The Conversation

The jobs Americans won't settle for

Before speaking up against the bitter tone of the immigration debate, Erick Erickson writes about the kind of immigration reform he thinks America really needs:

I am an immigration squish.

There are jobs Americans won’t do at the existing price point. We have a real need in this country for unskilled workers who will pick domestic crops and do jobs Americans will not do for a low wage. I know a number of people who came here illegally who are harder workers than me, who love this country, and who just want a job.

More specifically, I know a number of illegal immigrants — a few of whom I represented as a lawyer — who have no intention of staying in the United States, but work here and send money back home. Most of them wind up staying because of the difficulty of coming back into the country. Contrary to the opinions of many, it is not an easy thing to come and go as an illegal alien.

I think we need a program that is easy to administer, easy to apply for, and easy to use for individuals to come and go as they please during seasons of work to do jobs Americans won’t do at the price point these immigrants would.

This is a point made with varying degrees of emphasis by almost everyone who favors liberalizing immigration laws: the "jobs Americans won't do" argument, which Erickson more properly describes as the jobs Americans won't settle for.  In many cases, American citizens would be willing to do the work, but not for the compensation offered.

But if we proceed with a "pathway to citizenship" that brings illegal immigrants "out of the shadows," they won't really be available to work for sub-par compensation any more, will they?  Presumably the full panoply of employment mandates - from the minimum wage to ObamaCare - will end up applying to them, sooner or later.  

Would illegal immigrants travel back and forth across the border for seasonal work, without any further access to the benefits of American citizenship, if the option was presented to them?  I've heard some assertions that many illegals don't really want to be full-boat citizens of the United States, but I have the impression most of them still want to live here full-time, particularly if they don't currently reside in border states.  Perhaps it would make sense to create the kind of program Erickson describes, and see how many takers there are, before we implement further reforms at great expense.

It seems odd to be importing any form of labor when U.S. unemployment is stuck at historic levels, including a sizable cohort driven completely out of the job market.  Jim DeMint at the Heritage Foundation makes the case for reforms that would invert Erickson's proposal, reducing "unlawful, low-skilled immigrants" - who tend to be a significant drain on the Treasury - while bringing in more high-skilled workers:

The core problem with amnesty is clear: It encourages more unlawful immigration in hopes of future amnesties, and it treats unlawful immigrants more favorably than more than 4 million law-abiding people who wait outside our borders, following the rules, for their chance to come to contribute to the economic and social well-being of America.

A properly structured lawful immigration system would help our economy. This is why Heritage and conservatives have long argued for reforming the legal immigration system to make the process more efficient, more merit-based. We need an immigration process that attracts high-skilled workers and encourages patriotic assimilation to unite new immigrants with America’s vibrant civil society.

Which sounds sensible enough, except... why are we recruiting high-skilled labor when countless Americans holding expensive college degrees find themselves jobless or under-employed?  Why aren't our universities producing enough domestic high-skilled labor to fill these positions?  

It's strange to hear all this talk of jobs Americans won't do, at the same time we're watching our workforce collapse to four-decade lows.


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