After writing criticisms of the New York Times's coverage of immigration in which I expressed dismay at the paper's seeming disinterest in the negative effects that foreign workers can have on U.S. workers, I want to express my admiration for Monday's story out of Georgia by Times reporter Ethan Bronner, "Workers Claim Race Bias as Farms Rely on Immigrants".
It is a masterful piece of reporting and writing. It is a concise and objective account of the legal and moral confrontation between American workers who claim they have been treated shabbily and farmers, who say that they can't find Americans willing to do the work.
As Bronner notes with the crispness and clarity that make the story a powerful read, "the situation is filled with cultural and racial tensions." That is because the American workers are mostly black and the farmers are mostly white.
In our project on the Times's work on immigration, I had originally intended to include a section on the paper's failure to face up to the story of the displacement of African-American workers.
That story is freighted with emotion and importance. It was part of the profile I wrote last year of Vernon Briggs, a labor economist and CIS board member who has been concerned for years about the displacement of blacks. But I did not include it in the critique of the Times because of its complexity. I wasn't sure I could handle it adequately.
Instead, I wrote in more general terms that "when the Times takes the position that 'the country cannot live without immigrant labor — no matter what the nativists may claim', it is necessary to ask: How many, and by what criteria, and at what cost to American workers?"
On Monday, the same day Bronner's story appeared in the Times, the Center for Immigration Studies held a panel discussion at the National Press Club to discuss our project on the Times and our belief that the good liberal intentions of many reporters have impeded their work on immigration. In response to a question from the audience, I said the press had done a bad job of covering immigration's effects on black workers.
At that time, I had not read Bronner's story. Now that I have, I hope it is not a one-time effort. I hope the story Bronner reported will be recognized as one part of a hugely important story with implications not only for our labor markets but also for the entire American experiment of forging unum from pluribus.
The broader story is about the increasing detachment of the most successful and affluent Americans from the rest of the country. It is a story of the willingness of the United States Congress and the executive branch to open up every level of our economy to the importation of foreign workers who are willing to work for less under conditions that American workers rightfully reject as intolerable.
It is a story of the corruption that has become endemic in Washington, where financial interests with the money to hire lobbyists and make campaign contributions get what they want. Meanwhile, many American farm workers and computer programmers and even teenagers on summer break encounter a crisis that could not be more stark if the workplace door were hung with a sign reading "No American Need Apply."
Our social contract is being shredded. Our sense of being part of a great common enterprise is being abandoned. John Judis warns of "the abdication of the elites". Years ago, former labor secretary Robert Reich warned of "the secession of the successful".
Here is an additional complicating factor that cannot be overlooked. Some Americans have become so alienated from the increasingly hostile workplace that they do not meet the justifiable expectations of honorable employers who need to get the job done.
This is an acute problem of the American soul. It needs to be examined and understood. Let's hope that Ethan Bronner's fantastic reporting signals the start of something big.