Immigration is an Economic Issue

For more than 50 years, the roiling immigration debate has been wrongly framed. The arguments for or against immigration increases are seen as liberal versus conservative, Democrat versus Republican or expansionist versus restrictionist. While those labels may be accurate, they distract from a discussion about the core issue of economics.

Congress, the media and employers argue passionately for higher immigration levels – an annual 1 million-plus or higher. Restrictionists maintain with equal vigor that immigration should be reset from today’s record highs back to its historical 250,000 total, the intake for the nation’s first 200 years, 1776-1976.

Congress’ obligation, which it ignores, is to determine what amount of immigration is best for American workers, and to protect the nation’s wage earners. Vernon Briggs, Emeritus Cornell University professor and labor economist, broke down America’s immigration history as it affected the U.S. labor force into eras: Continental Expansion, 1820-1879, immigration average, 162,000 per year; Industrial Revolution, 1880-1924, 584,000 immigrants; Rise of Middle Class, 1925-1965, 178,000 immigrants. Briggs found that during a high immigration period – the Industrial Revolution – wages for American workers were suppressed. But during tight immigration, the Rise of the Middle Class period is recognized as four decades of upward mobility, accompanied by increased productivity and innovation.

Since the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) of 1965, the U.S. has experienced significant legal and illegal immigration growth. Since the INA, about 60 million immigrants, exclusive of illegal aliens, have entered the U.S. Most have lawful permanent resident status that includes among its affirmation benefits a lifetime valid work permit.

Employment-authorized lawful residents plus nonimmigrant employment-based temporary workers can add up to more than 125,000 immigrants monthly, again, exclusive of illegal immigrants who enter the labor market and compete for jobs with unemployed Americans and recent high school graduates. Since the 1965 Civil Rights movement, the income gap between blacks and whites has remained largely unchanged. Black households’ net worth is about 10 percent of white households, a statistic that’s held steady for nearly six decades. Significantly expanding the labor pool year after year through immigration has depressed wages – labor excesses help employers and harm job seekers.

In his book, “Back of the Hiring Line,” Roy Beck detailed the 200-year history of immigration surges, reductions, employer bias and black wealth depression. For black Americans, immigration surges translate into stagnation or repression in their quest for the middle class. On the other hand, moderate immigration, the Rise of the Middle Class decades, helped blacks get pay raises, better jobs and buy new homes.

Previous White Houses, Congress, the media, independent academics, Goldman Sachs and the Congressional Budget Office know the adverse impact immigration has on U.S. workers, and have spoken or written about its negative effect, especially on black Americans with less than a college education.

In his 2006 autobiography, “The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream,” then-Sen. Barack Obama wrote, “There’s no denying that many blacks share the same anxieties as many whites about the wave of illegal immigration flooding our Southern border – a sense that what’s happening now is fundamentally different from what has gone on before,” a reference to previous tight immigration eras. Yet Obama bitterly disappointed blacks on immigration. As his second term drew to a close in 2015, information gathered from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, acquired through a Freedom of Information request, and published by the Center for Immigration Studies, found that the Obama administration had issued approximately 7.4 million more work permits than congressionally set limits allowed.

During his presidential campaign, Biden introduced “Lift Every Voice,” his plan to give black Americans a “fair shot.” He promised to “advance the economic mobility of African Americans and close the racial wealth and income gaps.” But by immediately opening the border during his first year in office to 2 million low-skilled, undereducated aliens, many of whom will be looking for jobs that will displace blacks, Biden is dooming African Americans to more of the same – dead-end jobs, stagnant wages and lost hope.