Pete Buttigieg Promises Endless Foreign Labor to U.S. Employers

DES MOINES, IOWA - FEBRUARY 03: Democratic presidential candidate former South Bend, India
Win McNamee/Getty Images

The federal government must pass an immigration law that delivers a steady flow of foreign blue-collar and white-collar visa workers to U.S. employers, former Mayor Pete Buttigieg told an audience of Democrat voters.

He told Democrats in Clinton, Iowa, February 1:

So another thing we got to do when we do that [immigration] reform is set it up so that in the future you can review every couple of years how many work-based visas we need to keep our economy going, instead of it literally taking an act of Congress to change these quotas and country caps that are set in stone. So it would create that too, a kind of safety valve, where there’s an administrative review every couple of years [that] doesn’t require you to change the entire law.

The foreign workers, he said, “are indispensable in our economy, especially in our rural economy.”

But Buttigieg’s promise of endless foreign labor would force all Americans to continually fight to keep their jobs against a vast number of foreigners who are eager to live and work in the United States, even at very low wages, says Mark Krikorian, director of the Center for Immigration Studies. “Anyone who can find a job would be allowed to come, which is basically the same thing that George W. Bush offered with his ‘Any Willing Worker’ [plan].”

If Buttigieg’s plan becomes law, Americans “might get some wage growth, but it would be a lot slower, and you’d likely see a continued decline and stagnation in wages,” he said.

Americans’ prosperity has long been based “on cheap land and expensive labor,” Krikorian said. But the Democrat candidates and the investor class “want to go back to the Old World model — expensive land and cheap labor. That is not conducive to vibrant, middle-class democracy.”

In contrast, President Donald Trump has mostly blocked business demands for more migrants amid competing pressure from his 2016 voters and his business donors. “We’re seeing wages go up the low end for the first time in a long time, but that would have happened at a long time ago if we had had less immigration,” Krikorian said.

Other Democrat candidates share Buttigieg’s support for endless legal migration — and many town leaders have already implemented it throughout Iowa.

The town leaders have allowed and even encouraged the arrival of many migrants to work in the meatpacking plants that dominate the economy of many towns.

The plants were once manned by middle-class Americans but are now run with a workforce that mostly consists of illegal migrants from Mexico, migrants from Central America with pending asylum cases, and new legal refugees from Africa and the Middle East.

The New York Times reported from Storm Lake, Iowa, in May 2017:

STORM LAKE, Iowa — When Dan Smith first went to work at the pork processing plant in Storm Lake in 1980, pretty much the only way to nab that kind of union job was to have a father, an uncle or a brother already there. The pay, he recalled, was $16 an hour, with benefits — enough to own a home, a couple of cars, a camper and a boat, while your wife stayed home with the children.

“It was the best-paying job you could get, 100 percent, if you were unskilled,” said Mr. Smith, now 66, who followed his father through the plant gates.

The union is long gone, and so are most of the white faces of men who once labored in the broiling heat of the killing floor and the icy chill of the production lines. What hasn’t changed much is Mr. Smith’s hourly wage, which is still about $16 an hour, the same as when he started 37 years ago. Had his wages kept up with inflation, he would be earning about $47 an hour.

The Rev. Timothy Friedrichsen [is] the Roman Catholic pastor at St. Mary’s Church in Storm Lake  … “Though some people still feel, ‘This is not the Storm Lake I grew up in,’” he said, for most of the population, “there is a kind of comfortableness. This is who we are now.”

There are up to six meatpacking plants in Denison, and the city officials are eager to praise the city’s chaotic diversity brought by the 30 percent of residents who are immigrants:

Nestled in the hills surrounding the Boyer River, Denison is home to a diverse population of more than 8,000* residents. Denison’s school district reports that more than 20 languages are spoken in the homes of their more than 2,000 students. That spirit of diversity shines throughout Denison in business, community, education, and recreation. We invite you to visit and see why our diversity makes life in Denison uniquely wonderful.

A 2017 report by Harvest Public Media sketched the town’s reliance on cheap, migrant — and often illegal — labor:

Today, the Latino community is well-entrenched, with many small business owners, a Spanish-language newspaper, and Latino officers on the police force. … many people still make their way here from Latin America. They’re fleeing poverty, gang violence or persecution, as generations of immigrants have done throughout history and around the world.

These arrivals from Mexico and Central America land here alongside [legal] refugees from Africa and Asia. In particular in Denison, they often come from South Sudan and Burma (now known as Myanmar). The long, hard hours of meatpacking work attract newcomers because it doesn’t require much English and brings in a steady paycheck.

The inflow of migrants has imposed a high cost on the employees in the town — for example, by minimizing wage raises in the meatpacking plants and by exacerbating civic inequality. Roughly 60 percent of the kids in the local high school are eligible for free lunches, partly because 50 percent of families in the town earn less than $50,000, versus $63,000 nationally.

The inflow also changed the K–12 school system needed by the Americans’ kids. More than half of the town’s K–12 kids are learning English as a second language, according to Iowa Public Radio.

But the extra migrants serve as customers for many Americans and for local merchants in Denison, NetNebraska reported:

Gehlsen co-owns Reynold’s Clothing on Main Street with his brother Troy Gehlsen. Both agree that immigrants have helped keep their family’s third-generation men’s clothing store alive.

“They have money to spend like everybody else. They’re no different than you and me. They need groceries, they need clothes, they need gas for their vehicles, they need to buy cars. I don’t want this to sound insensitive, but I mean, I’ve got to survive and provide for my family, too. And if they’re willing to come in and support my business, that’s great.”

Some Americans describe the costs imposed on Americans in Denison. Bryan Bryant, for example:

has been in Denison for about a decade caring for his elderly parents and keeping his mom’s coffee shop, the Robin’s Nest, open. He says he appreciates immigrants coming to this country legally, but he worries about the loss of American culture and small town Iowa values.

“It’s good if they embrace the way of life. Sometimes it’s really sad to see immigrants come here because they want a better life, but they want us to change into the country they came from. A lot of the newer ones, they come in and they expect things without participating.”

The same flow of migrants to meatpackers recurs in Marshalltown, Iowa, where the mayor welcomes the migrants. ABC News reported in August 2019:

“In restaurants and manufacturing plants,” said Mayor [Joel] Greer, “it’s tough to find people that can pass a blood test and show up on day two. And so on immigration, bring it on and fix it, please Congress, because we need more workers.”

“With the ramping up of the ICE idea [of deportations],” he said, “I know it’s having an effect. I’ll bet we’re having more trouble keeping workers now because of that fear hanging over people’s heads.”

ABC News described the economics of the meatpacking towns:

Marshalltown’s transformation wasn’t without tension.

In a paper published by the State Historical Society of Iowa about Storm Lake, a similar Iowa town whose economy also relies heavily on meat-packing, Dr. Mark Grey of Northern Iowa University wrote that in the ‘70s and ‘80s, “so-called new breed [corporate] meatpackers — drove down wages and benefits, increased productivity, neutralized unions, experienced high employee turn-over, and relied increasingly on immigrant and refugee labor.”

Meat-packing plants that used to employ experienced butchers hired unskilled workers, and often preferred workers without a union background, according to Dr. Grey’s paper, which outlines that towns like Marshalltown subsequently lost many of their middle-class jobs.

But most media outlets refuse to follow the money.

Nebraska’s National Public Radio (NPR) followed a Latino political activist, Alma Puga, as she praised the growing population of non-white “diversity” emigrants in the town:

The young activist was born in Mexico, and came to Denison when she was five because her parents heard from friends there were jobs in town. Now she wants to grow roots here, and is focused on getting the local immigrant communities politically engaged.

“When I came here, it was like, wow. There was so much diversity, and it was like, I feel like I belong, like I can relate to other people, with my culture, music and food. I didn’t feel like an outcast like I did in Storm Lake, Iowa.”

Of course, NPR trilled over the “diversity” in Denison while ignoring the flood of cheap labor:

Immigrants have played a large role in keeping Denison, Iowa, economically and culturally vibrant. Some migrants in that city have noticed anti-immigrant sentiment increasing in recent years.

[David] GREENE: Yeah. I mean, Denison has been far more diverse for years. It’s actually split 50-50 between whites and minorities. There are Latinos. There’s a Sudanese population. Alma, our guide, her family came from Mexico when she was a child.

[Alma] PUGA: My dad had a friend that lived here. So he told him to come over here; there was plenty of jobs. And so we came.

MARTIN: Jobs like what?

GREENE: A lot in the meatpacking plants in Denison. Immigrants have – they’ve been working there. They started coming a few decades ago. But race and immigration have been such big topics in our politics today that I wondered if anything has changed, you know, in this diverse town that is surrounded by very white, very conservative areas. So I want to take you inside this Denison institution. It’s called Conk’s. It’s a family restaurant that is owned by Eric Skoog.

GREENE: So Bryan Pena tonight is going to be caucusing for Bernie Sanders, and that makes our tour guide, Alma Puga, really happy. She works with LULAC – that’s the League of United Latin American Citizens – and she tries to mobilize Latino voters. The message is, if you want to control the destiny of a community like Denison, you’ve got to vote. Now, LULAC doesn’t endorse candidates, but Alma personally has been volunteering for Joe Biden. She likes his record on immigration.

NPR did not say if Puga is an illegal, a DACA beneficiary, or a naturalized citizen.

Few progressives really want to know what would happen if the nation’s borders were opened to a huge inflow of migrants, said Krikorian. Buttigieg and his allies “genuinely believe what they are doing is doing good,” he said, adding, “Buttigieg is entirely capable of genuinely believing that mass migration will not have any effect on American workers.”

“I think people have an enormous capacity for self-delusion, and I think that is what is going on here,” he said.


Please let us know if you're having issues with commenting.