Richard Lamm: Just whose labor are we protecting?

Article author: 
Richard D. Lamm
Article publisher: 
Denver Post
Article date: 
31 August 2014
Article category: 
Our American Future
Article Body: 

Labor Day has become a mindless holiday. It is a day off of work for most Americans, nothing more. But with 18 million Americans unemployed or underemployed, it should be a time to debate labor policy. Given the pressures of computers, automation, off-shoring and immigration, we don't actually honor labor unless we debate labor policy. What policies are best for the American worker?

Colorado's two senators voted for an immigration bill that doubles the amount of yearly legal immigration. That directly contradicts the last two national commissions on immigration (the Barbara Jordan Commission in 1996 and the Father Theodore Hesburgh Commission in 1981), which urged that we halve the number of legal immigrants and stop illegal immigration altogether.

This is particularly important to Americans with limited skills. The Jordan Commission said "it is not in the national interest to admit unskilled workers" because "the U.S. economy is showing difficulty in absorbing disadvantaged workers." That is truer today than it was when the report was issued. Yet a vast majority of our immigrants come because of whom they are related, to not for their skills.

It's not 1900 anymore, although it is 1900 thinking that drives much of our immigration policy... Our Labor Day goal should be to get Americans to work, not to import a limitless supply of cheap labor from the Third World.

Immigration transfers wealth. Immigration takes from U.S. workers and transfers that wealth to U.S. employers of immigrants. Harvard economist George Borjas estimates that immigration costs American workers $402 billion annually in reduced wages and, not surprisingly, gives a similar gain to U.S. employers of immigrants.

Any country should owe it first duty to its own poor. But politicians listen to the rich. Employers love immigrants because they provide subsidized labor and they work hard. But lower immigration causes a tight labor market and forces employers to seek out and train our own unemployed...

One of America's dirty little secrets is the meteoric rise in American workers not in the labor force. In the year 2000, the United States had 40 million employment-age workers not in the labor force. As of July 2014, we have 92 million...

How long is this vast number of underutilized Americans going to stay quiet? ...  Import an unskilled immigrant [or illegal alien] and it costs American taxpayers about $100,000 in social costs over their lifetime, even if the immigrant is working, according to the National Academy of Sciences...

We have room for some immigrants, but they should be selected for their skills and talents and what they can do for our economy...

In 1994, Barbara Jordan said: "We disagree with those who would label efforts to control immigration as being inherently anti-immigrant. Rather, it is both a right and a responsibility of a democratic society to manage immigration so that it serves the national interest."

Richard D. Lamm is a former governor of Colorado and a professor at the University of Denver.


CAIRCO Research

The Immigration Act of 1990 and Legal Immigration, UC Davis archives.

History of U.S. Immigration Policies, FAIR.

...The Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRAIRA), enacted in 1996, resulted from the process of deliberating on the recommendations of the U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform established by President Clinton and the Congress to examine both legal and illegal immigration issues.

The Commission was chaired until her untimely death in 1996 by The Hon. Barbara C. Jordan who had served in the U.S. House of Representatives (D-TX) 1973-79, and was a professor at the Univ. of Texas-Austin 1979-96. The Commission's members included distinguished experts in immigration law and history and others with experience in national politics and business.

After a long and arduous effort to develop bipartisan legislation dealing with both reform of legal and illegal immigration, Congress narrowed its focus on illegal immigration provisions with a promise by many that they would return soon to the effort to reform legal immigration.

"Credibility in immigration policy can be summed up in one sentence: Those who should get in, get in; those who should be kept out, are kept out; and those who should not be here will be required to leave...For the system to be credible, people actually have to be deported at the end of the process."
(Barbara Jordan, February 24, 1995 Testimony to House Immigration Subcommittee)

...The 1981 report of the national Select Commission on Immigration and Refugee Policy contributed to congressional review of immigration issues. The sixteen-member Commission was created by legislation enacted in 1978 to study and evaluate immigration and refugee laws, policies, and procedures. Its basic conclusion was that controlled immigration had been and continued to be in the national interest, and this underlay many of its recommendations. The Commission's recommendations were summed up by Chairman Theodore Hesburgh in his introduction:

"We recommend closing the back door to undocumented, illegal migration, opening the front door a little more to accommodate legal migration in the interests of this country, defining our immigration goals clearly and providing a structure to implement them effectively, and setting forth procedures which will lead to fair and efficient adjudication and administration of U.S. immigration laws."

Testimony of Barbara Jordan, Chair, U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform, Before the U.S. House of Representatives, Committee on Appropriations, Subcommittee on Appropriations for the Departments of Commerce, Justice, State, the Judiciary and Related Agencies, March 29, 1995.