Immigration

IMMIGRATION….Nathan Newman recommends a report on immigration from the Drum Major Institute that makes a couple of points that ought to be obvious ? but often don’t seem to be:

  • America wants immigrants and has plenty of jobs for them.

  • Illegal immigrants are easily intimidated by employers and therefore accept low pay and abysmal working conditions. This drives down wages and working conditions for everyone, not just immigrants.

Unfortunately, the Drum Major report loses me here:

We submit that immigration reform can successfully address both of these realities if it maintains the flow of legal immigrants, enables undocumented immigrants to continue living and working in the United States and also ensures that all immigrants are able to exercise full rights in the workplace, empowering them to demand working conditions that don?t undercut the U.S. citizens with whom they share a labor market.

I simply don’t see how undocumented workers will ever be able to “exercise full rights in the workplace.” After all, an employer can always carry out a threat to report a worker to the INS no matter what rules you have in place, and we can hardly forbid the INS from deporting an illegal immigrant just because he or she has filed a workplace claim of some kind. This is simply unworkable, which might explain why the report doesn’t recommend any actual policy prescriptions.

DMI’s basic points strike me as plainly correct, but I suspect there’s only one real way to address them: (a) increase significantly the number of legal immigrants we accept and (b) tighten up enforcement of immigration laws. This would lower the cost of legal immigration and raise the cost of illegal immigration, and if we can find the right balance it would make illegal immigration rare while keeping legal immigration at levels sufficient to provide the workforce we rather obviously want. Workplace protections and higher wages follow almost automatically, and that in turn will allow us to find out once and for all whether or not native Americans are willing to do the work that immigrants currently do.

Politically, of course, this is a nonstarter. Employers wouldn’t like it because they prefer illegal immigrants who can be treated poorly and can’t do anything about it, while the Tom Tancredos of the world just don’t want any immigrants at all. It’s hard to see any rational compromise coming out of Washington DC anytime soon.