- - Wednesday, March 20, 2019


Criminal justice reform and high immigration are incompatible. The First Step Act, which President Trump signed at the end of 2018, created, for some, avenues for early release. Once the inmates are let go, the most successful way they can re-enter mainstream society is through a job. But job competition becomes more difficult as the foreign-born, work-authorized population continues to increase annually through the addition to the economy of more than 1 million new lawful permanent residents and 750,000 guest workers.

Because of senior White House Adviser Jared Kushner’s persuasive influence in the criminal justice reform debates, Mr. Trump invited his son-in-law to join preliminary conversations about immigration. The takeaway from Mr. Kushner’s White House meetings with business leaders and immigration advocates was that, to remain strong, the economy needs more employment-based visas. And that’s the message we’re starting to hear from Mr. Trump, including this recent comment: ” we have to have more people coming into our country “

But high immigration has contributed to four decades of stagnant wages, with several million Americans unemployed or underemployed. The immigration expansion that business groups and special interests hope to achieve would be harmful to everyone’s job prospects, particularly for early-released prisoners who will face a challenging enough task to find employment.

Although the official Bureau of Labor Statistics unemployment rate is low, signs on the ground show that throughout the nation an unacceptable number of layoffs will leave thousands of Americans jobless. JCPenney, Victoria’s Secret, Payless ShoeSource and PepsiCo have laid off or announced the layoffs of employees, or declared bankruptcy, resulting in some 2,500 stores closing. Retail sales jobs are often entry-level, a good starting point for unemployed, underemployed or the responsible individuals who wish to start anew. Now, their job opportunities will be fewer.

Other ominous economic signals: Pending home sales have fallen year-over year for 13 consecutive months; student debt classified as “seriously delinquent” has reached $166 billion, an all-time high, and, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, more than 7 million Americans are 90 days behind in their auto payments, 1 million more than the total in the last recession. All this bad news comes amid an historically high $22 trillion national debt.

Renewed calls for more workers also ignores the inevitable deleterious effect that automation will have on the labor force. History proves that automation has a devastating impact on American workers. In living memory, robots displaced millions of manufacturing plant employees in Midwestern states. Many never worked again, and their communities haven’t recovered either. Silicon Valley has developed self-driving trucks that could eventually displace America’s nearly 4 million truck drivers, putting those American men and women on the unemployment line.

In its latest wage analysis, the Economic Policy Institute found that over the last two years, high school graduates’ wages rose faster than college degree holders’ incomes, thus moderately reducing the wage gap between college-educated workers and high school-only degree holders. The EPI report represents much needed good news for beleaguered, underpaid and overworked employees at the bottom of the earnings scale.

Increasing immigration would jeopardize the economic recovery in recent years. More employment-based visas would compromise the modest gains American low-skilled workers have just begun to experience. The proven and lasting solution to labor shortages is to offer workers higher wages, not to invite in more employment-based visa holders.

• Chris Chmielenski is deputy director of NumbersUSA.

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