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It is no secret that tens of thousands of jobs in the software sector are being shipped to India, nor are many unaware that millions of manufacturing jobs, once filled by America’s blue-collar middle class, have been moved to Communist China where desperate people are willing to work for substandard wages.
What may not be understood is that 2.5 million Americans have lost their jobs since 2001, and nearly 400,000 ran out of their federal unemployment benefits in January of this year alone. Indeed the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the average salary for U.S. workers has fallen from $44,570 to $35,410 since 2001, with nearly 5 million Americans working at part-time employment to make ends meet.
This bleak picture is wholly out of line with the reported “recovery” touted by Alan Greenspan, the top money man at the Federal Reserve. Despite what has been described as a jobless recovery, President Bush last month proposed a more lenient immigration policy in an effort to “create a system that is fairer, more consistent and more compassionate.”
The president appears to be responding to upbeat data provided by his top economic advisor, N. Gregory Mankiw, who recently announced that outsourcing American jobs overseas is actually good for the nation’s economy.
Mankiw assured, “I know there will be jobs in the future,” and in fact has predicted 2.6 million new payroll jobs by the end of 2004. Not everyone agrees with that upbeat assessment of the nation’s job market.
And the new immigration reform, say critics on both the left and right, invites mass immigration to the United States to “match willing foreign workers with willing U.S. employers when no Americans can be found to fill the jobs.”
According to the fact sheet provided by the White House, “the Federal Government [will] offer temporary-worker status to undocumented men and women now employed in the United States and those in foreign countries who have been offered employment here.”
While the president’s proposal has been short on specifics, the idea is that U.S. employers first must consider Americans for these jobs, the program will prevent exploitation of undocumented workers, and the process will become an incentive for temporary workers to return to their countries of origin when their temporary status expires.
In other words, the estimated 8 million to 12 million undocumented aliens now illegally residing in the United States, and the untold millions of other “willing employees” who may be granted temporary status in the United States, will, after making a living wage, return voluntarily to the countries from which they fled because they could not make ends meet there. Critics of the proposal quote the president’s father, who was fond of saying in other contexts, “It doesn’t seem prudent.”
Certainly not if recent experience is any guide. Although the president asserts that this reform does not include amnesty, the same claim was made for the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act IRCA.
The sweeping IRCA legislation was touted under President Ronald Reagan as a bill to end illegal immigration, to help control illegal immigration by implementing employer sanctions, to increase border patrols and to remove the stigma associated with being a fugitive alien. But the linchpin of IRCA was that aliens who could prove that they had been living illegally in the United States continuously since Jan. 1, 1982, were grandfathered into the system and given amnesty and the right to become permanent residents.
Not only did the IRCA legislation fail to “control illegal immigration” but, according to the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the population of illegal aliens increased further when family members of the recently legalized alien group (2.8 million were granted permanent-resident status under IRCA) illegally joined their breadwinners in the United States.
The 2000 census indicated that between 500,000 and 700,000 illegal aliens were settling in the United States every year, and the INS estimated in January 2000 that 7 million illegal aliens were living in the United States. Given that this is well above the numbers estimated before the 1986 IRCA legislation, it seems clear to critics that amnesty is no deterrent to illegal immigration.
Worse, say cultural conservatives, are problems cited in a 1997 report from the National Research Council, part of the private, nonprofit institutions known as the National Academies that provide science-, technology- and health-policy advice under a congressional charter.
According to this study, “the educational-attainment levels of post-1965 immigrants have steadily declined. Foreign-born workers, on average, earn less than native-born workers and the earnings gap similarly has widened over the years. Those from Latin America [including Mexico] presently account for over half of the entire foreign-born population of the nation and they earn the lowest wages.”
The NRC found no evidence “of discriminatory wages being paid to immigrants; rather, it found that immigrant workers are paid less than native-born workers because, in fact, they are less skilled and less educated. Post-1965 immigrants are disproportionately increasing the segment of the nation’s labor supply that has the lowest human-capital endowments. In the process, they are suppressing the wages of all workers in the lowest skill sector of the labor market.”
Then there is a report by the Center for Immigration Studies, an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit organization devoted to researching policy issues of the economic, social, demographic, fiscal and other impacts of immigration in the United States.
It says that, based on estimates from the National Academy of Sciences using age and education at arrival, “the lifetime fiscal impact (taxes paid minus services used) for the average adult Mexican immigrant is a negative $55,200.”
The CIS report further says that, “even after welfare reform, an estimated 34 percent of households headed by legal Mexican immigrants, and 25 percent headed by illegal Mexican immigrants, used at least one major welfare program, in contrast to 15 percent of native households. Mexican immigrants who have lived in the U.S. for more than 20 years, almost all of whom are legal residents, still have double the welfare-use rate of natives.”
Little wonder that Mexican President Vicente Fox sees legal status for millions of uneducated and undocumented workers who have immigrated illegally to the United States as a “very important step forward” for his country.
Critics wonder what Fox means by “important step forward.” Does it mean, they ask, that the burden of creating jobs for these lawbreakers has been lifted, or that he’s pleased U.S. taxpayers will lighten his load of providing basic services for large numbers of Mexican citizens? Others on both the left and right are asking how President Bush’s immigration proposal can be good for American taxpayers when Fox so openly cheers the exportation of his unemployed to the United States.
But apparently U.S. taxpayers are wearying of pocketbook compassion. A recent CNN-USA Today poll found that 55 percent oppose the president’s immigration plan, that by a 2-1 margin those polled said immigrants harm the economy by driving down wages, and that 74 percent said “No” when asked if it should be easier for illegal immigrants to become citizens.
White House spokesmen are quick to point out that, in point of fact, President Bush didn’t use the word “amnesty.” The problem is that his proposal allows for an extension of the temporary-work permit (the length of which apparently will be determined at a later date) and he has said that these “willing workers” will be provided the right to apply for permanent residence.
So inquiring minds want to know whether, if this is not an amnesty, how the president intends to get tens of millions of people to return to their countries of origin after their visas expire (whenever that is), since the whole point of his proposal supposedly is to deal with the problem that 8 million to 12 million illegal aliens now in the United States apparently won’t leave.
Furthermore, say critics, Americans may wonder what happens if each of these “willing workers” becomes legalized through the temporary-worker program. And even if each pays into state and federal tax systems and the nonexistent Social Security trust fund, the financial shortfalls from the subsidies paid to them could be huge? What incentives do the so-called temporary workers actually have to leave?
Naturally, there are many questions that ought to be considered by lawmakers; but already there are some in Congress who say they’ve seen this kind of compassionate legislation before and the consequences aren’t pretty.
Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colo., tells Insight “I would have respected the president more if he had said, ‘Hey, let’s just scrap this idea of borders and nation-states. We’re all just one big continent and, you know, we’ll all just join hands and sing the first verse of ‘Kumbaya.'”
According to Tancredo, “If the president’s proposal is accepted, then the 8 [million] to 12 million will be able to apply for their families to come to the U.S., and then we’re talking about 25 [million] to 30 million people. Once here, they are entitled to medical care, K-12 education, and more housing and roads will have to be built and the infrastructure developed. This is all for people who maybe make minimum wage. The truth is that in a free society with any degree of unemployment, especially 8 [million] to 12 million people minimum, there is no such thing as a job that no American will take. There is only a job no American will take for the amount of money the employer is willing to pay.”
Tancredo continues, “If you can restrict the supply of this sort of labor, which we do by controlling the border, we could at least eliminate the downward pressure on wages that now exists as a result of the fact that we’ve got 8 [million] to 12 million people who are here illegally looking for any job they can get for any amount of money they can get. So when the president says, ‘I want to match the willing workers with the willing employers,’ I hope he’s just kidding because there are billions of people [in this world] who are willing to undercut American workers right now.”
Opponents are deeply angry. “For the sake of cheap labor,” Tancredo says, “the president is willing actually to open the floodgate. I would have been more impressed if the president had said, ‘I think the truth of the matter, from where I stand, is the United States is no longer a country defined by borders. We are just a place on a continent, the source of a great deal of consumer activity, creating huge markets for the world, and borders simply impede the flow of people, goods and services and we ought to get rid of them.’ They don’t have the guts to say it but that is where they want to go. That is the essence of the ‘willing-worker/willing-employer’ analogy.”
What is more, Republican Tancredo and his counterparts among Democrats in the labor unions are deeply suspicious of the motives of those advocating the program.
“This proposal and the ensuing legislation aren’t going to stop illegal entry, and I don’t think the administration thinks so either,” Tancredo says. “A great deal of pressure has been put on the president to do something in response to requests from Mexico and other countries. Since you can’t get the whole enchilada, they go for this measure that will give amnesty to the millions and millions who already are here, and then they say they’ll tighten up the borders. That’s been said before. Well, we’re never going to tighten up the borders and we’re never going to enforce our immigration laws because the administration and the Congress do not believe in border enforcement or border security, and they certainly do not believe in internal enforcement of immigration law. It’s pretty much a case of ‘Gosh, they’re here. What the heck? Let’s face reality – the law isn’t working.’ That’s nonsense. There’s nothing wrong with the immigration laws. What isn’t working is the desire to enforce the laws.”
Dan Stein, director of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, a national, nonprofit, public-interest organization that supports immigration reform, tells Insight “the president’s proposal is unrealistic, lacks basic credibility and is insulting to the intelligence of anyone who has studied this problem for any length of time.”
According to Stein, “This proposal feeds into the basic instincts of Democrats, who say, ‘Our policy is come on in and, if you get here, we’ll fight to let you stay.’ The proposal seems like a surrender to a reality of our own making, which is that by letting aliens disregard the law we’re being forced to accommodate their unwillingness to play by the rules, and that leaves us to absorb all costs and impacts. But it is a utopian mind that neglects the reality that we only need to create jobs which have enough value added to contribute to the system more than we pay out to support people. We’re being told that the borders don’t matter except in the context of the claims that these aliens can make on U.S. taxpayers. You couldn’t have a completely free hemispheric labor market unless all countries were at economic parity and had parity in their social-benefit systems. Are we going to try to reach equilibrium with Brazil or El Salvador in terms of labor-market conditions? Ultimately, it means we’re no longer a nation. The sovereignty of our borders is going to be subordinated to some trade organization that monitors the Free Trade of the Americas Agreement. This creates a job fair for the whole world.”
“What I’m hoping,” explains Stein, “is that the thing that saves us is Mexican irredentism – that their own self-respect and desire for autonomy and good old-fashioned nationalism will prevent them from signing any agreement that is really reciprocal. What they want is to have Mexican citizens working here and sending money home – dual nationality. What they don’t want is for U.S. citizens to be going down to Mexico and treating it like it is an extension of the U.S. But there doesn’t seem to be any need to worry because there is no reciprocity south of the border, no mutuality of obligation in this proposal. We’re not getting anything from Mexico in exchange for the president’s proposal. The only countries that you can walk into like the U.S. are countries that by definition don’t have the kind of benefits we have. For a capitalist system to survive and enjoy the support of its workers there has to be a basic belief in a fair shake somewhere along the line – some fundamental belief that the system is there for their benefit. We are destroying the idea of a stable middle class as an element of our society. What we’ve got now is this elite consensus that we’re ready to go back to 1905 labor conditions so that we become two societies. One society that will do ‘American’s work,’ which involves sitting in an office, and then there’s the ‘other people’s work’ – miserable work at low pay. There will be an increasing distance between the two as if we occupy two different worlds – like going back to the antebellum South.”
Glen Spencer, who heads the American Border Patrol, is a retired economist and longtime activist against illegal immigration. He tells Insight he isn’t surprised by the president’s proposal.
“I’m stunned,” says Spencer, “but not surprised. I caught a glimpse of where the president was going when three years ago he was quoted as saying that he wanted to make migration safe and orderly. Well, at the time, legal immigration already was safe and orderly, so the only thing he could have meant was illegal immigration. This is a disaster.”
Spencer continues: “Bill King, the former chief U.S. Border Patrol agent and the person who ran the 1986 amnesty program, tells me that the president’s proposal is going to be a general amnesty, and with family unification it will cover half of Mexico. In other words, what the president is proposing is that we have a kind of one-way merger with Mexico. That is, Mexicans can become U.S. citizens, but U.S. citizens cannot become Mexicans. So they’ll have dual citizenship and the right to own property in Mexico, but Americans cannot. The U.S. gets nothing out of the proposal. We can’t work in Mexico like they can here, they certainly don’t have the benefits we have here, and if you do get a work permit it is very limited. There should be no discussion about worker programs and new immigration policies until the president can ensure that the borders will be controlled. Without control of the borders this new proposal means nothing, and the president has reason to know it.”
Guillermo Meneses is a spokesman for the AFL-CIO, which represents 13 million union members worldwide. He tells Insight that his organization “opposes the president’s guest-worker program. We are for the legalization of undocumented workers who have been here for a number of years and through their hard work and dedication have paid taxes and have family members who are U.S. citizens. The issue is that the guest-worker programs give the employers the upper hand. If I’m an employer and I know you’re working for me, and if you stop working for me you have to go back to your country of origin, this opens itself up to abuses.”
In other words, the AFL-CIO supports an outright amnesty bill for the 8 million to 12 million illegal aliens currently residing in the United States, a potentially organizable labor force. This also is the position of U.S.-based Mexican political groups.
For instance, the National Council of La Raza, a private, nonprofit, nonpartisan, tax-exempt organization that says it was established to reduce poverty and discrimination and to improve life opportunities for Hispanic Americans, says it believes “a new guest-worker program is not a real solution to our immigration problems and that it would actually be harmful to immigrants.” Furthermore, La Raza believes that illegal “immigrants should have a choice to return home or to stay permanently in the U.S.”
If Democrats in Congress have their way and continue to oppose every well-publicized administration proposal in this election year, the president’s immigration proposal likely will find its way to oblivion.
Certainly there are many Republicans who are not at all pleased with the Bush scheme and tell Insight they mean to oppose it come hell or high water. The trouble with depending upon a coalition of Democratic partisanship and Republican conservatism, say critics of the scheme, is that the usual internationalists already are poisoning the well.
According to Tancredo, “What worries me is that Senate Minority Leader Thomas Daschle, D-S.D., and Nebraska [Republican] Sen. Chuck Hagel already have introduced their own amnesty bill and it is 10 times worse than what the president proposed. I think the Democrats’ bill basically says, ‘Oly, oly, oxen free!'”
Kelly Patricia O’Meara is an investigative reporter for Insight