America’s political and business elite, ostensibly dedicated to compassion and prosperity, showed their true colors this winter. First came a series of investigative articles by the Associated Press in December documenting the employment of child labor in the United States. “Kids at work: Is this childhood?” screamed the headlines, and “Toughest child labor laws are not enforced.” The AP series caused an instant sensation, as embarrassed federal officials and company directors expressed shock and outrage, promising to crack down on violators of child labor laws, and—in the case of Labor Secretary Alexis Herman—appealing to the general public for “help.”

The source of the outrage is the evidence of children as young as four doing jobs that are either dangerous or performed in hazardous environments. Many of the children observed by the AP reporters worked with their families doing agricultural stoop labor, a form of drudgery not inherently dangerous. Shocked to discover that a social evil thought to have been eradicated was reasserting itself, none of the moralists thought to ask why employed 12- and 14- year-olds should be more scandalous than pregnant teenagers, or whether children might not be better off in the fields picking chili peppers for Paul Newman or Heinz than in school putting condoms on cucumbers. More significantly, they did not mention that the great majority of the worker-children were immigrants (how many of them illegal immigrants no decent American would think of asking).

The shock, however, was entirely feigned. The federal government has been aware of widespread violation of child labor laws for years, just as it has been aware of violations of the nation’s immigration laws. In both cases, it either ignored such violations or even devised legislation to circumvent the application of its own laws. Not surprisingly, the government’s explanation of its actions (or rather, inaction) with regards to illicit child labor is the same as in the case of illegal immigration: “We were out there, we couldn’t find anybody!”—”We just don’t have enough people on the ground!” That’s strange. Don’t file a tax return this year, and see how easy it is for the government to lose you.

Then came the breaking of an alien smuggling ring operating in and around Las Cruces, New Mexico. The operation appears to be just another border scam of the garden variety, in which workers from central Mexico paid a thousand dollars for transportation across the border to safe-houses in Las Cruces and Hatch, New Mexico, thence to Trenton, Georgia, and Henegar, Alabama. Why these small towns rather than New York City or Miami? Apparently because the Atlantic Finishing Company has a plant in each one. The president of Atlantic allegedly was recruiting illegal laborers through Saul and Rachel Resendiz in Dalton, Georgia. According to the indictment, Atlantic, a T-shirt manufacturer, hired its illegal employees under false names and provided them with forged documents to throw the federal bloodhounds off the scent. “This case,” according to federal attorney John Kelly, “illustrates how demand created by a U.S. company has the effect of luring and recruiting Mexican nationals and others from Latin America to cross the international border.” “In my 25-year history [with the Border Patrol], I’ve never seen a case that took people from recruitment in the interior of Mexico to a predetermined destination with jobs lined up,” remarked William Veal, chief of the Patrol’s El Paso sector.

Apparently, the American government and American business are colluding on a common agendum which includes importing endless streams of poor people to swell the proletariat—the federal government’s equivalent of the Paris mob—and to ensure a bottomless pool of cheap labor from which “businessmen” can draw. We know now that NAFTA means the loss of American jobs to Mexico, and “free trade” the expenditure of the American taxpayers’ money on the governments of Japan, South Korea, and Thailand so that Wall Street bankers will not have to sing for their supper tonight. Whether illicit child labor or illegal immigration, it all amounts to business as usual.