America’s Immigration Crisis Has Real Culprits - And They Aren’t Immigrants
President Trump has finally signed an executive order purporting to end his attorney general’s inhumane practice of separating migrant children from their parents when families are found illegally crossing the border. But let’s not pretend that an immigration solution is at hand—certainly not from the GOP, whose supporters may not like the practice of separating children from their parents, but have little problem with a “zero tolerance policy” on illegal immigration. Even the Democrats have been complicit here, most being perfectly content to use photographs of crying babies being taken away from incarcerated parents to score political brownie points with their base in time for the 2018 congressional elections. Their humanitarian concerns are admirable. One only wishes that the Democratic Party evinced similar outrage in regard to its own citizen-workers, who have been repeatedly victimized by offshoring and wage depressing, union busting mass immigration. The Democrats have apparently made a cynical political calculation whereby today’s economic migrants become part of tomorrow’s emergent electoral majority, even if it means screwing a historically loyal constituency—American labor—in the process.
And that’s what this basically comes down to: politics. Children are being used as pawns because the country’s demographics are changing, and with that, so are voting patterns. The seemingly endless political deadlock on immigration reform is ultimately about voters, as much as wages. The immigration waves of the past 20 years brought big changes to the South and the Southwest, as Hispanic immigration has turned hitherto “red” states into ones hueing increasingly purple (and ultimately blue). You can see this clearly in states such as Colorado, and before that, California, which used to regularly elect Republican governors (until Pete Wilson’s infamous Proposition 187—“a 1994 ballot initiative to establish a state-run citizenship screening system and prohibit illegal aliens from using non-emergency health care, public education, and other services in the State of California”). The GOP is increasingly at war with these demographic trends, whereas the Democrats are increasingly dependent on voting blocs from immigrant groups.
This leads to a big problem for American workers: Encouraging or tacitly permitting mass immigration is one of two techniques used by employers to weaken the bargaining power of the existing resident labor force. The other is offshoring driven by low wages, which functionally operates as a kind of “synthetic immigration” all in the name of “free trade” and globalization (some kinds of offshoring are driven by bribes by mercantilist nations attracting foreign direct investment [FDI]—China combines the two).
So the immigration liberalization impulse (particularly in the Democratic Party) works against the employer option of labor arbitrage by preventing international competition based on wages and by means of immigration policies favoring tight labor markets, particularly at the bottom. Democrats might want to help labor, but it is hard to do that without enforcing labor laws, which in turn cannot be enforced without credible threats of punishment of the employers (not the undocumented immigrants themselves) who violate them. In hock to their donor base, which employs many of these undocumented workers, therefore, the Democrats have persistently refused to address this problem for Americans at the bottom end of the wage ladder.
Any pro-labor party must have a comprehensive agenda for dealing with immigration as it relates to the price of labor. True, the Democrats under the Obama administration did not indulge in the odious practice of separating families. President Obama put in place policies that allowed “the vast majority of unauthorized immigrants—up to 87 percent—[to have] ‘a degree of protection’ to remain in the United States,” but at the cost of allowing unscrupulous American employers to exploit the immigrants’ undocumented status, in effect creating a modern-day form of indentured servitude as a result.
At the same time, as the New York Times reports, Republicans too are in a bind and operate with similar electoral considerations in mind: “They need to retain support from voters who have little sympathy for undocumented immigrants and also win over more moderate voters horrified by Mr. Trump’s remarks about Hispanics.”
Employer enforcement is by far the most important aspect of any serious attempt to deal with immigration reform. History shows that in the U.S., illegal immigration rises in booms and falls in recessions. The crash of 2008 showed that even without a border wall, immigration collapses if there is a lack of demand.
It follows that as the pro-labor Jordan Commission (named after its chairwoman, Barbara Jordan) argued, the chief instrument of deterring illegal immigration should be mandatory “e-verification” (an electronic system that cross-references employee information records to confirm that the worker is legally authorized to work in the United States), along with the swift and consistent prosecution of employers who hire illegal immigrants. Had such a system already been in place, for example, the barbaric exploitation prevalent in the Case Farms poultry case might have never occurred. Barbara Jordan herself, a classic Roosevelt-style paleo-liberal, specifically advocated a number of guiding principles, notably: “Effective policy means enforcement of immigration limits,” and, “Immigration policy must protect U.S. workers against unfair competition from foreign workers, with an appropriately higher level of protection for the most vulnerable in our society.”
The U.S. does not need a fortified border with a wall, in spite of what President Trump argues. When the employment magnet dries up, most illegal border activity will shrink to drug smuggling. And here legalizing and taxing and regulating soft drugs, such as cannabis, as Canada has recently done, would make sense as well, although that appears highly unlikely, given the prosecutorial drug maximalist inclinations of the current U.S. attorney general, Jeff Sessions.
The truth is, neither party particularly cares for the working class—“bitter clingers” (Obama), “takers not makers” (Romney), “deplorables” (Clinton). But for many decades, the party of FDR was the party for the working and middle class. Unfortunately, as the current immigration fiasco illustrates, the interests of America’s working class within the Democratic Party have been subordinated to a coalition of rich rentiers, gentry-class professionals and foundation grant-subsidized professional ethnic activists who have hijacked the party and turned it from a farmer-labor-integrationist civil rights coalition into a federation of billionaire-funded urban clientelist networks. For its part, the GOP is largely controlled by cheap labor employer lobbies who can tolerate ineffectual border enforcement as long as there is no employer enforcement. So neither party as a whole at present represents the interests of citizen-workers in thwarting global labor arbitrage by the managerial capitalist class. The electoral/demographic arithmetic has driven the immigration deadlock, leading to the unseemly spectacle we have witnessed over the past month.