I don’t believe it is too big a stretch to say that news, leaks, tweets, and facebook posts on the topic of immigration are rushing at us faster than water through the Oroville Dam spillway. For someone, like myself who enjoys putting pen to ink on the topic, I have been stymied by the choices that jump from the headlines each week and then trying to choose a specific topic to write about. So, this week my content will derive from a few headlines that really caught my attention.
It may come as no surprise that the headline I’m leading off with is President Trump’s address to the joint session of congress on February 28th.
In his speech, Trump stated:
“ . . . By finally enforcing our immigration laws, we will raise wages, help the unemployed, save billions and billions of dollars, and make our communities safer for everyone. “
Does the President have a basis of fact upon which to draw the above conclusions?
“We want all Americans to succeed, but that can’t happen in an environment of lawless chaos. We must restore integrity and the rule of law at our borders. . .”
Is he just espousing unfounded nativist, reactionist, racist hyperbole?
“To any in Congress who do not believe we should enforce our laws, I would ask you this one question: What would you say to the American family that loses their jobs, their income, or their loved one because America refused to uphold its laws and defend its borders?”
I certainly would not want to have my loved ones, neighbors or colleagues in one of those situations. Now, do I agree with his wall solution? NO! However, I do agree that there is an argument for which his comments are based. And there is a price to pay for not protecting our American citizens from unbridled immigration, both legal and illegal. The problem of late for someone who has been involved in this debate for the last decade is segregating the parts of President Trump’s measures that will ultimately serve us from those that will not.
In an even handed editorial in the New York Times, entitled, The Immigration Debate We Need, Dr. George Borjas of Harvard University stated there will always be winners and losers when it comes to immigration policy. Perhaps that is why, when Congress began to limit immigration in the first quarter of the twentieth century, it placed the subcommittee on immigration under the Labor Committee as opposed to where it is today – under the Judicial Committee. It was about protecting labor and not deciding the rights and wrongs of immigration.
In his editorial, Borjas asked:
“How much of a price are the American people willing to pay, and exactly who will pay it?
This tension permeates the debate over immigration’s effect on the labor market. Those who want more immigration claim that immigrants do jobs that native-born Americans do not want to do. But we all know that the price of gas goes down when the supply of oil goes up. The laws of supply and demand do not evaporate when we talk about the price of labor rather than the price of gas. By now, the well-documented abuses of the H-1B program, such as the Disney workers who had to train their foreign-born replacements, should have obliterated the notion that immigration does not harm competing native workers.”
Borjas went on to say that:
“over the past 30 years, a large fraction of immigrants, nearly a third, were high school dropouts, so the incumbent low-skill work force formed the core group of Americans who paid the price for the influx of millions of workers. Their wages fell as much as 6 percent. Those low-skill Americans included many native-born blacks and Hispanics, as well as earlier waves of immigrants.”
Wages falling 6% is a real statistic and not simply anecdotal evidence or someone’s perception. There are a lot of myths when it comes to immigration. One of the big ones is there are jobs Americans will not do. The reality is Native born Americans fill 75% of construction jobs, 77% of service jobs, and 52% of agriculture jobs. So, Americans will do these jobs but those in these jobs are seeing their wages and benefits declining.
The third and last headline I selected was entitled, “’Day Without Immigrants’ resonates across Los Angeles, even if many still go to work.” It appeared on February 16th and was printed by the Los Angeles Times. The article featured a picture of the Nickel Diner, a restaurant in downtown Los Angeles with a banner draped across it that stated “We Are All Immigrants.” The article caught my attention because when I lived in downtown Los Angeles, it was one of my favorite haunts. The restaurant featured, very good food, at a good price, and was just around the corner from my loft.
Several years ago when I was enjoying a good book over a cobb salad at a downtown Los Angeles eatery, I was interrupted by one of the co-owners who asked if she could sit down and have a word with me. After seating herself, the first words out of her mouth were, “we cannot do this without our illegals!” Well, I thought to myself, I suppose everyone must now know my views on immigration policy. Notoriety is something I wasn’t comfortable with. However, as someone who was an activist, former delegate, and at onetime Executive Board member to the California Democratic Party, I suppose it’s not a surprise that there was gossip about “a delegate” who had gone rogue with respect to his views on immigration.
The restaurant co-owner went on to relate the trouble she encountered finding good employees; employees that would stand over a stove for eight hours a day; employees that wouldn’t bring them to the Labor Board; employees that would show up on time, ready to work and if not, would be sure to have someone there instead. I listened attentively as she described the difficulties of running a business in an environment that would penalize her for not using illegal workers. If she didn’t use a labor force that was eager to work long hours, for less money, few if any benefits, she would be competing against eateries that surely would.
After I listened to her argument I had to ask myself the question. . .who are the winners in this scenario? It’s certainly not the citizens who are not getting hired by these small businesses.
The winners are the owners of the restaurants who, at least for now and the immediate future, get to make a higher profit and have the benefit of a more quiescent workforce. The newly arrived illegal aliens are also winners in this equation. Despite their low wages, they make enough to survive on (I’ll discuss how this is done in LA at a later time) and remit money that will be invested in their countries of origin. The losers are, as I stated above, the citizens. They will never get the opportunity to work at these eateries because preference will be given to a noncitizen. And if citizens do get one of these jobs, they would experience anemic wage increases and shrinking benefits?
Borjas went on to say:
“But somebody’s lower wage is somebody else’s higher profit. The increase in the profitability of many employers enlarged the economic pie accruing to the entire native population by about $50 billion. So, as proponents of more immigration point out, immigration can increase the aggregate wealth of Americans. But they don’t point out the trade-off involved: Workers in jobs sought by immigrants lose out.”
Two things should not be lost on the reader. First, according to City-Data.com, the poverty rate in Los Angeles is 26.9% compared to 20.2% for the state of California. Further, the amount of income that defines poverty is the same in a small town in Wyoming as it is in a big city like Los Angeles. Hence, a family of four that earns $24,000 a year or less in Los Angeles is in absolutely dire straits.
Second, the eatery I had the discussion with the co-owner at is in the shadow of an area that goes by the moniker of SKID ROW. Granted, you probably won’t find a lot of the denizens of skid row ready to hold a job. But with ever increasing infusions of immigrants, what is the motivation/incentive for businesses to invest in, train, and integrate citizens who have either been out of the labor force for a time or just getting started in life.
Unbridled immigration has put wages and benefits on a continuous downward spiral that has increased job insecurity and poverty of the productive class. Although there are things I don’t agree with Trump on, I do agree when he says:
“Protecting our workers also means reforming our system of legal immigration The current, outdated system depresses wages for our poorest workers, and puts great pressure on taxpayers. Nations around the world, like Canada, Australia and many others, have a merit-based immigration system. It’s a basic principle that those seeking to enter a country ought to be able to support themselves financially.”
I would like to see him give up the wall and rely on employer sanctions and programs like e-Verify. E-Verify is an Internet-based system that compares information from an employee’s Form I-9 (Employment Eligibility Verification,) to Department of Homeland Security, Social Security Administration, and Department of State records to confirm that the employee is authorized to work in the United States. E-Verify is currently used by the Federal Government and many state governments as well. However, congress has failed to act on mandating its use by all employers. This is despite it having proven to be 98.9% effective in keeping illegal immigrants from gaining employment.
Writing this week’s blog I couldn’t help but think of this fantastic scene from the documentary The American Ruling Class: