The myth that immigration is bad for U.S. workers has sullied the immigration debate for far too long. A new report by the Drum Major Institute for Public Policy (DMI), “Principles for an Immigration Policy to Strengthen and Expand the American Middle Class: 2009 Edition,” sets the record straight. In the midst of the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, and in anticipation of a new round of legislative debates on comprehensive immigration reform, DMI’s report makes a rational, concise argument for why comprehensive immigration reform is needed to improve the conditions for middle class Americans.
DMI states that “good immigration policy should be good for every American,” and designs a two-part litmus test to evaluate immigration policies: 1) Immigration policy should bolster—not undermine—the critical contributions immigrants make to our economy as workers, entrepreneurs, taxpayers, and consumers; and 2) Immigration policy must strengthen the rights of immigrants in the workplace. Using these two guidelines, Congress can create and implement an immigration policy that is good for middle class Americans.
Bolstering Immigrant Contributions
DMI refutes the myth that our economy is a closed, zero-sum system. When immigrants are working in the U.S., many assume they simply take jobs away from Americans. The fact is that immigrants contribute to the growth of the economy as workers, taxpayers, and consumers. The middle class relies on the goods and services produced by immigrants, and benefits from the generalized economic growth immigrants stimulate. Immigrants spend money, thereby creating demand and jobs. Immigrants pay taxes, helping to shore up Social Security and other programs middle class workers depend upon.
Enforcement-only policies only undermine the contributions that immigrants make. Rather, immigration reform should harness the positive contributions of immigrants, thus improving the lives of middle class Americans.
Strengthening Rights in the Workplace
Under the current system, undocumented workers are vulnerable and exploitable, living at the mercy of their employers—to the detriment of both the immigrants and middle class Americans. The current recession increases employers’ incentive to cut costs by taking advantage of cheaper undocumented workers.
As long as a cheaper and more compliant pool of immigrant labor is available to employers who are willing to wield the threat of deportation against their workers, those same employers will be less willing to hire U.S.-born workers if they demand better wages and working conditions.
Ensuring that immigrant workers and native workers are on a level playing field—the same enforceable rights, the same ability to complain—makes for better conditions for everyone. If immigrants are empowered to exercise workplace rights, they can improve their own working conditions, making the jobs more desirable, and more jobs can become “middle class jobs.”
DMI concludes that comprehensive immigration reform, including permanent legal status for immigrant workers, is necessary. Perhaps Lou Dobbs, self-appointed champion of the American middle class worker, should read the fact included in DMI’s report and discover he’s got it wrong—immigration reform would be a boost for American workers he claims to speak for.