Progressive Disconnect on Trade and Immigration Policy

Progressive leaders have long condemned free trade deals for accelerating outsourcing and destroying American jobs.

“They [free trade agreements] have been a disaster for the American worker… I do not want American workers competing against people in Vietnam who make 56 cents an hour for a minimum wage,” explained Bernie Sanders in a recent interview.

Unfortunately, these same leaders often support high immigration policies that ultimately have the same effect — putting American workers in competition with low-wage foreign laborers. If these leaders want to help U.S. workers, they ought to be consistent and oppose job-destroying, wage-depressing high immigration policies.

Every year, the United States takes in about 1.25 million immigrants. Many of these immigrants work in low or medium wage jobs. In California, for instance, immigrants already make up 41 percent of the construction workforce.

Yet political leaders, spurred on by corporate interests, continually seek to import ever-greater numbers of low-wage laborers. Right now, Congress is trying to expand the H-2B visa program to accept up to a quarter million foreign workers each year for jobs in traditional blue-collar industries like food processing and landscaping.

That puts foreign laborers in direct competition with American workers, driving down their pay, especially in low-wage occupations. Harvard economist George Borjas found that low-skilled immigration led to a 10 percent drop in the wages of native-born high-school dropouts.

Concern for American workers’ job prospects and wages has prompted every presidential candidate left standing to condemn free trade policies. Yet two of the three have yet to acknowledge that high immigration policies yield the same negative consequences.

For workers’ sake, let’s hope they all come around by this fall.

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