Immigrants all over the country have taken to the streets to protest recent Congressional immigration reforms: 500,000 in LA, 50,000 in Denver, 4,000 in Detroit, 20,000 in Phoenix (click here for some great reporting on the LA protests). Carrying signs that read “No Human Being is Illegal” and “No Second Class” over 22,000 high school students walked out of class on Monday to march on the LA City Hall; 100 clergy, who had bound themselves with plastic handcuffs, marched to a Senate office building and chanted, “Let our people stay!” According to the New York Times, 1,000 demonstrators gathered on the west lawn of the Capitol to cheer at news that the Senate Judiciary Committee had cut a provision that made it a crime to give aid to illegal immigrants (the provisions remains in the House-passed version of the bill).
Despite successfully excising the most draconian elements of the immigration bill voted out of the Senate committee Monday, the bill is deeply flawed and should be rejected. This is a time to just say no. There is little likelihood that anything decent can come out of this Congress and be signed by Bush into law. As we have argued it is up to labor and its allies to develop a worker friendly bill that addresses the needs of all workers and puts the question of immigration in a global context. Latin American governments have already started this process by their intervention in the US immigration debate. (See our blog on “Labor and Global Public Policy”.)
But equally important as saying “no” is figuring out how we can reach out to native workers that either are—or think they are—being adversely affected by immigration.
According to liberal economist Paul Krugman writing in Monday’s New York Times:
"I'm instinctively, emotionally pro-immigration. But a review of serious, nonpartisan research reveals some uncomfortable facts about the economics of modern immigration, and immigration from Mexico in particular. If people like me are going to respond effectively to anti-immigrant demagogues, we have to acknowledge those facts.
First, the net benefits to the U.S. economy from immigration, aside from the large gains to the immigrants themselves, are small. Realistic estimates suggest that immigration since 1980 has raised the total income of native-born Americans by no more than a fraction of 1 percent.
Second, while immigration may have raised overall income slightly, many of the worst-off native-born Americans are hurt by immigration - especially immigration from Mexico. Because Mexican immigrants have much less education than the average U.S.worker, they increase the supply of less-skilled labor, driving down the wages of the worst-paid Americans. The most authoritative recent study….estimates that U.S. high school dropouts would earn as much as 8 percent more if it weren't for Mexican immigration."
Although Krugman’s op-ed--whether right or wrong--is quickly becoming a show piece for immigration bashers like Ira Mehlman at the Federation for American Immigration Reform, we have to confront head-on the issue that immigration may negatively affect native-born workers. Workers instinctively think that increasing the labor pool drags down wages. Rather than ignoring or turning away from the issue, now is the time to build new bridges.
Labor and its allies need to ask hard questions and it needs to seek answers to those questions in collaboration with unions and social groups in the countries that send immigrants. How can we mitigate the adverse affects to native born workers? Are there rational ways to regulate the flow of immigrant workers? What impact will US immigration reform have on Mexico and Central America where remittances play such a huge role in the domestic economies? US action to promote NAFTA and CAFTA helped push farmers off the land and workers out of domestic industries driving them North to find work. What kind of development strategies could reverse this trend? These and other questions must be addressed if we are going to have worker friendly immigration reform.
Over the last few weeks we have been blogging on immigration in an attempt to frame the issues for US unions. Take a look at our previous immigration posts on "Real Immigration Reform," "The Undocumented Workforce," "US Labor and the McCain-Kennedy Bill," "Immigration Backlash," "Globalization, Immigration and Organizing." Immigration remains a key controversy in the globalization debate around the world, witness the French immigrant protests several months ago, strikes by Indian construction workers in Dubai, and more recently the central role illegal immigration is playing in the upcoming the Italian elections. An immigration policy that is friendly to (or addresses the needs of) native US workers, immigrants, and people in poorer countries is possible, but it will take collaboration to work it out.
Over the next few weeks we'll begin presenting some worker-friendly policy alternatives to address the pressing issues of immigration in era of globalization.