Last week a group of Republican members of the house sent a letter to the President criticizing his efforts to reform our broken immigration system. The letter references millions of American’s out of work or who can’t find a full-time job and the falling wages of American workers over the last decade. The authors of the letter seem to think that the current state of immigration is to blame for this fiasco and that any comprehensive reform of the system will make it worse. They are wrong on both counts, although I still haven’t made up my mind if the error is caused by willful ignorance of the economic facts or some xenophobic defect. Like most things it’s probably somewhere in between.
Let’s get the wage thing out of the way first. There is no doubt that the average wages of the American worker are lower now, in both absolute and relative terms, than they were just a decade ago. This has so little to do with immigration, be it legal or not, that it is statistically insignificant. The real reason your that wages are lower has more to do with the disastrous monetary and fiscal policies promulgated by the authors of this letter and their cohorts in the hall of Congress. I guess we shouldn't be surprised that politicians are trying to blame someone else for the consequences of their actions.
As far as the millions of unemployed are concerned, there are jobs out there, they just may not be jobs that the unemployed want to do. There is a reason that immigrants come to this country to work and that reason is simple – there is a demand for their labor. There is demand for skilled labor and unskilled labor alike. The system we have right now, while broken, is somewhat decent for skilled labor, but woefully inadequate for unskilled labor. There is just some unskilled labor that can’t be outsourced. You can’t outsource construction, or farm labor, someone actually has to be here to perform those functions. People would not come here if these jobs were not available. So the argument that Americans are unemployed because immigrants have taken their jobs is just flat wrong. The vast majority of unemployed are without a job because their expectations are simply not in line with reality.
The most comical part about this letter is that Republicans are couching their rhetoric in terms of economic justice. They used to be against immigration because of all the people that were supposedly coming here and siphoning off benefits for which they did not pay. Ever since that has been shown to be absolute nonsense, they have started spouting this garbage about how they are fighting for the rights and welfare of the American worker. When did the Republicans jump into bed with the AFL-CIO? Since when is the Republican Party fighting for the rights of the American worker and trying to guarantee everyone a job?
This letter is nothing more than politics as usual, political pandering to a base with which they are woefully out of touch. If the Republicans think they can turn this issue into another social referendum like they did in 2004, they will be sadly mistaken. The electorate now cares much more about the cost of their home and other services than who actually provides them, or whether their neighbor has a job – the statistical evidence is overwhelming. It just goes to show that at the end of the day immigration is overwhelmingly an economic issue not a social one, and unless the Republican Party gets this through its head it will continue to circle the drain as a national party.