To Reduce Unemployment, Slow Immigration

Written by Howard Foster on Monday November 7, 2011

The November 4th unemployment report indicated that the economy is not producing sufficient jobs for the 300 million American citizens, and that there is no end in sight to the crisis. This should make us ask why we need more immigrants.

All Republican presidential candidates are rhetorically against illegal immigration. But what are their views on the more significant question of legal immigration?

We know almost nothing. Mitt Romney has stated in one televised debate that legal immigration should be tied to the performance of our economy. The others have been disturbingly silent. We currently admit about 1 million legal immigrants into the country every year, regardless of the performance of the economy. Why? One of the purposes of the Immigration and Nationality Act, the current immigration statute, is “to preserve jobs for American workers.” I.N.S. v. National Center for Immigrants’ Rights, Inc., 502 U.S. 183, 194 (1991). The federal government is failing abysmally in its responsibility to do so.

I have heard no justification for legal immigration at a time of high unemployment. It’s not as if our economy needs more workers of a particular skill group to function efficiently. We don’t. The Department of Labor has said so for many years with regard to unskilled workers. And despite the statements of certain high tech executives about labor shortages, there are ample (and then some) technicians, computer specialists, and engineers to work in Silicon Valley. The unemployment rate for highly skilled Americans is only slightly below the 9% overall average.

Politicians can claim they favor “job creation,” but there is no consensus about how to achieve it. There is consensus among economists that an immigration moratorium would lower the unemployment rate by limiting the supply of job seekers. It is true that not all immigrants are eligible for employment right away. But that misses the point. They become eligible if they stay here long enough even if they work illegally. The Obama Administration (and its predecessors) is not enforcing the provision of the Immigration and Nationality Act which makes lying about being an American citizen a disqualification for future citizenship or lawful alien status.

Legal immigrants usually begin their sojourn to the U.S. with a visa, which many overstay. During their overstay they lie to employers and represent themselves as U.S. citizens to get jobs. The Justice Department should be asking every applicant for citizenship for their employment history, and then following up with a review of the I-9 forms for each job to see if the applicant ever falsely purported to be a citizen and presented fake documents. Most have. They should be out on the next plane. This would eliminate most applicants in the immigration queue.

The U.S. has international obligations to accept about 100,000 refugees each year. Under current law, the refugees must be employment authorized and put on the citizenship track. We can and should change this law. Refugees don’t need to become citizens and compete against Americans for low skill jobs. We could take them in, and return them to their home countries if the conditions there improve. And if they do not, the refugees should be required to live in areas of low unemployment in this country to minimize the economic dislocations they cause.

There is a large segment of this country, myself among them, that cannot understand why we have so many immigrants. It is simply unclear what the policy of mass immigration is supposed to achieve. In the last presidential campaign,Barack Obama dismissed us as as the frustrated residents of small towns clinging to guns and bibles. I live in Chicago and do not own a gun. Yet I question why this country needs more immigrants. And Rick Santorum’s statement that his grandfather was an Italian immigrant a century ago is no answer. Al Capone was terrorizing the people of Chicago a century ago too.

Immigration has its time and place surely, but nostalgia for a bygone era is not good way to make public policy. We are at least a century beyond the time when we actually needed more people to staff the industrial revolution. The fact that our economy cannot produce enough jobs for the country should suggest that we have an oversupply of workers. One way of looking at the problem is to demand more jobs be created. The better way is to limit the supply of workers, and it’s time the Republicans start actually reading the Immigration and Nationality Act.