In the stampede of media advice to Republicans to pass “comprehensive immigration reform” (supposedly to win more Hispanic votes in 2016), hardly any dust has been kicked up by discussing whether more immigration would be good for Hispanic Americans themselves.
If Republicans want more Hispanic votes, they might consider pushing policies that actually help Hispanic voters get back to work and increase their incomes.
Comprehensive immigration reform (CIR) would do the opposite because all CIR proposals are about increasing the number of citizens of other countries who are allowed to jump into the job-application lines to compete with the 20 million Americans who want a full-time job but can't find one.
Hispanic voters in those job lines are especially vulnerable: One in four of all Hispanics now lives in poverty -- 2 million more than impoverished Black Americans.
Hispanic Americans’ broad unemployment rate is 19% (that's the government’s “U6” category that also includes "discouraged" workers and those forced into part-time work).
The competition with new immigrants for jobs tends to be fiercest for Hispanic Americans who are under 30 and without a college degree. The broad unemployment rate is about 28% for those with a high school degree, 40% for those without a degree and 45% for teens trying to enter the world of productive work.
Hispanic Americans lucky enough to have a job are more likely to be in occupations with stagnant or declining real wages.
Many factors have created this abysmal Hispanic economic profile. But we don’t need to affix precise responsibility on each to know that the current immigration policy of adding a million new permanent immigrant work authorizations a year does not tend to help Hispanic Americans with their unfulfilled desires to hold a job and earn decent wages in a country already awash in excess workers.
Government data show that three-fourths of the net gain in jobs over the last four years has gone to foreign workers, most of them new immigrants arriving during this period. All the job-creating tax expenditures during that time have mainly been for the benefit of continuing mass immigration policies.
The CIR debate should be seen as part of a larger 200-year debate in this country between those who seek looser labor markets to hold down wages and those who press for tighter labor markets and a larger middle class. Instead of trying to imitate Democrats who almost universally today push for looser labor markets, Republicans have a giant opening with working-class Americans of all ethnicities if they become known as the party that takes immigration positions that enlarge the middle class through the higher wages and employment rates that almost always are enabled by tighter labor markets.
This would put Republicans in line with the recommendations of the bi-partisan, congressional/presidential U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform, chaired by Barbara Jordan in the 1990s in the last act of her illustrious life of public service.
The commission called for cutting annual legal immigration to around half of today’s level (which still would be double the historical average). The primary reason for the cuts, even during a time of relatively low unemployment, was the role of a loose labor market in the depression of wages for the most vulnerable that has occurred every time our nation has had a wave of mass immigration instead of the more traditional numerical level.
If Jordan had not died just before Congress took up her recommendations, the country likely would have been blessed with the mandatory workplace verification system she requested. And Congress today would not be under pressure to pass yet another amnesty for the millions of foreign citizens who since then have hopped the border or overstayed their visas to illegally take U.S. jobs.
The most common argument against reductions by CIR advocates on the left and the right is that immigrants fill jobs that are beneath the aspirations of unemployed Americans. They like to bring up farm jobs, where less than 5% of immigrants work. But most foreign-born workers are in the very construction, manufacturing and service occupations where more than 12 million unemployed Americans with a high school degree or less can't find a full-time job.
A persistent drive for looser labor markets by Democrats would also give Republicans an opening with Black voters who suffer even worse joblessness than Hispanics.
Perhaps politicians who clearly articulate that they want to stop rigging the labor market against Hispanic, Black and all other American workers will find that better votes will follow.
Roy Beck, a former journalist and author of public policy books, is president of the non-partisan NumbersUSA Education Research Foundation, founded in 1996 to promote the recommendations of the Barbara Jordan Commission.