The Prospects for American Workers: Immigration's Impact
The Hon. John Hostettler
Chairman, Immigration, Border Security, and Claims Subcommittee
1214 Longworth House Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20515
Dear Mr. Chairman:
Please accept this as a submission for the written record of the October 30th hearing on The Prospects for American Workers: Immigration’s Impact.
First, I would like to commend the committee for examining the impact of large-scale immigration on the American worker. When it comes to discussions of U.S. immigration policy, the perspective of ordinary Americans is all too often ignored. In the halls of Congress and in the media, the interests of the immigrants themselves and the business owners who wish to employ them receive most of the attention when determining employment-based immigration or guest worker schemes. It is both refreshing and crucially important that the members of the committee are taking a close look at how these policies affect the lives and livelihoods of millions of American workers.
In almost every opinion poll, jobs — the availability of them, opportunities for advancement, and the wages paid — rank at the very top of the list of issues that Americans are concerned about. It has been pointed out that the current period of economic recovery is notable for its lack of new job creation. Meanwhile, the loss of manufacturing jobs to low wage markets overseas remains a persistent problem.
In addition to these factors, unprecedented numbers of immigrants — legal and illegal — are entering our country and our labor market, while hundreds of thousands of additional foreign workers are employed here under a variety of guest worker programs.
It goes without saying that immigration and guest worker programs are beneficial to the immigrant workers themselves. If it were not in their interests, they simply wouldn’t be here. Equally transparent are the interests of American businesses that employ large numbers of immigrants or guest workers. Access to a ready supply of foreign labor — especially workers who have lower wage and benefit expectations than American workers — is beneficial to employers. The impact of mass immigration on American workers is less immediate and harder to discern, but no less important. Workers doing everything from picking apples to programming Apples have been affected by ceaseless influxes of immigrants and guest worker programs that allow employers to recruit workers in other countries. As a new report by the Inter-American Development Bank notes, the steady influx of immigrants to the United States has continued unabated even through the recent recession that saw unemployment increase precipitously.
When an immigrant or a guest worker comes to the United States, it is easy to identify the beneficiary and how that individual foreign worker has improved his or her life. Likewise, when an employer hires an immigrant or a guest worker, the benefits to that individual employer are immediately evident and easily quantifiable. The impact on the vast majority of Americans, who are neither immigrants themselves nor the direct employers of immigrants, is much harder to discern and is therefore often overlooked by government and the media.
Over the years, entire sectors of our labor market, which used to provide solid, dignified, middle class incomes for millions of Americans, have been transformed into “jobs Americans won’t do.” What began as a phenomenon of the agricultural industry has become widespread throughout the blue-collar segment of our labor market and, with the expansion of guest worker programs in recent years, has begun to creep into the higher skill areas of the American labor market.
The direct impact of the mass influx of immigrant workers has been felt by millions of workers who used to earn their livings in the construction trades, janitorial services, meatpacking, hotels, and restaurants, to name just a few. As the 1997 report by the National Academy of Sciences, and noted economists such as George Borjas of Harvard University have noted, these American workers have either been forced out of these trades entirely, or seen substantial erosion of their wages. This phenomenon also affects other, more veteran immigrants in what a September 2003 study by UCLA’s Chicano Studies Center described as the “brown-collar” effect in areas of the country and the economy that have experienced large influxes of immigrants.
As globalization began to change America’s economy in the 1970s, with the departure of many manufacturing jobs to cheaper labor markets overseas, American workers were challenged to retrain themselves for a technology-driven economy. Americans were promised that if they upgraded their skills and answered the challenge of a knowledge-based society, they would be rewarded with an even brighter future.
American workers have met the challenge. We have the most skilled and productive labor force to be found anywhere on the globe. American innovation and creativity has revolutionized the way the world lives and does business. And yet the people who created this revolution — the sons and daughters of the people who used to work in our factories — are now faced with the prospect of being displaced from those jobs. Through a variety of guest worker programs, visa adjustment schemes, and labor contracting outfits that supply a ready stream of foreign high tech workers, even our most skilled and highly educated workers are under siege.
There have been countless reports in the media, and countless American IT workers who have testified before countless congressional committees that American workers are being displaced from their jobs or forced to accept substantially lower wages as a result of mass immigration and guest worker programs. Even as the high tech sector of our economy slumped and unemployment within the IT sector grew, many companies still preferred guest workers to the home-grown variety. (Attached is a copy of FAIR’s recent report, Deleting American Workers: Abuse of the Temporary Foreign Worker System in the High Tech Industry.)
It is much more difficult to show direct cause and effect between mass immigration and the hardship on any identifiable American worker. Consequently it is easy to overlook what is happening to millions of Americans who are trying to earn a living, support their families and communities, and realize their share of the American dream. But no one — not even the most ardent proponents of mass immigration — denies that it occurs. We may not always know precisely which drywallers, which meatpackers, which computer programmers have lost their livelihoods due to mass immigration, but when we look at the picture in the aggregate, we cannot deny that they exist and must not turn our backs on them.
Mass immigration also imposed hidden costs and taxes on the American worker. The health care crisis is just one example. In sectors of the economy where large numbers of immigrants are employed, workers often lack health insurance and are often too poor to pay for their own coverage. Consequently, the costs are shifted to those businesses that continue to provide coverage to their workers. Often, as we have seen, the costs to these responsible employers become too great and they must eventually eliminate or substantially reduce the insurance benefits they provide, leaving still more workers uninsured. Inevitably, these costs fall on taxpayers, who must subsidize public health care for a growing cadre of uninsured immigrant and American workers, or, as we have witnessed in many high impact areas, the quality and quantity of public health care is reduced.
The bottom line is that there is no such thing as cheap labor in American society. Mass immigration has simply shifted many of the costs of labor from employers to government. Moreover, when the costs of running and administering the countless government programs that meet the needs of immigrants and native workers who join the ranks of the working poor are factored in, the costs are substantially greater than if our economy had paid American workers a decent, dignified wage in the first place.
Moreover, there is an incalculable social cost to an economy that is dependent on low-wage immigrant labor, or which drives down the wages and working conditions of the native labor force. When people lose the belief that honesty, hard work, and perseverance will be rewarded, it will mark the beginning of the end of this unique social experiment we call the United States.
In conclusion, we know how mass immigration benefits immigrants, and we know how mass immigration benefits some employers. I urge the committee to consider the other side of the equation. How does mass immigration affect the overwhelming majority of workers and citizens in this country? How are Americans better off as a result of an estimated 1.5 million legal and illegal immigrants every year? How has mass immigration enhanced the lives of Americans who used to do the jobs that are now dominated by immigrants? How is it that we have unprecedented levels of legal and illegal immigration and employers still contend that they can’t find workers? To whom are our immigration policies ultimately responsible?
The immigrants, through ethnic interest organizations, are well represented in the debate over immigration policy. Business interests that seek abundant and low cost immigrant labor are similarly well represented. The millions of Americans who are trying to earn a living and support their families need a voice as well, because mass immigration profoundly affects their lives. I thank the committee for examining the impact mass immigration is having on American workers and urge you to factor their interests and concerns into the formulation of these very important policies.