enclaves.

This system should be wiped away and replaced with a system of citizenship sponsorship for immigrants that we call a Visas Between Individuals Program. Under this new system, all citizens would have the right to sponsor a migrant for economic purposes.

The pro-migration Politico article was widely criticized, and the authors retreated. In response to Breitbart News that week, co-author Eric Posner said:

The idea is that a U.S. citizen could sponsor a single foreign worker for whatever duration the two agree on …  I’m not okay with snobbery and discrimination, and I don’t think this would be the effect.

Neither article mentioned House Speaker Paul Ryan’s support for the “any willing worker” immigration plan.

Read The Atlantic article here.



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