Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, discussed President-elect Donald Trump’s choice of Andrew Puzder for secretary of labor and other Trump cabinet nominees on Monday’s Breitbart News Daily.
Krikorian said his focus was on immigration-related angles for Trump’s cabinet choices, so he had little feedback on such nominees as Betsy DeVos for education secretary, for example.
“As far as immigration goes, clearly his attorney general pick, Senator Sessions, is outstanding. And frankly, even beyond immigration policy, I think Jeff Sessions has the potential to be one of the best attorneys general in our history. There’s no question there at all.”
“The next thing is Homeland Security, and Trump picked retired Marine General John Kelly, who’s been very strong on border security,” he continued. “He was head of what’s called Southern Command. He was head of all military actions, U.S. military activity, in Latin America and the Caribbean. And so he came directly in contact with the issues of border security on our southern border. He’s been very good on that. The open question there is, what about the rest of immigration law? Because there’s a lot to immigration other than security of the Mexican border. I have no reason to think he would be bad on any of that, but it’s an open question, so hopefully, we’re going to learn more as time goes on. I”m optimistic; let me put it that way.”
SiriusXM host Alex Marlow brought up Labor nominee Puzder’s comments that he preferred foreign labor to American workers as a corporate CEO, a position from which he is now backing away.
“It was a huge red flag initially,” said Krikorian. “I’m not sure who did the vetting here. Now Puzder, he’s a fast-food executive, and so you could see that he wouldn’t have been an immigration hawk or hardliner, just as far as his business goes.”
“But he wasn’t just a regular business executive who kind of liked having foreign workers as cheap labor; he was out front on this issue,” Krikorian recalled. “During the whole Schumer-Rubio Gang of Eight thing, back in 2013, he was writing op-eds, giving interviews. And even more recently, even last year, he signed on to some statement from Republican donors calling for comprehensive immigration reform. So this is something.”
“He’s not just agreed with this Obama agenda on immigration. He’s been one of the champions, one of the most important business champions on this,” he contended. “So while I’m glad to see that once Breitbart did this story, and the public really started to get anxious about this, he released a statement about how his job is protecting American workers and the rest of it. I’m glad to see that, but how sincere is this kind of thing? I don’t know. I’m doubtful.”
“National Review did an editorial from the magazine itself saying it wants senators during the confirmation hearings to get Mr. Puzder down on the record about being tough on guest-worker programs. He can’t change the law, but he can run them either loosely, the way Obama’s been running them, or he can run a much tighter ship with tighter standards, and essentially you would end up with fewer guest workers and do less harm, at least, to American workers. That’s the kind of thing that Republican senators at the hearings – whenever that is, it’s going to be in January some time – they can really hold his feet to the fire on that, and get him on the record on those things. That’s the best I think at this point we can do, as well as keeping the public attention up, the kind of thing that you guys do,” Krikorian said.
Marlow mentioned the old canard about how there are “jobs Americans just won’t do.” Krikorian said, “You hear this from a lot of business people, and there’s just nothing to it.”
He said the Center for Immigration Studies has reviewed Census Bureau data on jobs, which are grouped into roughly 400 categories, and “every one of those categories, except for a few small ones, have a majority of native-born workers in them.”
“For instance, janitors,” he said. “People often think of janitors or maids, that kind of thing, as work Americans won’t do. Well, 75 percent of janitors are native-born Americans. It doesn’t mean anything to say, ‘That’s a job Americans won’t do’ because only 75 percemt of the people who do it are native-born Americans.”
“There’s a kernel of truth in the sense that American’s won’t do some of this work if the wages are too low, and immigrants have come to dominate such that Americans can’t break into it because there’s a sort of network: who you know is how you get hired. If there’s a job site, whether it’s a construction site, or office cleaning, or landscaping, whatever it is, and it’s dominated by immigrants from one particular place, and the management only likes hiring them, well, how would you even break into that if you were an American – regardless of what got paid?” he asked.
“Clearly, a lower level of immigration – we’re not talking about getting rid of it, but a more moderate level of immigration – would force employers to open up these job categories to Americans that they’re not hiring now, and would also almost certainly force them to increase the wages or improve benefits,” he argued.
“We’ve seen that kind of thing happen in the past. George Borjas at Harvard, the nation’s leading immigration economist, he’s got a new book out – a layman’s book; it’s not a technical book – on immigration, and he has in there a picture of an ad that ran in Georgia after an immigration raid. This was obviously under Bush, not under Obama – he doesn’t do raids – but a raid on a chicken plant. Lots of illegals. They carted off the illegals. The next day, they ran this ad saying higher wages. They specifically said that the wages were better, and they were trying to get Americans to come and work for them. That’s what we need to see more of,” Krikorian said.
(The book Krikorian referred to, We Wanted Workers: Unraveling the Immigration Narrative by George Borjas, is available here.)
Marlow noted that some successful fast-food chains, such as In-N-Out Burger and Chick-fil-A, appear to use a very small amount of immigrant labor, which would seem to contradict Puzder’s assertion that cheap imported labor is the only way to run such a business profitably, and native-born Americans do not want the jobs anyway.
“Frankly, Chick-fil-A and In-N-Out are outliers because they have actually pushed against this cheapest possible labor, lowest possible amount of benefits trend,” Krikorian noted. “Chick-fil-A, for instance, gives scholarships to kids who work there for more than a certain amount of time, a way to retain their workers. I forget what In-N-Out does, but similarly isn’t just looking for the cheapest possible labor. Now, those companies are able to make that work, but government policy can’t count on having businessmen who have that kind of public-spirited attitude.”
“What they need to do is create the conditions so that even guys like Andrew Puzder, who frankly couldn’t care less about that sort of thing, even he would have to think creatively about how to recruit and retain American workers – so that all companies conduct themselves like, say, Chick-fil-A or In-N-Out Burger, not just the ones where the management or the owners have a particular commitment to it,” Krikorian recommended.
“But what it does show is that you don’t have to pay rock-bottom wages and have no benefits in order to be successful. So if they can do it, why can’t Carl’s Jr., or McDonald’s, or Burger King, or KFC? Why can’t they operate that way? And the fact is that they don’t have to because of this unending supply of cheap, controllable foreign labor. When that changes, you would then see Carl’s Jr., and McDonald’s, and KFC, and others start to do the kinds of things that Chick-fil-A and In-N-Out Burger are doing for non-economic reasons – mostly, anyway, because they think it’s the right thing to do,” he said.
Marlow observed that Chick-fil-A and In-N-Out are both run by people with strong religious inclinations, which Krikorian cited to buttress his point that these companies incorporate “non-economic” considerations into their labor policies.
“I salute them for it, but you can’t just hope all businessmen will operate that way,” he said. “The whole point of capitalism is that you give people who aren’t necessarily motivated by those kinds of things an economic reason to do the right thing. That’s why we need to tighten immigration so that even managers like Puzder, who couldn’t care less about Bible quotes – and I’m not saying he’s a bad guy; I’m saying that’s not the way he thinks about his business – that even guys like him will do the kind of stuff that you’re seeing Chick-fil-A and In-N-Out doing.”
“There’s no question that, especially because of the spotlight that you guys shone on his policy, that he’s going to be much more careful, and is probably going to throw a bone some,” Krikorian said of Puzder, citing his promise to “fiercely defend American workers.”
“Basically, what he was saying in there is, ‘When I was a businessman I had to say whatever I had to say in order to make more money. And now I’m really telling the truth.’ I find that a little implausible. I don’t like it at all, but you know at this point, he’s nominated. I don’t see him losing, or let me put it this way: I don’t see him being turned down for confirmation. He’s probably going to be labor secretary. So the question is, how do we keep him honest?”
Having said that, Krikorian allowed that the Senate could reject Puzder, pointing out that “a lot of the Democrats don’t like him anyway.”
“To confirm anybody if all of the Democrats vote no, you only need, what is it, three Republicans I think to vote no” to halt the nomination, he explained. “A lot of Democrats don’t like the guy for reasons that we might like him. He’s very skeptical of this $15 minimum wage thing. He basically kind of throws it in the face of political correctness, all that sort of thing. The Democrats hate that stuff. They really don’t like this guy.”
“So this is kind of Machiavellian, but I mean, if all of the Democrats vote against him, and three Republicans vote against him, he could actually not be confirmed. Presumably, it might not even come to that. If it looked like the math was turning out that he wouldn’t get confirmed, they might actually pull his nomination. That’s a stretch, but it’s at least possible, no question about it.”
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