Bush Immigration Proposal Built On Misconceptions,
Would Fundamentally Change the Nature Of U.S. Society
Analysis by Roy Beck,
NumbersUSA Education & Research Foundation
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Washington D.C. (7JAN04)---The bedrock problem with President Bush’s immigration proposal today is that its entire foundation is based on a series of misconceptions that revolve around the assumption that American workers are fully employed with good wages.
Mr. Bush would create a massive guest worker program that would:
1. Give an amnesty in the form of legal work permits to most of the 8-12 million illegal aliens now in the country.
2. Allow all businesses to post any job in America on an internet website (presumably at any wage and working condition) and if an American doesn’t grab the job in a short time the business could import a foreign worker.
3. All guest workers and illegal aliens would get a three-year work permit and could immediately and indefinitely renew those permits for three years at a time.
4. Guest workers could bring their entire family with them for the duration of the work permit.
5. There would be no upper limit to how many foreign workers are imported into the country at any time.
KEY MISCONCEPTIONS UNDERLYING THIS PROPOSAL
Listening to the President this afternoon and reading the White House statements, you would think that this country has an incredible worker shortage, that businesses are shutting down for lack of employees, that we have no lower-skilled and lower-educated Americans who need a first-rung job on the economic ladder, and that our new college graduates in all fields are easily finding employment in their specialty.
• The misconception of full employment.
This proposal seems to be unaware that more than 15 million American workers cannot currently find a full-time job. This includes the officially unemployed, those who recently were officially looking for work and have given up and those who have had to settle for a part-time job.
• The misconception of a burgeoning job market.
The nation has 3.5 million fewer jobs than when Mr. Bush took office. The population has been growing rapidly during that time. Mr. Bush’s advisors apparently have not heard about this.
• The misconception that the black underclass no longer exists.
The Washington Post recently did a major spread on the plight of black men nationwide without college education, relating the horrifying statistic that nearly half of them are jobless. The stories about the incredible efforts that many of these men make to hold down the most menial of jobs at low pay were heart-breaking. Nearly 40 years after Congress passed laws to provide for the full assimilation of black Americans into the country’s political, social and economic life, the lack of job opportunities for these descendants of the American slavery system is scandalous. But apparently in the White House view, none of these men is looking for a job.
• The misconception that the Americans With Disabilities Act has done its job.
This crown jewel of the first Pres. Bush’s presidency was supposed to eliminate barriers to the nation making use of the talents and energies of the millions of disabled Americans. Instead, recent reports indicate, it has been a colossal failure as most disabled Americans who want to work still can’t find jobs. The White House seems to be unaware that businesses have preferred the physically strong foreign workers (more than 10 million of them have been provided over the last decade) to physically handicapped American workers.
• The misconception that current American workers in meatpacking plants, agricultural fields, restaurants, hotels and constructions are paid too much.
Millions of Americans in these and other occupations work but cannot support their families in dignity, often relying heavily on other taxpayers to subside their wages with various forms of public support. These occupations are disproportionately filled with recent immigrants. AFL-CIO President John J. Sweeney says guest-worker/amnesty proposals like this one are recipes for “large-scale displacement and wage erosion.” Mr. Bush’s proposal doesn’t seem to recognize the law of supply and demand in labor markets and that continually pouring more foreign workers into these occupations guarantees the continuation of working-poor jobs.
• The misconception that our scientists, engineers, computer programmers and other high-skilled professionals are fully employed and well-paid.
In fact, there are alarming rates of unemployment, even greater underemployment and declining wages in these fields. Our bright kids who pursue these fields get out of college and even now often find that businesses prefer hiring through present foreign worker programs. Pay rates for Ph. D. holders in many fields are surprisingly low. American students are well aware of this, helping to explain why such a high percentage of the degrees awarded by U.S. colleges go to foreign students. The President’s proposal opens these fields up to unlimited numbers of professionals from all over the world. The law of supply and demand applies to both high and low skill occupations. John Templeton, a leader of black professionals in the high-tech industry, commented after hearing the President’s proposal: “ Will the last black worker please turn out the lights? We should call this George Bush’s Emancipation Decimation.” Templeton has documented the tech industry’s preference for foreign programmers over black Americans, as tech students at historically black colleges find virtually no recruiters attending their job fairs. A similar situation also befalls Hispanic and women programmers of all ethnicities who are American-born and woefully underrepresented in the high-tech industry.
Clear up all of those misconceptions and there is no possible justification for creating a massive additional flow of foreign workers into this country.
THE REAL FEAR BEHIND THE PUSH FOR AN EXPANDED GUEST PROGRAM
In fact, the White House cannot point to any actual, significant worker shortages in this country.
I believe that one of the chief drivers of this quest for an expanded guest worker program is the collection of business owners who currently hire large numbers of illegal aliens. Since the 9/11 attacks, they have seen new laws passed and increasing numbers of new provisions put into place to prevent new illegal immigration, to track visa overstayers and to deny illegal aliens jobs. These law-violating businesses fear that soon they will lose some or most of their illegal workforce and not have a sufficient number of illegal aliens to replace them.
Instead of competing fairly with the majority of American businesses that are law-abiding and refuse to employ illegal aliens, the aforementioned businesses have employed powerful and expensive lobbying operations pressing for amnesties and expanded guest worker programs.
Even though it appears that the majority of their local members don’t really approve, lobbies for the nation’s restaurants, landscapers and growers seem to have been the primary forces trying to help businesses that are violating immigration laws.
PRESIDENT LAUDABLY PLEDGES PROTECTION TO AMERICAN
WORKERS BUT PROVIDES NO MECHANISMS FOR DOING SO
The President and the White House have put out material about the immigration proposal that make some good statements, such as:
“American workers come first: Employers must make every reasonable effort to find an American to fill a job before extending job offers to foreign workers.”
“The President has continually said that he wants every American who wants a job to have one. Employers would have to make every reasonable effort to find an American to fill a job before extending job offers to foreign workers.”
Unfortunately, nothing from the President or the White House has mentioned any of the standard provisions that are usually recommended to protect American workers and most of which are part of current temporary worker programs for the unskilled. While it is possible that these provisions could be added later, nothing has been said about businesses having to provide health insurance, vacation benefits or wages at the prevailing rate at which American workers are employed at a particular job. Without mandates to at least equal prevailing wages and benefits, the guest worker program will assuredly bid down wages for Americans working in the same occupations.
Without strict requirements, any business could post a job on the internet for minimum wage and with no benefits. Then, when no American jumped at the chance to work below poverty level, the business could qualify to import a foreign worker.
I would venture to guess that nearly all jobs in America – including physicians and engineers – could be willingly filled by foreign workers from some depressed economy by offering no more than minimum wage. Theoretically, no occupation in America would be safe from being “globalized” down to the U.S. minimum wage based on the even lower wages of the 4.5 billion people whose average income is lower than Mexico’s.
Another serious violation of the President’s stated principle of protecting American workers is the reports from journalistic interviews with White House officials that the jobs currently held by millions of illegal aliens will not be made available to Americans first. The posting of jobs on the internet for Americans to have first stab is only for new guest workers, apparently. Illegal aliens will get to keep their jobs no matter how many jobless Americans might want to have them.
THE MYTH THAT AMERICA’S BUSINESSES
ARE CLAMORING FOR GUEST WORKER PROGRAMS
There can be no doubt that Mr. Bush is making this proposal in large part because certain powerful business interests have pushed him to do so since the day he was elected. Implied when not directly stated is the idea that businesses are withering for lack of workers and are desperately seeking assistance.
But there are strong indications that most owners of businesses do NOT want more foreign workers.
The largest business-membership organization in the country is the National Federation of Independent Businesses. It polled its member during the last couple of years and found that:
• Owners of businesses oppose expansion of "temporary guest worker programs to ease worker shortages" by a nearly 3-1 margin. Only 24% favored expanding guest worker programs.
• An amnesty for illegal aliens offering them long-term jobs is opposed by a more than 4-1 margin among business owners. Only 16% say illegal aliens should have the right to "earn" their way to legal residency through work.
Mr. Bush’s proposals cater to the least admirable of businesses which represent the minority of business owners who knowingly hire illegal aliens and who are not bothered having a laborforce unable to live a middle-class life.
To say that the President’s proposals are in response to requests from the business community is to slander the majority of business owners in this country who are happy to pay the wages it takes to get an American worker if they aren’t undermined by competitors allowed to hire illegal aliens and foreign guest workers at lower rates.
PRESIDENT SAYS: NOT AN AMNESTY
WE SAY: NOT A ‘JACKPOT AMNESTY’ BUT A ‘BASIC REWARD AMNESTY’
Repeatedly, President Bush and the White House have said that this immigration proposal is not an amnesty.
“President Bush does not support amnesty because individuals who violate America’s laws should not be rewarded for illegal behavior and because amnesty perpetuates illegal immigration.”
“Is this amnesty? No, amnesty rewards the undocumented population with an automatic path to citizenship.”
“The President’s proposal would not put temporary workers on the path to a green card, which permits holders to apply for citizenship after 5 years. However, it would not preclude a participant from obtaining green card status through the existing process as long as they are not given an unfair advantage over people who have followed legal procedures from the start. Men and women working in America on a temporary basis will have to get in line behind those who are already waiting.”
We at the NumbersUSA Education & Research Foundation applaud Mr. Bush’s wise decision against rewarding illegal aliens with citizenship, unlike the proposals by Sen. John McCain, Rep. Jeff Flake and Rep. Kolbe, all Arizona Republicans, and unlike the proposal of Rep. Dick Gephardt and most other Democratic presidential candidates. In breaking from most other amnesty supporters in this country, the President has put himself in line with the majority of the American people and has refused to cheapen U.S. citizenship.
However, Mr. Bush is confused if he thinks a proposal is an amnesty only if it gives citizenship.
It is helpful to outline three of the kinds of amnesty that can be given to foreign citizens who violate our country’s immigration laws to illegally take jobs here:
1. The Basic Amnesty
An illegal alien is sent back home but without receiving any penalties for having broken the law, such as fines, jail time or a 10-year exclusion from entering the country legally.
2. The Basic Reward Amnesty
Illegal aliens are rewarded with the very thing they broke the law to get—an American job.
3. The Jackpot Reward Amnesty
Illegal aliens not only are rewarded with the job that they broke the law to get but also are given one of the most prized possessions in the world—U.S. citizenship.
The White House seems to think because it isn’t offering a Jackpot Reward Amnesty that its proposal shouldn’t be called an amnesty.
But the President’s proposal clearly is a Basic Reward Amnesty. Some 8-12 million illegal aliens broke our immigration laws to work illegally in this country (stealing jobs and wages from American workers), and nearly all of them would be rewarded by the Bush proposal with legal permits to keep the jobs they stole—at least for three years.
CLAIM OF ‘TEMPORARY’ IS NOT CREDIBLE
The White House makes a lot of efforts to establish these guest worker visas as truly temporary. It says the workers will have to go home when their visas run out. And it pledges to work with other countries “to allow aliens working in the U.S. to receive credit in their nations’ retirement systems and will support the creation of tax-preferred savings accounts they can collect when they return to their native countries.”
But two key parts of the proposal virtually guarantee that “temporary” will be at least “extended” if not “permanent.”
1. The temporary work visas are for three years. No large-scale guest worker program has ever ended with the workers going home in all of history, says Prof. George Borjas, Cuban-born economist at Harvard.
The reason is that the workers have always been allowed to stay too long in the guest country, sink roots and lose their attachments to their home country.
NumbersUSA contends that the only justification for guest workers is for very temporary and special labor shortages to fill a need until our economy can adjust. Keeping too many guest workers too long destroys the power of the free-market system to handle a labor shortage with capital investment, technological improvement, managerial innovations and worker re-training.
But Mr. Bush would allow the guest workers to work for three years without doing more than visiting their home country. At the end of that, they would be allowed to get another three-year permit if an employer asks for them. And then another three years, forever.
Furthermore, we believe that the only way to ensure that temporary workers do not remain even when their work permits run out is to limit their time in this country to no more than 6 months in any year, or no more than 12 months out of any 24 months. Temporary workers need to spend at least half of their time at home to retain their connections and to prevent their home villages from being hollowed out of their most energetic and talented members like so many Latin American villages are today as a result of illegal immigration.
2. Temporary workers will be allowed to bring non-working family members with them.
Family members burrow into their new American communities. After three, six or more years, especially the children often feel like aliens back in the home country. Under current administrative policy, all children born to illegal aliens, temporary workers and tourists are given U.S. citizenship. Forcing these families to return home when work permits run out raises cries of unfair hardship. For the last couple of decades, the federal government has been unwilling to deport illegal aliens when they have families with deep roots in the U.S. community.
Adults entering our guest worker programs should see their six-month or one-year stays as special times of income accumulation to provide for a better future for their families back home. Because of the limit to continuous work in this country, and the ability to travel back home at will, being denied family accompaniment would be no more of a hardship than is experienced by many of our own members of the Armed Services.
By limiting the duration of work visas, the total work and wages can be spread to the benefit of more foreign families.
PROPOSAL SHOWS NO SENSITIVITY TO PROBLEMS
OF SPRAWL, CONGESTION AND ENVIRONMENTAL DAMAGE
Mr. Bush’s proposal would greatly increase the rate of population growth in the United States at a time when most Americans want to slow the growth.
Legal immigration into the United States has increased by fourfold over the traditional levels that existed before 1970. New arrivals and their descendants have accounted for the majority of the nearly 100 million additional residents in the U.S. since 1970. And they were equal to 87% of the population growth from 2000 to 2002.
This population growth is one of the most important causes of the sprawl, congestion and environmental destruction that deteriorates the quality of life for Americans.
Mr. Bush’s proposals would significantly increase the already unsustainable population growth in this country by adding millions of foreign guest workers. But it also includes a proposal to increase the number of green cards even above the million-plus level of the last few years. He calls it a “reasonable increase in the annual limit of legal immigrants.”
NO ASSURANCE OF AN END TO CURRENT
ILLEGAL GUESTWORKER PROGRAM
One of the most egregious deficits of the President’s proposal is a lack of assurance that the current massive illegal guestworker program will be put to an end. He makes some comments about more aggressively enforcing laws against illegal hiring but not much more.
This is the kind of vague promise made in 1986 when the first-ever amnesty for illegal aliens was passed. As we know, the first Bush administration, the Clinton administration and the present Bush administration refused to carry out the law passed in 1986 to penalize all businesses that hire illegal aliens.
Americans have every reason to demand that before guestworker programs and amnesties are even discussed that the workplace verification system be fully operational for every business in America, that the entry-exit system be fully functional at all airports, seaports and land ports of entry, that the list of some 400,000 illegal aliens who absconded after being ordered deported is being reduced significantly, and that the federal government will cooperate with every local law enforcement agency that provides them with apprehended illegal aliens.
The fact that the Bush administration has made great progress with the US VISIT system is laudable. But until all of the systems mentioned above are operating satisfactorily and together, we do not have any assurance that mass illegal immigration won’t continue as it has since 1986.
PROPOSAL WOULD FUNDAMENTALLY CHANGE NATURE OF U.S. SOCIETY
Although everybody refers to this proposal as being about immigration policy, it really is about the very nature of our society.
At stake is whether the United States remains a middle-class culture or becomes what I would call a “servant culture” more on the line of Europe or even 3rd world nations.
Europe is a continent that long has had a servant class. When it began to find it difficult to keep the natives in those poorly paid servile roles, it imported foreign workers to “do the dirty work.”
In the United States, however, we long have been a culture in which most people live middle-class lives, other than the wealthy. People may have servants but they are expected to pay them wages that allow for at least lower middle-class conditions. If there was dirty work to do that the genteel didn’t care to do, the folks who did the dirty work tended to get paid a decent wage for their trouble. Witness the meatpacking industry jobs in all their disgusting sights, sounds, smells and squishiness. The people who did that got work got some of the best semi-skilled manufacturing wages in the country.
But Mr. Bush’s proposal would guarantee that whole occupations would be considered “foreigner work,” always paid below American standards with below American benefits and below American working conditions. Those Americans whose wages are not pulled below middle-class by the presence of the guest workers would be able to revel in status found in so many countries in the world of having their own peasant class.
Because this is what Mr. Bush is saying when he says there are just too many jobs that can’t be filled with Americans. When he states as one of his prime principles that he wants a program that will match every willing U.S. employer with every willing foreign worker, he is suggesting that we assign a certain portion of our economy to a new foreign peasant class.
A proposal this radical from America’s core ideals deserves the overwhelming public condemnation that it appears to be immediately receiving.
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