Res Judicata: Jobs for Americans First

Written by Howard Foster on Monday November 14, 2011

Last week’s blog post on restricting legal immigration as a partial solution to persistently high unemployment drew many comments. They made three basic arguments: 1) immigrants create demand for goods and services that results in a net plus for the economy, 2) immigrants do not compete with Americans for jobs, and 3) it is inhumane not to give citizenship to refugees.

I’ll address each in turn.

Working Immigrants Means Non-Working Americans. The entire premise of my piece was that the U.S. should reduce immigration at times of high unemployment because immigrants take jobs from citizens. The response was that immigrants may be taking jobs but pay taxes as sort of a silver lining. Tell that to an unemployed American who can’t find work.

My point was not that immigrants are unproductive and unemployed. Quite the opposite. The Immigration and Nationality Act (“the INA”) provides for 140, 000 “employment-based” immigrants to be allowed into the U.S. per year. That means those people are coming into the country for the express purpose of working (8 U.S.C. 1151(c)). Not a single commenter provided any reason we should do so at a time of high unemployment. Nor did any commenter provide an example of a job that cannot be filled by an American citizen. Moreover, the 140,000 figure is not trivial. In October the economy added only 100,000 jobs.

If the argument is that these 140,000 legal immigrants create such a jolt to the economy by spending vast sums of money for goods and services that they create a net plus for American workers, then I’d like to see the proof of such an economic miracle. Nobody cited any.

Immigrants Do Not Compete With Americans For Jobs. This is the converse of Argument 1. In order to for this theory to hold up, immigrants would have to take jobs Americans won’t do. One economist, Giovanni Peri, is an advocate of this theory of segregation in employment. I know he is wrong. I litigate RICO cases against employers of illegal immigrants in the poultry processing, cleaning and construction industries. These are the places unskilled immigrants tend to find work. But they are a minority of the workforces in every case I have seen. Americans with high school educations still predominate. They do the same work for the same pay.

There are no jobs Americans will not do for market wages. I have written extensively about this argument in prior posts here, particularly noting that sewer workers, probably the least desirable job in the economy, are overwhelmingly Americans. They take the horrible jobs because the wages are good, particularly in the large cities, where unions negotiate with municipalities for their pay.

Once it is understood that immigrants work alongside Americans, I can’t understand the argument for high levels of immigration during periods of high unemployment. The result will be fewer jobs for Americans and at depressed wages.

The U.S. Does Not Have to Give Citizenship to Refugees. Some commenters were outraged by my opinion that refugees should not be given citizenship. I proposed that we allow refugees (we admit about 100,000/ year), to be employed and then repatriate them if possible. Conditions in some countries do improve, like Rwanda, and I don’t see why refugees cannot go back if this occurs. If it does not, and they remain here for life, then they should be given lawful permanent residency status (“LPR”) rather than citizenship. If that’s immoral, then it is hard to justify giving LPR status to anyone. But we grant LPR status to over 1 million people each year.

The U.S. Should Suspend Family Sponsored Immigration. If there is no justification for employment-based immigration at a time of high unemployment, then we should consider the much larger category of “family-sponsored” immigration. The INA allows up to 480,000 such persons each year (8 U.S.C. 1151(c)). (This is a ceiling, but the law requires at least 226,000 per year.) This the bulk of legal immigration.

Moreover, the “immediate relatives” of U.S. citizens do not count against the 480,000 ceiling. So, in theory, the government can admit an unlimited number of immediate relatives each year. No commenters offered any justification for doing so at a time of high unemployment. Yes, family reunification might well be a desirable policy. But it does not outweigh our national interest in providing employment for our citizens.

We should amend the INA to tie this number to the unemployment rate, and require sponsors to post a bond with the government for use in the event their newly admitted relatives become unemployed. Relatives should rely on their sponsors and not become public charges. This is another goal of the INA.