If California’s economy can’t survive without illegal immigrants, whose problem is that?

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Sunday was my last day for a while of reading the San Francisco Chronicle on paper over breakfast (of course, if Jon Fine gets his way, it will be my last day ever of reading the Chron on paper). The lead editorial in particular caught my eye. Headlined “a war on state’s economy,” it begins:

Not satisfied with its full-scale attack on Iraq, the Bush administration is now launching an inexplicable, unwarranted and unworkable attack on California’s economy and its social fabric.

It is doing so by declaring war against employers who hire illegal immigrants – and against these immigrants themselves.

No state will be hurt more than California, which is home to at least one-quarter of the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants in the United States. California’s $32 billion agricultural industry is dependent on them. They also make up a significant percentage of the construction, restaurant, hotel and other sectors of the California workforce.

Within weeks, the Dept. of Homeland Security, in concert with the Social Security Administration, is planning to send out waves of “no match” letters to employers. If an employee’s Social Security information does not match those on file with the federal government, the employer will be required to fire the worker within 90 days, if the discrepancy can’t be resolved. If the worker isn’t fired, the employer will be subject to a $2,200 fine per worker, and stiffer penalties later on. …

Now I happen to be of the opinion that this country’s heavy reliance on illegal immigrants is to a large extent a product of unrealistically restrictive immigration laws. But still, if the California economy–and in particular its agricultural sector–needs mass lawbreaking to exist in its present form, then maybe there ought to be at least some discussion about whether California’s economy–and in particular its agricultural sector–really ought to exist in its present form.

There is at least little hint of what such a discussion might entail in today’s Chron, in a quote from Rex Laird, chairman of the Farm Bureau of Ventura County:

“It’s going to be fascinating to watch, but what a horrible waste. Produce prices are going to go up, houses won’t get built. You’ll be washing your own dishes at the restaurant.”

Laird clearly believes these would all be terrible outcomes. I guess I’m just not entirely convinced that all of them would be.

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