As the immigration debate reignites and Congressmen stake out their positions on Florida Senator Marco Rubio’s comprehensive immigration reform bill, a remarkable number of supposedly free-market conservatives are taking a rather hidebound, protectionist stance against the expansion of trade that such reform would bring. Consider:
- Fury recently erupted when a Rubio aide privately told The New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza, “There are American workers who, for lack of a better term, can’t cut it. There shouldn’t be a presumption that every American worker is a star performer. There are people who just can’t get it, can’t do it, don’t want to do it.” Before the immigration issue resurfaced, you’ll note, this is what we used to refer to as “the Republican Party platform.”
- Victor Davis Hanson accused the nation’s corporate “elites” of wanting amnesty so they can ensure an endless supply of “cheap laborers.” Hanson seems to have forgotten that there are two parties to any employment contract—those who receive the wages and those who pay them—and fails to explain to us why employers should prefer pricy laborers.
- National Review lamented that “The fine for legalization is small—just $500 up front and $500 paid in installments, in return for lifetime legal access to the U.S. labor market.” Apparently NR has no problem forcing those entering the workforce to pay a tribute of $1,000 to the government for the privilege of working a minimum-wage job.
- Peter Kirsanow complained that most low-skilled workers are “unwilling to work at the cut-rate wages (and often substandard conditions) offered to illegal immigrants—a cohort highly unlikely to complain to the EEOC, OSHA or the Wage and Hour Division of the Department of Labor.” Now immigration has turned conservatives into rabid Department of Labor acolytes?
- Ann Coulter asserted that Mexicans will grab jobs from African Americans—contradicting her previous claim that “innumerable studies” on Mexicans have shown that “the second, third and fourth generations plunge headlong into the underclass.” If subsequent generations of Mexicans aren’t hard workers, how exactly is it that they’re going to be taking all those jobs away from African Americans?
- Victor Davis Hanson similarly argued that African-American unemployment is being kept high by competition from illegal workers—despite his admission that “second-generation immigrants are deemed less industrious” than their parents. Well, are second-generation Mexicans unstoppable workhorses poised to decimate the black race or lazy siesta-indulgers? Hanson and Coulter can’t seem to make up their minds. (For the record, Census Bureau data show that African-American unemployment is no greater in areas with higher concentrations of recent immigrants.)
- In a piece titled “Rubio’s Folly,” National Review editors declared, “By more than doubling the number of so-called guest workers admitted each year, the bill would help create a permanent underclass of foreign workers… That is a lot of taxation without representation.” Wait—I thought illegal immigrants didn’t pay taxes and were just here to collect benefits. Now we’re supposed to be distraught because they’re forking over too much to the IRS?
- Hanson warns that although illegals can often “find jobs that pay over five times more per hour than anything they could find in Mexico,” those jobs “often become a permanent dead end.” But aren’t those illegal workers here voluntarily? Can’t they return home anytime they like if they believe they’re about to hit a permanent dead end?
Are there any other immigrant employment protections these recent conservative converts to the Working Families Party would like to enact?
For some reason the economic implications of immigration have to be spelled out for most conservatives, who otherwise seem to understand how the economy works in every other area of life, so here goes:
- Importing low-skilled workers does not take jobs away from Americans, any more than technological innovations such as the automobile or ATM take jobs away from horse-and-buggy drivers or bank tellers. Immigration makes it easier to get cheap labor and frees up the rest of us to adopt more skilled professions. There are transition costs, and some older folks who can’t or won’t learn new skills may find themselves out of work, but the net benefit to society more than compensates for the loss.
- Competition from foreign workers may drive wages down slightly for some low-skilled workers and those directly competing with immigrants. But that happens when any growing field starts attracting more workers, immigrant or non-immigrant. And the resulting efficiency frees up capital for business owners to expand and invest in high-tech equipment and services that require skilled employees, which lets those who are willing to learn new roles advance in their fields.
- Welcoming new residents brings more demand for goods and services, which means that more jobs are created to fulfill these demands. Immigrants take jobs, but they also afford more job creation to meet their needs. The nanny, lawnmower, and construction business owner all require groceries, clothes, fuel, and shelter.
It’s a strange world when conservatives find themselves on the same side as left-wing, protectionist unions like the AFL-CIO, which recently won a concession in Rubio’s bill to force employers to pay foreign workers higher wages; or the Building and Construction Trades union, which won a battle to limit the quantity of visas given to foreign construction workers. Are we going to have to fight NAFTA all over again, too?
Conservatives’ neurotic insistence on strict border enforcement, mandatory E-Verify usage, and other protectionist measures is about one step up from nationalized affirmative action for American workers.
- CBO Issues Report On Immigration Reform Bill (elephantnewsgop.com)
- High-Skill Immigration: A Resource (Part 1) (growthology.org)
- Bachmann tries to rally conservatives against immigration bill (blogs.mprnews.org)
- Illegal Immigration: Elite Illiberality (amren.com)
- Rubio Aide: Some American Workers ‘Can’t Cut It’ (redalertpolitics.com)