Immigration Reform: A Democratic Response

September 21, 2017

In a discussion, I was asked my thoughts on how Sen. Brown D-OH should response to immigration reform.  I have shared my thoughts here.

The Oversupply of the Labor Market

Over the past few decades, the US labor market has been grossly over-supplied.  This market glut of workers is a major cause of income inequity and the decline of the middle class and the rise of working-class poverty.

We must recognize that government has a major impact on the supply of labor in the US market.  This is done chiefly through trade and immigration policy.  Sen. Brown’s criticism of the US’s  “free-trade” agenda, as outlined in his book “The Myths of Free Trade”, suggests that the Senator is fully aware of the impact that the open trade with China (the others) has had on the US labor market.

One way to conceptualize this trading relationship is to understand that trade policy has given Chinese workers access to the American labor market.  Thereby expanding the US labor market by tens if not hundreds of millions of workers.  What I find confessing and troubling is that Sen. Brown does not seem to acknowledge that our current historically high level of immigration both illegal and legal is doing the same, namely expanding the size of the US labor market.

Expanding the number of workers in a market only becomes a problem (high levels of population bring many problems unrelated to the labor markets) when the numbers and quality of jobs cannot keep pace with the growing number of workers.   It is also true that when this balance shifts in favor of employers that the quality of jobs is quickly eroded.

The balance of leverage in the labor market has been shifted too far in the favor of employers.  The evidence of this imbalance is clear in the economic data: income equality, the labor participation rates, the number of workers accessing government subsidies, temp and part-time work, lack of employer-provided healthcare benefits etc..

The labor market is beginning to tighten. This is good for US workers and for the economy overall.  But this rebalancing will put pressure on business.  We must be on guard for business carping about the shortage of workers.  Whenever a business makes a statement about the lack and quality of the available workforce I always add the phrase “at the wage and benefits that I am willing to provide”.  If a business truly cannot survive because that business cannot compete for a workforce, that is the market saying that that business plan is not viable and that its human and financial capital is better directed to another business.  Why, as a community or nation, would we want to prop up businesses that provide sub-standard wages and benefits?

Labor Market Floor

I believe that the concept of a “labor market floor” is not fully accounted for in the economic models regarding the effect of immigration, in particular, illegal immigration (black market labor) and guest worker programs on the labor market.   A criticism of raising the minimum wage is that it would necessitate increases in wages for employees up the employment ladder.  If this is true, which I believe it is, (and not necessarily a bad thing) the inverse is also true.  Access to labor willing to accept extremely low wages and benefits puts downward pressure on all wage earners.  In effect, lowering the floor in which employers can lower their wages and still attract a labor force.  This is also an issue with guest worker programs.

I have not even addressed the possible effect of automation on the labor market.  But illegal immigrants could see a major displacement in the industries and occupations that they occupy.  Bringing large numbers of foreign low-skilled workers (particularly those without basic English skills) into the legal workforce would likely put a burden on the US economy and the US taxpayer for years to come.

I could say a lot more about the myth of a labor shortage, and the role of trade and immigration on the labor markets.  And would be glad to do so if there is an interest, but let’s move onto the political and policy response to immigration and the labor market.   First, trade and immigration policy are linked.   Addressing one without the other leaves the door open to increasing the labor supply on behalf of business.  But for this discussion, we are focused on immigration.

Politics

First, let’s look at the political implications of immigration reform.  It is my strong feeling that Americans (and Ohioans) do not trust the Democratic Party to enforce our immigration laws.  I feel this is one major reason why Clinton lost the election. Hillary Clinton and Sen. Brown refuse to use the phrase “illegal immigration”.   Hillary failed to address enforcement of US immigration laws at all during her campaign.  The constant effort to conflate immigrants with illegal immigrants is particularly galling.  This and the effort to paint anyone concerned about immigration as a racist was counterproductive, pushing middle-class voters away from the Democratic Party.

American workers believe that wage competition from illegal and legal immigration is as real as the negative effects on the tax base.   Voters feel that the Democratic Party is in effect supporting open immigration and many have turned their backs on working families’ financial concerns to pander to a growing voting bloc, which is, in fact, growing because of the Democrats complicit support of illegal immigration.

The question the voters are asking is; how can the Democrats hope to enforce immigration law if the Party is not willing to deport an illegal immigrant who has done nothing more than violate our immigration law?!  The voters see a party looking for every excuse possible not to deport anyone.

Saying that you will deport violent criminals is not enough.  To enforce immigration law you need to be willing to deport the most sympathetic illegal immigrants.  All the dilemmas surrounding illegal immigration, sanctuary cities, divided families, dreamers, are all a result of the ineffective ability of the federal government to enforce immigration law through deportation.

An immigration reform that cannot stop the flow of illegal immigration into the US will be a failure.  We simply cannot have a repeat of the 1986 reform.  The reality that we have today; that the best and quickest path to permanent residence and a better life for oneself and one’s family is through illegal immigration has to be put to an end once and for all.   Any reform that permits the reconstitution of the illegal immigration population in the US will be an abject failure.

Make no mistake that the goal of many who are trying to influence immigration reform is to increase the flow of immigration into the US.  This could be done with explicit provisions in the reform to increase legal immigration into the US or liberalizing the refugee flow into the US.  Or this can be done by subterfuge; hamstringing efforts of enforcement, leaving in place policies that incentivize and accommodate illegal immigrants living in the US.  There is a general attitude among pro-illegal immigration advocates that foreign nationals have a moral right to violate our immigration law.

Policy

On the whole, I would say that the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013 is too generous in terms of amnesty for illegal immigrants and too generous for business in terms of access to foreign workers.  Other than the addition of E-Verify it seems to be a rehashing of the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 which was a farce and a complete failure.

One very important issue NOT addressed in the 2013 Senate bill is the dependents still living in the countries of origin of illegal immigrants who will be provided a path to citizenship.  A basic tenet of pro-amnesty groups is family unification.  It seems clear that their position would be that unification should always be on the US side of the border.  If the default policy was to be unification in the US, then millions if not tens of millions of foreign nationals would be eligible for legal immigration to join their family member(s) in the US, referred to as “chain migration”.  This policy of unification would have a massive effect on the CBO scoring of the law.  This is one reason that I feel a finite number of illegal immigrants and their dependents should be the policy.  Ever any discussing of how to deal with dependents that remain in the countries of origin would likely set off a wave on illegal entries into the US.

At this time I would point that CBO scoring does NOT address the effects on the state and local tax base.  The education cost of a unification provision could be a major problem for already underfunded big city school districts.  The other issue with CBO scoring in regards to immigration policy is that the CBO only looks out for ten years.  Immigration policy budget implications have a far longer timeline than 10 years.  In my estimation, many of the negative budget implications are outside of the 10-year estimates provided by the CBO.

Below I will provide a policy agenda that could have a real impact on reducing the oversupply of labor in the US through immigration and restore the voter’s faith that the Democrats party and the US government is serious about immigration reform and enforcement.

I do not believe for a second that Sen. Brown (or any other Democrat or business minded Republican) will adopt this platform.  It would require a paradigm shift in his thinking on immigration policy.  The Senator would be ostracized by his base, his donors, his colleagues, the party leadership and his family members.

  • A limit amnesty at a fitted a specific number of individuals. Say 5 million (including Dreamers). There is the possibility that there are far more than 11 million illegal immigrations current in the US.  Also, a large number of deportations would be necessary to convince all sides that the US government is serious about immigration enforcement.   And it would prevent new arrivals from trying to qualify for amnesty current or future.
  • The numbers of immigrates receiving amnesty would be back out of all future legal immigration.
  • The year total of legal immigration would be limited to 500k/per. This means that total new immigration other than the amnesty program would be zero for 10years.
  • The adoption of E-Verity employment verification
  • Ending all guest worker programs.
  • The end of birthright citizenship. The 14th amendment was never intended to allow foreign nationals to control our immigration policy
  • Apportionment and distribution of federal funds will be based on the total of legal residents (NOT on the total number of people present in the US.)
  • Electronic tracking of visas.
  • Increased internal and workplace enforcement. (This is key illegal immigrates most by quickly be identified and processed for removal (or otherwise adjudicated) before the moral dilemmas relating to legal immigration can arise.)
  • More funding of border checkpoints to prevent illegal activities at the border illegal immigration, illegal working in the US by people crossing the border daily, drug smuggling etc.. (Build a border wall across the whole US/Mexican border would be a colossal waste of money and better diverted to other initiative on the list above.)
  • Enforcement Enforcement Enforcement- All federal agencies (including the IRS and Social Security Administration) must provide any information that could identify or locate illegal immigrants to ICE.  All Federal, state or local laws and programs that make it easier for illegal immigrants to remain in the US should be eliminated; sanctuary cities, drivers licenses, etc..  No space or location in the US should be off-limits to immigration enforcement.
  • Recipients of amnesty must renounce foreign citizenship.  This initiative is directed specifically at Mexico who collects taxes on Mexican citizens living legally and illegally in the US (for which they provide no services).  This would disincentivize Mexico from encouraging its people to immigrate illegally (or legally) to the US

Of course, I am not able to address all of the issues and counterpoints surrounding issues of immigration in this short format.  Please contact me at any time so that I can address any questions, concerns and clarify any faults in my reasoning that may have been found.

 

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The Immigration Reform American Workers Deserve

February 23, 2016

Democrats have wholeheartedly taken up the issue of income inequality and stagnant real wages of working class families.  Bernie Sanders has criticized our current trade policy; making it a centerpiece of his campaign. He does not support the purposed TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership) trade agreement.

Here in Ohio, Sen. Sherrod Brown has been a longtime opponent of “free trade”.  Former Gov. Ted Strickland, who has a good chance of unsetting Sen. Rob Portland (r) in the upcoming election, is also campaigning against trade deals that put Ohio workers in direct competition with cheap foreign labor and sends Ohio jobs overseas.

What does it matter if we send American jobs overseas for foreign labor to fill or we bring foreign labor into the U.S.?  This is the disconnect of progressive economic labor policy.

In the relatively recent past, prominent liberals agreed that rapidly expanding the labor pool by bringing in millions of immigrants was not in the best interests of working Americans. Labor union leaders and civil rights luminaries, for a century right through President Bill Clinton, supported reducing the number of work permits for foreign laborers. They understood that such a move would spur wage growth and expand job opportunities for Americans.

A 1995 congressional commission, chaired by the charismatic civil rights leader and Democratic Texas congresswoman Barbara Jordan, recommended limiting immigration to 550,000 individuals a year. President Clinton praised the recommendation as a “balanced immigration policy that . . . protect[s] the American work force.”

There is no good reason to continue giving out one million new lifetime work permits every year, supporting guest worker programs and having a permissive attitude towards illegal immigration when over 15 million native and immigrant Americans already here are currently unable to find full-time jobs.

From 1924 to 1965, America sharply scaled back the number of immigrants it accepted. Without competition from a large pool of foreign-born laborers, American workers were better able to unionize and demand improved wages and benefits.

The share of income going to the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans dropped from 43 percent in 1924 — the year lower immigration quotas were implemented — to less than 32 percent in 1965 — the year the quotas were replaced with the current immigration system.

The post-1965 influx of workers helped freeze wages. In fact, inflation-adjusted wages have actually declined over the last forty years. The average worker in 1973 earned a higher real wage than the average worker does today.

Economists have concluded that high levels of immigration are partially responsible for wage stagnation. Harvard professor George Borjas, an immigrant himself, has shown that expanding the size of any working cohort — as defined by age or education — by 10 percent through immigration reduces the wages of all native-born folks in that group by 2.5 percent. The effect on native-born men is even greater — a decline in wages of 3.7 percent.

For Americans without a high school degree, the wage losses are even more pronounced — about $1,200 for the years between 1990 and 2010.

Immigrants themselves are not at fault. The overwhelming majority of immigrants are industrious people who work hard. It is just that in America, hard work often is not rewarded.  The strongest work ethic in the world cannot defeat the law of supply and demand. The more workers who need a job, the less employers have to pay to attract employees.

Our leaders have the power to stop this economic race to the bottom and boost wage growth. Scaling back the pace at which our nation admits new laborers from abroad would help disadvantaged immigrants who are already here. It would take job-market realities into account and give native and immigrant American workers the leverage to win back the wages and benefits they’ve lost over decades.

America has been and must continue to be a nation that does not discriminate on the basis of race, religion, or national origin, but there’s no need to bring in one million permanent immigrants every year, allow guest worker programs, on top of illegal immigration when current residents cannot find good-paying jobs.

If progressive candidates are serious about standing up for American workers, they must consider greatly reducing the number of foreign laborers who have access to the American labor market through trade policy and immigration policy.


The New York Times Supports Open Borders

December 11, 2015

Once again the NYT makes its same old tired argument for completely open borders to anyone unlucky enough to be born in a country where bad things happen. Do they understand they are talking about 2-3 billon people depending on where you draw the line?

All the moral dilemmas set forth in this article have their roots in the US government’s unwillingness to enforce our immigration laws.

The fact that this illegal immigrant went undetected in the US for 15 years is objective proof that our system of immigration enforcement is a joke. Yet the NYT is opposed to any practical and sensible enforcement measures like E-verify of employment status, but supports sanctuary cities, a policy that only makes sense if you stipulate to a large population of illegal immigrate living in that city. Again where is the enforcement?

The NYT put forward another compelling story of all the moral dilemmas and hardships that accumulate when we do not identify and deport illegal aliens in a timely manner.

I would love to see the NYT put forward a plan to effectively and legally enforce our immigration laws. Of course, if the NYT are not willing to deport anyone for any reason at any time, you have made it impossible to enforce our immigration laws, and that is their true moral dilemma.

Profile of an illegal immigrant from the New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/12/13/magazine/the-deported.html?_r=0


What I Know About The Establishment And Immigration:

July 16, 2015

I know that the establishment is using immigration (and trade) to drive down their cost of labor.

I know that immigration (and trade) are a primary cause of income inequality.

I know that the establishment is not even trying to stop illegal immigration.

I know that mass immigration is exploding our population and is making America a poorer nation.

I know that every time an illegal immigrant commits a crime it should have never happened.

I know that the establishment owns the press and is using it to promote mass immigration.

I know that the establishment owned press will label anyone who questions mass immigration as a racist.

I know that birth right citizenship gives foreign nationals the power to control our immigration system.

I know that when you boil down the argument for amnesty it is an argument for unlimited immigration.

I know that for all of the reasons above, the establishment does not really want to talk about mass immigration.


It is the Labor Market Stupid

January 5, 2014

Why Democrats will not address the real cause of income inequality.

I am hopeful that the public and our political class are coming to terms with income inequality in America and the harm it is doing to our economy and society.  At the same time, I am disappointed in the response by my party, the Democratic Party, to the overreaching economic issues of our time.

While raising the minimum wage would do more good than harm, simply raising the minimum wage would help too few people, too little, and could create inequities of its own.  More importantly, the minimum wage is a placebo, a distraction from the real labor market forces at work that are bringing the ideal of America as a broad base middle class national, to a close.

Our government over the last 30 years has pursued policies by way of trade agreements, cheap foreign labor embedded in the goods imported to the US and an immigration policy of non-enforcement to increase the supply of labor in the United States.  Globalization has been an abject failure for the American middle class.  When President Clinton supported NAFTA he sold out to a corporate establishment and took the Democratic Party’s labor market policy 180 degrees in the wrong direction.

Increasing the supply of labor into the US market has had a predictable, and for some, a desired result.  While corporate profits are at record highs the value of labor in the market has been diminished to the point where a full time job no long provides a place in the middle class.

For a party that holds the moral high ground on so many important issues, it sickens me to see Democrats pandering to foreign nationals who have intentionally broken our immigration law in order to gain an electoral advantage, and to a corporate establishment that is willing to put short term profits above the economic interest of their employees and their own customers.

It is my wish that the Democratic Party will set aside the interest of foreign nationals and big campaign contributors and return to their core values of supporting a strong and prosperous middle-class.

Please like the Facebook Page: Democrats Against Amnesty   https://www.facebook.com/pages/Democrats-Against-Amnesty/152334804799707?ref=br_tf


Illegal Immigrant: Defending the Term

April 8, 2013

In the wake of the Associated Press decision to drop the use of “illegal Immigrant” from their Stylebook, I have reviewed my use of the language in this blog.  Here is my conclusion.

The term “illegal immigrant” may not be the perfect solution, as reasonable shorthand to refer to a foreign national present in the United States in violation of immigration laws, but it is far better than the alternative that is being provided: “undocumented immigrant”.

Jonathan Rosa, an assistant professor of Linguistic Anthropology at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, believes that “immigrant” defines someone who is a legal permanent resident.

A group of 24 scholars, led by Rosa, put out a statement last week arguing that “illegal immigrant” should not be the preferred phrasing because it’s imprecise and frames the debate in narrow terms. “It is baffling to think that [The New York Times] would suggest ‘illegal immigrant’ is accurate and neutral,” Rosa said in an interview with ABC/Univision. “The U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act defines immigrants as people who have been lawfully admitted for permanent residence, so “legal immigrant” is a redundant concept and ‘illegal immigrant’ is oxymoronic,” he noted. 1

By this reasoning, the term “undocumented immigrant” would imply that a person is legally present in the United States but for a missing piece of documentation.  This shorthand does not convey the full nature of a foreign national present in the United States in violation of immigration laws.

I would prefer the term “illegal alien”.  From a legal standpoint, it is more correct and it would end the confusion regarding the word “immigrant”.  Unfortunately, we have dropped the word “space” for the term “space alien” so in common usages “alien” refers to a creature from outer space.  I would concede that this renders that term dehumanized, not because it is technically incorrect, but because of our cultural vocabulary deficiency.  I have discontinued the use of the term “illegal alien”.

Key here though is not the word “immigrant” but the word “illegal”.  The movement pushing the term “undocumented “ to describe a person, or to discuss the body of persons in the United States in violation of US immigration law, is not about replacing an imperfect term, it is all about scrubbing the word “illegal” from the discussion.

So, why not “illegal immigrant”?  Some feel that the term “illegal immigrant” is offensive.   Advocates for “undocumented” say that groups have the right to self-identity.  I would agree that racial, ethnic groups have that right to self-identity and have the right to change that identifier as they see fit.  But illegal immigrants are not a racial or ethnic group.  An illegal immigrants’ only common element is their illegal presence in the United States.  I can understand that someone in the United States, in violation of immigration law or someone who cared about a person who is in violation of US immigration law, would be uncomfortable with the word “illegal”.  But can you maintain your journalistic integrity while backing away from a clear and powerful language because some are not comfortable with the clear meaning that it conveys?  Undocumented is less powerful, it is less offensive and it is also less clear.

The other objection to the term “illegal immigrant” suggests that a person cannot be “illegal” and we should only use “illegal” to describe an illegal action.  One common example given is that you would not call a jaywalker an “illegal walker”.

“If we talk about a child who skips school, we don’t say he’s an illegal student,” Santa Ana said in reference to truancy laws. “We call a person who crosses the street illegally a jaywalker, not an illegal walker.” Linguists George Lakoff and Sam Ferguson suggest in their 2006 paper “The Framing of Immigration”2

This reasoning fails to recognize the continuous nature of one’s immigration status or citizenship.  A jaywalker is only a jaywalker while they are crossing the street improperly.  An illegal immigrant is in a constant state of violation of US immigration law.

The New York Times style guide maintains that “undocumented” is a “euphemism”.  I agree with the assessment.  I hope that The New York Times will stand by that clear statement of journalistic principle.

Immigration activist Jose Antonio Vargas’ campaign to replace “illegal” with “undocumented”, which is largely responsible for the reassessment and change to the AP Stylebook, is not about clarity but about shifting the conversation away from the fact that millions of foreign nationals are present in the United States in violation of immigration laws.  Jose Antonio Vargas is making a moral argument that anyone should be able to become a United States Citizen.  He believes that the millions of illegal immigrants are not in fact illegal but have simply not yet received the legal recognition and legal documents to which they are morally entitled.

While discussing as a group of foreign nationals present in the United States in violation of immigration laws, I will continue to use the shorthand term “illegal immigrants” I feel it conveys, in the most direct way, the nature of their immigration status.

Individuals who are subject to immigration law enforcement action will be referred to as “alleged illegal immigrants”.

The subset of illegal immigrants brought to the United States as children will be referred to, when the context of the story merits a deeper understanding of their immigration reality, as “Dreamers” or “children who were brought to the United States in violation of immigration law”.

This brings me full circle back to Jose Antonio Vargas.  Mr. Vargas would like us to call him an undocumented immigrant; someone who lacks a document to legitimize his legal status.   I cannot do that.  It just does not express the reality of his immigration status.  If Mr. Vargas is offended by my use of language, I can only say that I am offended by millions of foreign nationals who have knowingly, and with intent, disregarded the immigration laws of the United States of America.

1) http://abcnews.go.com/ABC_Univision/linguists-york-times-illegal-neutral-accurate/story?id=17366512#.UVzChVeRcxD

2) http://abcnews.go.com/ABC_Univision/linguists-york-times-illegal-neutral-accurate/story?id=17366512&page=2#.UV2SV1eRcxA


Jose Antonio Vargas: The Moral Argument for Unlimited Immigration

March 29, 2013

Jose Antonio Vargas is a journalist and immigration activist who has taken on the cause of the “Dreamers”, children brought to America, in violation of our immigration law, at a young age , who were able to avoid enforcement long enough to become integrated into American society and have a sense that America is their country.  Mr. Vargas, himself, came to the United States at age 12 and remained in the United States without legal status.

I am sympathetic to the dreamers; I would like to see provisions in the immigration law to provide legal status to these children caught in a nether world of their parent’s illegal actions and a federal government that is unwilling to enforce our immigration laws.

But, when you take a deep look at Mr. Vargas’ movement and philosophy we find that he is not talking about the one time fix for the immigration system that has been allowed to devolve out of control.  Mr. Vargas is extolling a notion that for any parent who can manage to get his/her child inside the United States and if that child can avoid enforcement for an unspecified length of time, this child is entitled to legal status.

While Mr. Vargas’ “Define American” web site is long on emotional appeals it is short on a real discussion of immigration policies, particularly how we enforce our immigration laws,  Mr. Vargas’ concept of a “21st Century Underground Railroad” is a call to American citizen’s to facilitate the presence of young illegal immigrants in the United States until they can claim citizenship by moral fiat.

Indeed, mine is a story about the heart and compassion of the 21st Century Underground Railroad: American citizens helping new American immigrants as we strive for full citizen rights. My teachers, school administrators, mentors and friends were all part of my “Railroad.” They are the chief reason I’m able to tell you my story.

Mr. Vargas seems willing to take advantage of our sense of fair play and compassion for young people to manipulate our immigration policy, giving power and control of our immigration policy to those willing to break our immigration laws.

I also take issue with his assertion that there is a parallel moral equivalency between an underground railroad for slaves and illegal immigrants.  Not being enslaved is a fundamental human right, there is no basic right of immigration.

As Mr. Vargas seeks to define who is an American, I hear him saying that anyone can simply declare oneself an American.  Mr. Vargas seems to be putting forward a moral imperative that sweeps all other consideration aside, that anyone who wants to be an American is entitled to be American.  Mr. Vargas, and many others, are making a moral argument for unlimited immigration.


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