As for a comment on real news. It's not that rare to find parallels to slavery in current events: the current prison boom, for example, allows predominantly white regions like upstate New York to get extra representation in congress by adding non-voting poor people of color to their state's populations, just like the 3/5 clause let South Carolina, Georgia, etc. to be disproportionately powerful in the House of Representatives during slavery days.
I also often use anti-immigration rhetoric to explain how whites in the 19th century could be both anti-slavery and anti-Black, as they were in the Free Soil party.
However, it wasn't until this week that a student offered a parallel between pro-slavery arguments of the 19th century and the political discourse of today. Although it's true that big business wants an easily controlled and rightless workforce and will therefore continue to support illegal immigration, they rarely do so with any overt arguments in favor of cheap labor. With Bush's guestworker program, that's changing.
My students recently read John Quincy Adams' diary entries describing his conversations with pro-slavery Southerner, John Calhoun, during the Missouri compromise debates of 1820. Calhoun's argument to John Quincy Adams was that slavery uplifted white workers who never had to lower themselves by doing the work of domestic house-servants. It was as I was explaining this pro-slavery argument that a student raised her hand and said, "Like George Bush just said about immigrants." My first comment was somewhat dismissive oh no - it's not that blatant... but I had to stop myself seconds later and concede that it really WAS that blatant. The arguments in Bush's no-amnesty, no-citizenship guest-worker program are very similar to the pro-slavery argument that we need workers to do jobs that are beneath Americans.
See for yourself.
John Calhoun as recorded in Adams' diary, 1820:
After this meeting, I walked home with Calhoun, who said that the principles which I had avowed were just and noble: but that in the Southern country, whenever they were mentioned, they were always understood as applying only to white men. Domestic labor was confined to the blacks, and such was the prejudice, that if he, who was the most popular man in his district, were to keep a white servant in his house, his character and reputation would be irretrievably ruined...I said that this confounding of the ideas of servitude and labor was one of the bad effects of slavery: but he thought it attended with many excellent consequences. It did not apply to all kinds of labor—not, for example, to farming. He himself had often held the plough: so had his father. Manufacturing and mechanical labor was not degrading. It was only manual labor—the proper work of slaves. No white person could descend to that. And it was the best guarantee to equality among the whites. It produced an unvarying level among them. It not only did not excite, but did not even admit of inequalities, by which one white man could domineer over another.
Bush (March 25,2006):
As we debate the immigration issue, we must remember there are hardworking individuals, doing jobs that Americans will not do, who are contributing to the economic vitality of our country.
He doesn't quite say that it elevates white people or American citizens, but it's close.
For an alternative and equally problematic view, Thom Hartman has a weird article on Common Dreams. I admit that I posted this link without having read the entire article and that as I was running in the park I heard Marc Maron mention it on the radio show and realized that I was overquick in posting it here with the adjective "good" affixed. See, here's what I thought when I skimmed Hartman's article and saw comments about labor hours. I thought Hartmann's point was going to be that labor's biggest problem isn't "illegal immigrants," it's the lengthening work day and the increased productivity that some people call "lean production," and that I refer to as "speed up."
The worst thing about Hartmann's essay is its reference to the labor movement's role in pushing for immigration restriction legislation in the 1920s as in some kind of proud and now abandoned tradition. What he neglects to mention is that labor during the 1920s under Gompers was experiencing net losses in membership as it made concession to business and backed away from militancy. It wouldn't be until the 1930s, when labor unions began organizing the stigmatized immigrants and children of immigrants that labor finally gained meaningful political power in the US. So fooey on Thom Hartmann.