Immigration Reform Proponents Must Consider Results From 100 Years Ago

Article author: 
Roy Beck
Article publisher: 
Roll Call
Article date: 
12 July 2014
Article category: 
Our American Future
Article Body: 
The effect on the congressional immigration debate after House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s surprising primary loss should not be about whether to have reform [amnesty], but whether that reform should be about increasing foreign labor or reducing it.
Cantor represented the unanimous views of the leadership of both parties, which have only differed in how and how much to increase lifetime immigrants, guest workers and legalizations of unlawful foreign visitors.
By stressing the opposite option ­ reductions in legal immigration ­ during his campaign against Cantor, victorious economics professor Dave Brat has suddenly given hope to the many members of Congress whose immigration policy vision for wage-earning Americans has been blocked by their parties’ leaders. Echoing themes articulated tirelessly by Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., Brat argues for dramatic cuts in future visas for immigrant and other foreign labor, The purpose is to allow the labor supply to tighten, raise wages and make it more likely that employers will recruit from the neglected American populations in today’s economy.
This is a prescription that has worked well in the past. Perhaps the most stunning example was 100 years ago, when the outbreak of World War I abruptly stopped a three-decades-old massive importation of immigrant labor into the United States.
Northern manufacturers responded by aggressively recruiting, training and employing the still-living freed slaves and their descendants. Since the 1880s, manufacturers had virtually ignored this source of workers, preferring to send ships to Europe to bring in immigrants to expand their factories. But 1914 began a domestic people movement from plantations to cities that has been celebrated in literature and art as “The Great Migration.” It was the start of a decades-long mass movement of black Americans into the non-agrarian economy of the nation and the building of a large black middle class. But it happened only after easy access to foreign labor was removed.
Brat’s campaign focused on the current three-decades-long surge in immigration. He views the country’s over-supply of working-age adults ­ constantly engorged by more than a million new [legal] immigrants each year ­ as offering employers little market-based reason to figure out how to hire from groups of Americans with low labor participation rates....
Brat’s victory puts a spotlight on a very different option for the government. It is one that would prefer that businesses hire their next employees not from immigration flows, but from among the 18 million Americans whom the government’s broad U-6 category of unemployment shows want a full-time job but can’t find one.
... In short, there are millions of Americans at every educational level who are looking for jobs at every skill level. And that doesn’t count the tens of millions of working-age Americans who aren’t in the labor market at all, having given up long ago...
A century ago, a war forced a change on employers and required them to recruit from American groups they previously hadn’t considered...
It should not take a war to bring these benefits to economically suffering Americans. Congress can immediately create the same conditions. Just imagine how this nation would change if employers needed labor urgently enough to send armies of recruiters into the inner cities, barrios and depressed rural economies of today. It is an option that now should be in the middle of all immigration debate in Congress.