For the past decade, perhaps the one issue that has crossed partisan lines yet created a national divide is our nation’s immigration policy. And now that President Obama has issued an executive order granting amnesty to millions of illegal immigrants, we have to discuss how this impacts American workers.
Those on the left stand for open borders and amnesty because they believe national borders discriminate against the poor in the world, and they are counting on the new immigrants providing the Democrat Party with an expanding base of voters.
The corporate community has advocated amnesty because new immigrants will work for less while increasing their bottom line. Big Business sees immigrants and existing U.S. citizens as a commodity whose price needs to be kept down.
But in between these two forces are average Americans who have borne the brunt of this economic recession with stagnant wages and a decline in median income. Under our current immigration system and de facto amnesty for existing illegal aliens (this administration simply doesn’t deport anyone unless they have committed another serious crime in the U.S.) we have flooded America with competition for our lower-skilled workers.
At its core are three buzz terms that will define the future of the American worker:
1. Legal immigration;
2. Illegal immigration; and,
Legal immigration policy is a decision of numbers and categories. There are many categories, such as the chain migration or the visa lottery. But only 15 percent of immigration is skills-based. America over the last 20 years has accepted more legal immigrants than any other 20-year period in our history, averaging over 1 million immigrants per year. The Senate bill that the President supports doubles that historically high number.
Illegal immigration is a matter of illegal inflows and outflows of people. The core illegal-immigration questions are what, if any, set of measures should be taken to reduce inflows and increase outflows of illegal aliens? If enough measures are taken, there will be a net outflow of illegal aliens.
Amnesty is when government grants an illegal alien a work permit or other right to live in the U.S. We now know that millions of illegal immigrants will be able to stay here because of Mr. Obama’s executive order.
However we solve this challenge, we should agree that the interest of the American worker comes first. As former Congresswoman Barbara Jordan (D-Tex.) said when she chaired President Bill Clinton’s U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform: “It is both a right and a responsibility of a democratic society to manage immigration so that it serves the national interest. The national interest comes first, last, and always.”
This bipartisan consensus under the Clinton administration is now portrayed as chauvinistic or even xenophobic by the Obama White House. Progressives are increasingly vocal about their lack of concern for the American worker. For example, The New Republic recommended that America quickly allow itself to become a majority-foreigner country in order to alleviate global income inequality. Immigration policy as foreign aid?
Five billion people live in countries poorer than Mexico, so it would take a vast increase in immigration to impact global income inequality. Today’s level of legal and illegal immigration from all countries is only 1/30th of 1% that.
Based on the simple laws of supply and demand, these continued high levels of immigration will result in lower levels of income, all else being equal. While I admit that all else is not equal and there are other factors affecting wages and median income, the facts are clear, real wages have been flat since 2000, and declined for the least skilled, despite a decade-and-a-half of technological progress. Clearly one of the most likely culprits is the present level of immigration.
We also know something else has happened during this unprecedented wave of legal immigrants. There have been roughly six million net new jobs created. On balance, how many of those new jobs have gone to native-born workers?
None! All of the net-job gains since 2000 have gone to workers born outside the US.
We also know that there is something to the argument that technology, while helpful in improving living standards has made it more difficult to create good jobs at good wages like we used to. Today 70% of Americans don’t have college degrees and a large fraction of college graduates don’t work in college-level jobs. Our country must provide more not less opportunity for them.
I hear all the time: “there are jobs American won’t or can’t do!”
True, farm field-work on the one side and the very highest levels of technical talent on the other fit that description. For the first, the existing H-2A agricultural guest worker program can be made very reliable and affordable for farmers and ranchers. For the second, the present levels of employment immigration can be reworked to screen out mediocrity and admit the most talented more quickly.
Details are important, but the most important issue is the goal.
If America still believes the guiding principle behind any change in policy must be, as Barbara Jordan said, “in the national interest,” the policy recommendations will follow naturally. These include focusing legal immigration on nuclear-family immigration and current levels of employment-based immigration, while creating a net outflow of illegal immigration through a mix of immigration-security measures and work-eligibility checks.
It’s time to put politics and profits aside and side with our national interest the average working American.
• Rick Santorum is a former U.S. Senator representing Pennsylvania and a former candidate for the GOP presidential nomination in 2012.