by Duane Campbell
The Economic Policy Institute reports that it is guiding a new approach to immigration reform.
“The Economic Policy Institute has been central to a revived effort to pass comprehensive immigration reform that is workable, fair and beneficial to the overall economy. The plan grew from a paper by former Labor Secretary Ray Marshall, published two years ago as part of EPI’s Agenda for Shared Prosperity. That initial concept has been expanded and refined through conversations with interested and allied groups, and its principles have been endorsed by both the AFL-CIO and Change to Win. Among the innovative concepts is the establishment of an independent commission to monitor industry trends and labor needs for future immigration. Given the new political climate in Washington, there are hopes that with a common sense plan and a united front, including labor and immigrant advocates, real reform can be implemented this year.”
This new framework requires careful examination. The proposals are based upon a paper by former Labor Secretary Ray Marshall and they repeat arguments he has been making since the 1980’s.
1. The paper recognizes and argues that immigration serves as a safety valve for Mexico and the Mexican government. Migration drains off the large number of under employed Mexicans who would other wise demand more democratic changes in Mexico.
While recognizing the above, the paper does not deal with the reality that U.S. based corporate power–and banking– controls much of the Mexican economy and Mexican political power. The U.S. corporate empire, organized through NAFTA, creates the conditions described by Marshall in point #1.
This is not only an immigration problem, it is a North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) problem.
NAFTA proposed to resolve the basic economic issues between the U.S. and Mexico in 1994, and it did so for the business classes on both sides of the border. NAFTA redefined the economic relationships of cross border investment and trade. Certainly it should also define the cross border movement of capital, production, and labor–but it does not. These immigration proposals, and NAFTA, are business-directed, with organized labor as a very junior partner. The interests of working people outside of organized labor (some 80% of workers) are largely ignored.
2. A focus of the Marshall paper and the immigration proposal is to create a “secure I.D. for U.S. workers.” This has been Ray Marshall’s policy proposals since 1986, and along with Employer Sanctions and was the policy of the AFL-CIO. In the 1986 IRCA legislation this was opposed as creating a national I.D. card.
3. The Marshall paper criticizes immigrants for depressing wages in industries and offers evidence to support this claim. The paper makes no comment on the role of NAFTA and the exporting of jobs to other countries. As well explained in David Bacon’s Illegal People: How Globilization Creates Migration and Criminalizes Immigrants, if you have “free trade” you will have massive migration from poor areas to well-off areas.
The paper notes how NAFTA has failed to reduce immigration but does not describe nor develop how NAFTA has reshaped the Mexican economy.
Small industries in Mexico were dismantled as multinationals like Wal-Mart imported parts from their own suppliers. Large scale importation of basic grains, particularly corn, into Mexico drove local farmers were priced out of the market. Driven off their farms, they headed north. NAFTA did not reduce migration, it increased migration. The Marshall paper under states how much the two economies have grown together since NAFTA, and how the three economies are linked in time of economic crisis.
4. Marshall argues for changing the numbers of immigrants to encourage the immigration of the well educated workers supposedly needed by the U.S. economy. These are the H1B workers for technical work. Research that he does not mention shows that skilled workers, H1B workers displace many U.S. skilled workers. There is unemployment among highly skilled technical workers and wage suppression. Several high tech industries use H1B workers to replace available U.S. workers. This exploitative role of H1B visas is well described in the response to the Marshall paper of Roy Hira.
5. The Marshall paper calls for increased border security and internal policing.
This translates as: he supports the border wall and the ICE raids.
6. He argues against an expanded temporary worker program (or more Guest Workers) saying that the present programs serve well.
7. At the first presentation of the paper in March 2007, respondent Mary Bauer of the Southern Poverty Law Center provides detailed and precise descriptions of how Guest worker programs exploit workers and distort labor markets.
If, as reported by EPI, labor officialdom is lining up behind these proposals, there is a great need for concern. Marshall’s main arguments are for more border enforcement and employer sanctions. These have been the main issues opposed by immigration activists for decades. It was the repeal of support for employer sanctions which marked the change in policy at the AFL-CIO policy in 1999. Labor became pro-immigrant worker. Are they reversing this direction? The EPI press release says, “That initial concept has been expanded and refined through conversations with interested and allied groups, and its principles have been endorsed by both the AFL-CIO and Change to Win.”
Anti-immigrant politics continue as a popular theme in U.S. political life, particularly in times of recession: 1982-84, 1991-93; 2001- 2002, 2007- 2010. The current immigration law, Immigration Reform Act of 1996, the Welfare Reform Act of 1996, are responses to this anti immigrant politics. Some twenty-five states have passed “Official English” laws, and hundreds of local governments have passed legislation to punish undocumented immigrants in various ways for being in the country–such as denying them drivers licenses.
Trade agreements like NAFTA have actually increased poverty for many. NAFTA and free trade produced some economic winners. Many corporations moved high paying jobs to Mexico to cut their labor costs and to increase their profits. In Mexico, several new billionaires were created. But NAFTA created a job loss in the U.S. of at least 879,000 jobs, and over 1 million jobs disappeared in Mexico. People who lost their jobs moved to the cities or to the U.S., producing immigration. Since NAFTA, predominantly United States-owned transnational corporations have eliminated hundreds of thousands jobs in Mexico and moved them to Vietnam and China, where even more repressive states make labor even cheaper. It is this poverty that drives workers in developing nations to reluctantly seek better jobs and a better life for their families in the U.S. and other industrialized nations.
The EPI paper claims that Labor and the Congress are moving in the direction of a more restrictive immigration law including employer sanctions, border enforcement, and a national I.D. This may be the new neo-liberal position. The proposal seems to offer a new–some would say pragmatic–approach to the immigration issue. These proposals would provide a process to resolve some of immigration issues for the next 4-6 years while leaving the major economic issues unsettled.
The U.S. would be back in the same position of an unresolved immigration “crisis” in eight years. These proposals would resolve, in part, the issue of the 11.2 million already here by providing a path to immigrant status. This is parallel to the proposals of SEIU and CTW.