Liberals have historically been the voice of those who have no voice, fighting for the rights of those on the lowest rungs of the economic ladder.
They have campaigned relentlessly against cuts in AFDC (search), Medicaid (search) and Medicare (search). Even now, the expansion of Medicare to include prescription drugs has become a crusade of liberal advocacy groups. To hear Robert Reich (search), former President Clinton's first Secretary of Labor, one would think that the primary duty of a president is to create jobs, something that a substantial number of economists believe is not even possible under normal economic conditions.
But there is nothing noble in importing hundreds of thousands of unskilled people to do our dirty work. So it is ironic — hypocritical, even — that many of the same liberal advocacy groups that worked so hard to insure safe and fair working conditions for Americans should also work so hard to pave the way for illegal immigrants.
While the government of Spain recently ordered a massive mobilization of law enforcement to remove the estimated 500,000 illegal immigrants in that country, the U.S., without blinking an eye, absorbs between 300,000 and 500,000 new illegal immigrants every year, almost every one of them an unskilled laborer crossing our southern border to earn money.
If people wonder why they see groups of idle men standing on street corners during warm months, it is because they were all unsuccessful in competing for the same $2.00 an hour lawn-mowing job.
Arguing that illegal immigration should be tolerated because those coming here seek only to work is to argue that we should foster a massive, exploitative, underground economy whose workers spend every day teetering on the brink of destitution. Those who believe that the U.S. should welcome all illegal workers, no matter how unskilled or unneeded, also seem to think that an immigration amnesty or guest worker program is a silver bullet that will automatically cure all the other problems that piggyback on uncontrolled immigration.
There is currently talk on Capitol Hill about a guest worker program that would allow its participants to earn residency. Some members of Congress have made concrete proposals. Senator John Cornyn, R-Texas, has proposed that participants in a guest worker program be given individual investment accounts, funded by payroll taxes, over which the worker would have complete control (a power that even American citizens do not have). Under some proposals, participants in guest worker programs would have their health care, and that of their family, paid for by the federal government.
A guest worker program has been tried before, in the agricultural industry. Best known as the Bracero program, its effects were so detrimental to wages in the agricultural industry that Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., commented that it was thought of as a national shame. The effects of foreign workers on other areas of the agricultural industry have been well documented. Indeed, guest workers are already displacing American workers and lowering their wages and working conditions, as has been amply shown by their effects on agriculture and the information technology industry. In agriculture, migrant workers have displaced native workers in the melon industry, the peach industry, the cucumber industry, and the apple industry, among others. Many of the workers displaced were union members.
In the IT field, multiple studies have found that guest workers are paid between 15 to 33 percent less than native workers. This fact has spread like wildfire among the management of IT companies, and now each month hundreds of American IT workers are laid off and forced to train their foreign replacement or lose their severance package.
Even unions, which have historically resisted illegal immigration and foreign workers, are getting in on the act and openly courting the membership of people who have no legal immigration status in this country. "At this stage, it's difficult to see what unions can really do for these people except take their dues," said Vernon M. Briggs Jr., of the School of Industrial and Labor Relations at Cornell University (search).
In what is probably a first in our history, members of the right and left have a common interest in encouraging illegal immigration and imported labor. For many Republicans, illegal immigrants and imported labor are sources of cheap labor. For many Democrats, they are a cheap source of votes (from members of the extended family with citizenship or through voter fraud). The person paying the price is the American worker.
Matt Hayes began practicing immigration law shortly after graduating from Pace University School of Law in 1994, representing new immigrants in civil and criminal matters. He teaches at Berkeley College, and is author of The New Immigration Law and Practice, to be published in October.