In July, New York Times columnist Bret Stephens offered a notable mea culpa, acknowledging his failure to read or empathize with the mood of about half of the country. “I belonged to a social class that my friend Peggy Noonan called ‘the protected.’ My family lived in a safe and pleasant neighborhood. Our kids went to an excellent public school. I was well paid, fully insured, insulated against life’s harsh edges,” he wrote.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi must have missed that column. In what was clearly intended as a broadside aimed at Florida’s governor, Ron DeSantis, for diverting a few dozen of the more than 2 million illegal aliens the Biden administration has allowed to cross our borders to the tony resort island of Martha’s Vineyard, she uttered one of the most tone-deaf statements since Marie Antoinette advised starving Frenchmen to eat cake.
“We have a shortage of workers in our country. In Florida, some of the farmers and the growers are saying ‘why are you shipping these immigrants up North? We need them to pick the crops down here,’” opined the speaker, as though she actually has her finger on the pulse of the Florida agricultural industry. For good measure, after claiming we need migrants to provide us with cheap labor, she pulled an about-face and proceeded to lecture the majority of the American public who are alarmed by the administration’s border policies about our “moral responsibility to accept refugees.”
Leaving aside that her potshot at a likely 2024 presidential contender coincided with his state being ravaged by an epic hurricane, Mrs. Pelosi’s statement once again highlighted the obliviousness of “the protected” class, whom she and her party have come to represent.
In a single breath, she managed to both stereotype the millions of migrants crossing our borders as exploitable stoop labor, prepared to pick our fruits and vegetables for whatever meager wages are offered by modern-day plantation owners and castigate working-class Americans for objecting to policies that undermine their own economic interests. Had a similar suggestion been uttered by, say, a Republican governor of Florida, it would almost certainly have been roundly condemned by Mrs. Pelosi and the media as a “dog whistle,” if not outrightly racist.
In a rare moment of candor — that often lands politicians in hot water — Mrs. Pelosi also laid waste to her party’s claim that the unprecedented number of people entering the country illegally are true political asylum seekers. Rather, they are an endless source of low-wage labor who can be subsidized well into the future by the sort of government assistance programs Democrats specialize in creating and expanding.
Of course, the vast majority of newly arriving migrants are neither legitimate asylum seekers, nor are they itching to work long hours in the brutal Florida sun picking citrus, or harvesting sugar cane for substandard pay. As most of them candidly admit, they came to the U.S. to pursue better economic opportunities and to take advantage of Biden administration policies that vastly increase their likelihood of being allowed to remain. As one migrant who landed on Martha’s Vineyard stated, he would have been more than happy to remain on the affluent island before local authorities sent them packing. “I would like to stay here because the people are very nice,” he said.
The jobs that are sought by the migrants waved into the country by the Biden administration are the sort that struggling working-class Americans would take if wages were higher due to a tighter labor market. After decades of stagnant wages (now compounded by runaway inflation) and massive job losses during COVID-19, U.S. workers are now faced with a wage-depressing influx of migrants into almost every labor market in the country that both prevents and discourages their reentry into the workforce.
Contrary to Mrs. Pelosi’s assertion, we do not have a labor shortage in this country. We have historically low labor force participation rates, brought on by faulty economic and social policies and exacerbated by ill-conceived immigration policies. Clearly, our faltering economy has urgent needs that must be addressed, but more exploitable workers to “pick the crops” will not fix what ails us.
Having tacitly acknowledged that the vast majority of people entering the country illegally are economic migrants, the speaker and others in Washington must also acknowledge their own moral responsibilities: The responsibility to secure our nation’s borders. The responsibility is to end policies that result in the deaths of countless migrants. And the responsibility to safeguard the vital interests of Americans who are not part of the protected class.
• Dan Stein is president of the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR).