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Immigration Common Sense From the Left
Posted by: Dale Franks on Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Matt Yglesias nails it on the immigration question.
Immigration is that rarest thing in politics — a controversial issue that’s not just “controversial” but actually difficult. People who think immigrants are “stealing their jobs” are mistaken, but politicians who say immigrants do jobs “Americans won't do” are lying. There's no job Americans won't do – it’s just a question of how much Americans want to be paid to do the job. Research indicates that large flows of low-skilled immigrants from Mexico have a small, but quite real, downward pull on the wages of poorly educated people including, of course, many people who’ve already immigrated from Mexico and most of their descendants. On the other hand, immigration has a mildly positive effect on the rest of us, and a hugely positive effect on the immigrants themselves, who tend to be much poorer than even the poorest Americans.
That's pretty close to being completely correct, although, I notice he still makes no demarkation between legal and illegal immigrants. I don't think those two types of immigration are really congruent, any more than I think the day workers who cluster at Home Depot are paying Social Security and Income Taxes. Nor do I think that illegal immigrants have the same incentive to assimilate.
Legitimate progressive priorities thus come into conflict and, at the end of the day, leave me entirely uncertain as to what the right number of immigrants to allow ought to be.
I don't really think that sheer numbers are the problem. I suspect we could handle quite a large influx of immigrants who want to work, learn English and American History, and put themselves on the fast track to citizenship, irrespective of where they come from. On the other hand, I think the number of "immigrants" who merely want to come here for economic reasons, and live in enclaves as discrete minorities, and maintain their primary loyalty to another country would have to be relaitvely small. The primary issue is not numbers, or the country of origin. The primary issue is the willingness of the immigrants to become Americans. It is that willingness that determines the acceptable number of immigrants.
One aspect of the current debate, however, is easy — we don’t need any sort of “guest-worker” program.

The details of these proposals vary quite a bit and, as ever, the details are important. But all varieties of the concept share some factors in common. Unlike regular immigrants, guest workers are only allowed into their host country for a limited period of time and have no chance of ever becoming citizens. Guest workers are also typically the “guests” of some specific employer who’s agreed to sponsor their stay in the United States. This leaves them unable to bargain credibly with their employers, start small businesses of their own, or even just take risks around the workplace that stand some chance of getting them fired.

If you’re an employer, this is ideal. You have an utterly captive work force, unable to negotiate with you or even really complain. A work force that’s utterly under your thumb because you cannot only fire them but, in effect, have them deported. Needless to say, the prospects of such a work force unionizing are nil. Consequently, they have an even more negative impact on working-class wages than do regular immigrants. You can see, then, why this idea appeals to big business and, therefore, to the segments of the Republican Party that are more in hoc to their rich donors than to their nativist base voters.
This is, I think, precisely correct. One of the pernicious effects of massive illegal immigration is that it creates what is, in effect, a type of helotage among illegals. Rather than solving this problem, a guest worker program actually codifies it into the law, making it "respectable". It completely removes the risk to employers of hiring illegal aliens, while, at the same time, doing nothing to eliminate the employer's ability to dictate pay and working conditions, or to give workers any reasonable ability to negotiate for same. Guest workers, irrespective of the intent of the program, would remain peons, while employers get all of the advantages, and none of the disadvatages of hiring them.
For Republicans, another appealing aspect of guest workers is that since they can’t become citizens, they can’t become Democratic-voting citizens the way most immigrants do.
Heh. He says that like it's a bad thing.

Mr. Yglesias argues that a guest worker program, despite the possible voter gains down the road, is contrary to the vision of America that we have historically tried to impart to immigrants, even during the era of immigration resctrictionism.
[T]he restriction era, in both its pre- and post-reformed versions has always tried to hold true to the basic vision of America as "a nation of immigrants." The essence of this vision is the expectation that people who come to American will become Americans — applying for citizenship when eligible and starting families here whose children will be, by right, citizens of the country in which they were born. This vision is good for immigrants, of course, but importantly it’s integral to our shared identity as a nation.

Guest workers would undermine this vision of America, creating a semi-permanent underclass of hired hands who are neither citizens, nor on the path to citizenship, with no incentive to seek assimilation or for the native-born to treat them as equals. Sectors of the economy featuring large numbers of guest workers really would become jobs Americans "won’t do," the fields in which they work stigmatized as beneath the dignity of proper Americans.
Color me shocked—shocked!—to see such clear thinking at The American Prospect.
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Previous Comments to this Post 

Ok Dale, I usually completely disrespect every single position you take, and your inability to fully comprehend the train wreck that is George Bush is maddening - and even though you regularly call me an idiot, I totally agree with everything Matt says - and almost everything you say.

I have been trying to make the same basic points on this blog for weeks. In doing so, Jon called me an "economic nationalist."

Here is what I wrote on March 28, in response to Jon:
Well, that’s it, isn’t? For some of us, illegal immigration is a positive. For others, it is a negative. It is a class issue. What incenses me about Bush and others is that they attempt to gloss over this class cleavage by saying that illegal immigrants are taking jobs no American would want to do. Which is of course not true. Why don’t they just come out and tell it like it is? There are winners and there are losers when it comes to illegal immigration. Any plan that calls for amnesty, or a guest worker program will only exacerbate the class cleavage. Think we have a permanent underclass now? Look at the Senate legislation
True progressives care about the working class in this society. They understand the class warfare that is and always has been America’s most undeclared war. Illegal immigrants are the latest weapon.

But here is the rest of my take - I’m gonna guess you disagree:

If you really view the world from a progressive perspective, if you are a true progressive, and not just a politically correct version of the same, you should vehemently oppose the flow of persons across the border from Mexico.

The most underreported story of the last several years is the leftward turn of South and Central America. Country after country has democratiically elected left of center governments.

By contrast, Mexico is stlll to the right. Fox took over from the PRI. But what has changed? Not much. So why hasn’t Mexico shifted to the left? Why hasn’t the whole country - given its corruption - gone the way of Chiapas?

Because the socio-economic pressure that usually causes a leftward shift has gone north. Imagine for a moment that all the illegals from Mexico currently here had not come here, but had in fact stayed in Mexico. Result? Chiapas on steriods. Progressive change. Real change.

Think about it. The immigrants who come to this country are hard working and entrepreneurial. But in Mexico they are dispossed. That’s why they come here.

Now, imagine all that energy at work in Mexico to progressively reform Mexico. Just imagine that. For one moment. Fox wouldn’t stand a chance. The PRI would be dust. Progressive change would be on the march. The lives of millions and millions of destitute Mexicans would be changed for the better.

But instead, that energy goes North. You know who is most happy with the recent marches in the United States? The Mexican oligarchs. Why wouldn’t they be? If it were up to them, they would prefer that more poor people head north. After all, the every people marching in the streets for immigration reform here would most likely be the same people who would be protesting in Mexico against the oligarchs, were they still there, of course.


Think about it Dale. Who opposed NAFTA? Labor unions in the Untied States. I was with them on this issue. I did too. Why? Because it is unfair to make American workers compete with foreigh workers who do not abide by the same rules. Of course, persons who share a right-orientied point of view, politically speaking, regularly villify unions as lazy, as corrupt, as something to be smashed. As relics. Persons who share your political point of spend their time waging war against labor unions. Any organized effort to oppose the race to the bottom must be smashed. That is the winger way.

So what is the difference berween the NAFTA debate then, and the illegal immigration debate now? The only difference is that the competeing workers are here, as opposed to being in Mexico.

But now, the same wingers rail against illegal immigration. Great. But where were you years ago when the unions were fighting against NAFTA?

The other day, McCain gave a speech to the Buildings snd Construction division of the AFL-CIO. He said Americans won’t do jobs that illegals are willing to do. He also said Americans lacked a work ethic. He actually said this. In front of American workers. They booed him off the stage.

And should I have to remind you - he is running to the right. The contempt that the GOP and right wingers more generally have for the American worker knows no bounds. No bounds at all. Bush has said similar things. He has said that Americans won’t do certain jobs.

Yglesias represents the true face of progressiveism. As for conservatives, well, one can’t really expect them to care about the average Joe. For 150 years, they haven’t. Why start now?

Written By: mkultra
URL: http://
Numbers matter.

If you’re immersed in a 100 x-nationality community, you’ll be forced to learn the language and conventions of the greater community much quicker than if you’re immersed in a 100,000 x-nationality community. You can essentially have communities more to the 100,000 than the 100 number all recent immigrants of one nationality. People will take the path of least resistance. In a community of 100,000 you don’t need to integrate much or often with the rest of America and her conventions and principle. In a community of only 100, you do.

Plus another argument against mass immigration from one source is fairness. Why should one people get it easy due to geography alone. There are people more desperate in other parts of the world than the Mexicans.

At some point we will see high unemployment again. If we don’t control illegal immigration, we will probably restrict or eliminate legal immigration to offset the job loss.

Mkultra has a good point. The immigrants coming here are expecting something from the government, citizenship, are cut from the socialist cloth where they feel they are owed something because they work like everyone else does. Except they only expect a paycheck.
Written By: John
URL: http://
I mean "illegal immigrants".

Must be succumbing to "there are only immigrants" brainwashing.
Written By: John
URL: http://
Fortunately, those immigrants who do not pay social security or federal income tax receive no social security income or federal aid such as welfare, medicare, etc.
Written By: Tom in Texas
URL: http://
So Mkultra argues that we should not allow illegal Mexicans into our country in order to force them to change their own country into a People’s Paradise. I can think of good reasons to prevent illegal immigration, but that’s not one of them.

It’s typical leftism to subjugate the individual to the collective - to force change no matter who suffers - in order to implement the glorious vision of the self-annointed master utopian architects. Do you really claim to care about people in the same breath that you utter your life-destroying homilies? Progressive indeed! And you have the nerve to critize the efforts in Iraq? You think because your ideas don’t involve guns (but of course they always do, eventually) that you have the moral high ground? Hypocrite!

Written By: Unknown
URL: http://
I KNEW there was a reason that I kept on reading MK. Yes, I admire someone who takes a licking and keeps on ticking, but, it’s more than that. The law of averages says that MK will be right SOMETIME. So in this comment I was with him right up to: "Persons who share your political point of view spend their time waging war against labor unions." From that point on, it was the usual MK (one struggles for words).
Still, it is a beginning.
Written By: Notherbob2
URL: http://
True progressives care about the working class in this society.
...but F* the rest of ’em. Apparently. I’m still confused by this border-centric morality. Not that I think our government has a positive responsibility to help foreigners, but I don’t see why your compassion and interest in income inequality starts and stops at the US border.
Because the socio-economic pressure that usually causes a leftward shift has gone north. Imagine for a moment that all the illegals from Mexico currently here had not come here, but had in fact stayed in Mexico.
Less inequality, perhaps, but "more socialism" does not produce "more economic growth". It merely reduces inequality.

Frankly, that’s where you and I must necessarily part ways. You see inequality as a problem. Like PJ O’Rourke, I don’t think there’s a problem with inequality. The problem is poverty and that cannot be "solved" by less inequality. Increasing the labor force may drive down wages among unskilled workers, but that’s not limited to immigration. I’d rather "grow the pie" with some poverty at the bottom than be constrained by the least employable among us.

Plus, I’d prefer you — and the rest of the "pro-choice" party — not try to make my choices for me.

Guest worker programs strike me as a poor idea, for the reasons Dale and Matt outline. I don’t see many good solutions, though, that don’t simply make the problem worse by trying to "correct" it. And I’m far less concerned about the nationalist feelings of illegal immigrants than is Dale. However they may feel for now, I suspect that their natural self-interest — and that of their offspring — will win out in the end if we don’t prevent that with legislation that interferes with their pursuit of it.
Written By: Jon Henke
Perhaps I’m over simplifying things, but wouldn’t a reasonable immigration policy follow these lines:
Patrol the borders better. I agree that the "perfect" closed border is impossible, but drastically reducing the chances can only be good
Institute serious fines for companies that employ illegal immigrants with or without forged papers.
Fingerprint and deport any illegal immigrants caught (and up the raids).
Here’s the part I haven’t seen elsewhere (although I haven’t looked a ton)
For first time offenders, fingerprint and deport with a warning.
Second time offenders, fingerprint and bar from applying for any guest worker or citizenship programs for at least 1 year.
Third time offenders, ditto but for 5 years.
Fourth and subsequent, toss them in jail for some amount of time (5 years?) and permanently ban them from any programs of any sort.
Written By: Ken
URL: http://
Fortunately, those immigrants who do not pay social security or federal income tax receive no social security income or federal aid such as welfare, medicare, etc.
They may not receive federal aid, but they do receive state aid. There are state welfare programs they can draw from, as well as state-paid medical care and education. This doesn’t even include the cost of crimes committed by illegals.

I guess it’s fortunate that they don’t take federal aid on top of all the state resources they use.
Written By: Steverino
Why should we set up the kind of guest worker program that Dale described? What if we just made it easier to get a time-limited work visa that would allow the foreign national to move from job to job and negotiate for his wages. The trick is to ensure that the person could/would be located once the time is up and either process a renewal or ensure that they returned from whence they came.

I recognize that, apart from making it easier to get a visa, my suggestion changes nothing from the current system. However, if it is easier to get work visas renewed, there is less incentive to go underground when they expire.

I also think you might want to make a distinction between "immigrants" (defined as those who come here with the intention of seeking citizenship) and "migrant aliens" (defined as those who come here merely to seek work, and whose allegiance is still to some other country).

Written By: ondigo
URL: http://
Fortunately, those immigrants who do not pay social security or federal income tax receive no social security income or federal aid such as welfare, medicare, etc.

Tom you’re on crack! No they may receive none of the benefits that you mention but they CERTAINLY ACCESS FEDERAL MONEY AND BENEFITS! Oh Hello who’se money is in a State’s Medicare Program? THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT’S MONEY. Most state social welfare prgrams act as agents for Federal programs or act as "pass thru" conduits for FEDEERAL MONEY. Aid to children, Medicare, public housing, ALL RECEIVE SIGNIFICANT FEDERAL FUNDING AS A PORTION OF THEIR BUDGETS. Even if an illegal immigrant pays no Federal taxes s/he is fully capable of accessing Federal money and it is almost certain that they do. Food stamps, public housing, public health, medicaid, would be examples, just to name a few.
Written By: Joe
URL: http://
For those of who see no borders as a problem (communicable diseases, high crime rate, don’t want to assimilate, make a mockery of US foreign policy, al Qaida) then the issue is how to stop it.

Well, we can’t make Mexico reform itself to be more prosperous which would keep its people in its own country. So we have to build a barrier of some kind to make the flow a trickle. That would help Mexico on the road to be a progressive paradise, as mkultra suggested.
Written By: Nuclear
URL: http://
Color me cynical. I don’t think any of this really has to do with jobs that Americans will or will not do. Most especially, it has nothing whatsoever to do with NAFTA (negotiated by Bush 41 and passed by Clinton with bipartisan support; remember Al Gore v Ross Perot). The is a bit of truth to the secure border aspect, but the feds have done so badly ignoring each and every immigration reform for decades now, that the truth of this battle lies elsewhere.

I see this whole thing as merely jockeying for position in the hopes that all these illegal aliens will some how, in the not too distant future, be given a path to legal status. Once legal, they will become voters so each and every political party from the Democrats to the Republicans to the Socialist Workers Party are hoping to make their ranks swell.

Yeah, Bush got the ball rounding when he held out the idea (not promise) of a path to legal status at the beginning of his first term. Remember all that buddy-buddy stuff with Fox at the ranch. At first the idea that Republicans could attract "minorities" was laughed off. But with Hispanics, the majority of the new immigrants, surpassing the Blacks in shear numbers has now got Democrats like Harry Reid changing there tune. As recently 1993, Harry Reid used the word "freeloaders" to describe some immigrants and had personally introduced legislation to affix by statute that "a person born in the United States to an alien mother who is not a lawful resident is not a U.S. citizen." It takes big balls to think that there will be enough amnesia to forget stinging words and actions like that, but Reid has reshaped his message.

So that was something like 5 to 11 millions potential votes .. right ?
And every one of them will know who got them their "legal" status.
The fight is really over who will get the credit.
Written By: Neo
URL: http://

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