Three weeks ago there was no one among Republican voters who would have said that fixing the problem of illegal immigration to the U.S. meant granting amnesty to an estimated eight million illegal aliens, the majority of whom have entered the U.S. without a visa by walking across our border with Mexico.
But that is precisely what President Bush said last week he intends to do, as he posed for pictures before a Mexican flag in Monterrey, Mexico. To his left was Mexican President Vicente Fox (search ), who -- in an even more alarming image -- was framed by the Stars and Stripes as he smiled for the cameras.
Americans should get used to scenes like this, and all they portend. Despite an enormous backlash from core Republican voters, conservative groups and a growing number of Congressional Republicans, the Bush administration seems determined to curry favor with Hispanic voters, and has chosen an immigration amnesty as the means to achieve that.
The President has said repeatedly that what he proposes is not an amnesty, though by the accepted definition it is precisely that, and more. An amnesty is a general pardon granted by a government for a past offense. Crossing a U.S. border without a visa is a misdemeanor under federal law, and reentering the U.S. after a prior order of deportation is a felony. Under Bush’s proposal, these crimes will not be prosecuted, and that means it is an amnesty. But Bush goes on to offer the perpetrators visas and work permits, so it is not entirely accurate to call the Bush proposal an amnesty. It is an amnesty with an awards program.
The blowback has caused its supporters to restyle the amnesty as something more palatable, but without changing any of its features. As RNC spokesperson Christine Iverson said last week to the Washington Times, “Once people have had a chance to educate themselves about the proposal and what it does, support for it will grow.” Iverson went on to say that the proposed amnesty will actually stimulate our economy by linking “willing worker with willing employers.” She attempted to cast the amnesty as an “economic proposal.”
The Bush Amnesty (search ) will certainly have effects on our economy if it ever comes to pass, because what the president actually proposes is to end the unskilled and semi-skilled labor market in America.
First, there is no cap on the number of illegal aliens in the U.S., or aliens outside the U.S., who would be allowed into the country, provided they could find some form of employment. Any employer in any area of business -- no matter how difficult or hazardous the work -- could decide to open a new business, or lower wages in an existing business, to federal minimum wage of $5.15 per hour and wait for citizens and lawful permanent residents to apply. When none do, the employer could then order up the needed workers from anywhere in the world. Under the Bush amnesty, we could see a crew of Saudis cleaning nuclear reactors for $35.20 each per day.
If that happens, what is likely to happen to a competing cleaning contractor that employs citizens and lawful permanent residents? It will go out of business or fire its American employees in favor of dirt-cheap imported foreign labor. Taxpayers will foot the bill for the Unemployment Insurance, AFDC, and Medicaid consumed by the newly out-of-work Americans.
That should make clear just how calculated a political move the Bush proposal is. Then consider that at the moment, approximately nine million Americans are unemployed. The majority of them once occupied unskilled and semi-skilled jobs. Since 1997, when the National Academy of Sciences conclusively linked immigration and the depression of wages of unskilled and semi-skilled American workers, it has been beyond argument that an ever-increasing number of Americans compete directly with legal and illegal immigrants for jobs.
(The NAS showed that immigrants taking the jobs of Americans without a high school diploma lowered prevailing wages by between 40 to 50 percent.)
While a responsible steward of the economy might crack down on unethical U.S. employers that commit the felony of hiring illegal aliens, this president seems to think even greater slack is needed in the unskilled labor market and he is prepared to inject into that market an additional eight million or more people.
Bush sees no conflict in doing this because he believes (as he must) that nine million of us are without jobs because the only jobs open are those that, as he put it three weeks ago, “Americans won’t do.” Aside from being insulting to Americans, who probably have the most egalitarian concept of work of any people in history, this assertion is just false. With extremely rare exception, an American will happily do any job that will support his family. But the employment of illegal immigrants in some sectors of the economy has depressed wages to the point that a U.S. citizen cannot simultaneously work that job, pay his taxes and feed his family.
According to the National Center for Policy Analysis, 25 percent of U.S. jobs now pay $8 or less per hour, and these are jobs which many illegal aliens fill, thereby decreasing the market pressures that would normally push wages higher. In effect, some American employers have deliberately imported a Third World economy to areas of our country, and Americans with a First World overhead must seek work elsewhere.
When Republicans voted for Bush in 2000, they expected to get a president who would uphold the law, not change it in an ill-advised attempt to garner a few more votes. California’s last governor lost his job in part because core Democrat voters instantly saw his decision to grant illegal aliens driver’s licenses for what it was: blatant ethnic pandering in exchange for votes. In November, Republican voters may be faced with a similar choice.
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 is the author of The New Immigration Law and Practice, to be published in October.