We have not yet reached the extremes of the Roman Empire in the fifth century, when poor peasants and the impoverished middle class begged Senators for food and protection, even though to get it they were forced to become serfs on the Senators' lands (really the legal equivalent of slaves).
The new bankruptcy law seems to be intended to do something similar. Written by the credit card companies, the law makes it more difficult for a debtor to shed his debts, and instead requires repayment schedules that could effectively indenture the poor debtor to his creditors for a long time to come. It isn't just the very poor who are affected by this law, of course, but if you owe hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars, you would be exempted. We all know, however, that it is the credit card companies, themselves, who have promoted debt irresponsibly. Tales of recent bankrupts receiving credit card applications are legion, yet the banks wrote the law to enforce collections, not to restrain themselves.
In fact, poverty is big business. Loans to poor people with poor credit is booming; the government reduces subsidies to student loans and banks aggressively fill the breach with higher cost loans; check cashing facilities and Walmart target the poverty market and make huge profits; zero down-payments for houses, flexible interest rate mortgages, reverse mortgages and more proliferate, because people are urged to live beyond their means, and if wages begin to rise, the Federal Reserve bank raises interest rates "to damp down inflation." What they mean by that phrase is "to keep wages down," which also means to keep people poor. The disabled are vulnerable, too. For DisABILITY Info Note: while wages have been stagnant since the 1970's, productivity has been rising steeply since the 1980's, i.e. workers are producing more per hour, much more, but they are not being paid for it. Who earns the extra wealth? Not the poor, whose wages have fallen; not the middle class, whose wages have hardly kept pace with inflation. Much of the productivity gains have been soaked up by the top 1% of income earners, a disproportionate amount by the top 0.1%.
In any case it is owners of capital who have gained; workers have not, which is part of the reason for the increased rates of poverty. The logic of a dominant selfish class, Think about it: if the value of the minimum wage goes down (it has for years, and will until GW signs the increased minimum wage law now being negotiated on its way through Congress), and illegal aliens compete for jobs at the bottom, then wages all the way up the scale are held down as well. This is why it is important that Congress has failed to raise the minimum wage for nine years; it is now (when re-calculated for relative buying power) about as low as it was in 1955.
Immigration "reform" in whatever form passed by this Congress and signed by this President will probably drive down the rate and conditions of wage-work for the poor even further. The Republicans in the House of Representatives push for the hard line, which satisfies the racists among their constituents, but it would have the effect not of "solving" the immigration problem, but of making it worse. If all illegal immigrants are considered felons, then a significant part of our economic system will be driven underground. The workers won't disappear, employers will find a way around the laws to hire them, but the workers will be even more subject to exploitation, which will drive down the conditions of work for everyone else as well; it will mean more poor people.
If immigration is reformed the way President Bush advocates, there will be a legal avenue towards citizenship, but there will be a guest worker program that will create a whole new legal underclass of workers (the poorest of the working poor) in this case regularizing the fall in work standards and wages.
The problem with immigration, as even Calderon the conservative President-elect of Mexico, has stated is that people from Mexico (and the rest of Latin America) will continue to seek jobs in the US until there are adequate opportunities in their own countries. As long as the US, and the European countries, continue to follow trade policies and World Bank policies that put these countries at an economic disadvantage--cutting services, privatizing, demanding open market access--then the immigration problem will be with us no matter how high we build our fences (like the Berlin Wall) and no matter how draconian our immigration laws.
What the world trade and financial system is doing is creating low wage pools all over the world (poor people ready to work at whatever is above absolute starvation wages), and raw materials reserves all over the world that can be easily exploited by global corporations. Immigrants are people who think they can escape this exploitation, and perhaps, temporarily, they can. They probably stimulate their host's economies, and apparently are able to better themselves enough that they keep on coming. It is the international economic system, however, that insures that more immigrants will mean more poor people.
Immigration politics in the US, as in parts of Europe, has been infused with all the anger and confusion--and racism--that Americans and Europeans are feeling because their economic foundations are under threat. In the US we face rising indebtedness at individual, corporate, state, federal and international levels, jobs disappearing, and so on.
This anger is being used. Republicans (and some Democrats) are trying to harness this anger for their own short-term political advantage.
It is a politics of diversion, much like the politics of racism in the old South--or anti-Semitism in pre-Nazi Germany. What it is saying is: don't look at your economic grievances as having anything to do with the way the system works, with the dominance of global corporations, with the destruction of unions, with the loss of civil liberties, with the hundreds of billions diverted from necessary services to an unnecessary war (that earns some people huge profits); look at it as the fault of "those people," brown, or slant-eyed, or speaking different languages. It's all their fault. When people are persuaded of this, then nothing other than prohibitive laws, high fences, the militarization of our borders--and our work-force--need be offered--until it is clear that these draconian measures are no solution. By that time the immigrant bashers will find something else with which to divert people: the gay threat, maybe?
For more on how we have gotten to this, the implications for the future and possible solutions, go to: How the poor and the non-rich are marginalized.