Immigration And The New Majority

February 12th, 2009 at 9:49 pm | 4 Comments |

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We are being told by advocates of more immigration that the Republican party has scared off Hispanic voters.  What underlies this argument is that opposition to illegal immigration has no net political plus.  That is, immigration enforcement is only an issue to immigrants (primarily Hispanics).  The more we talk about enforcement, the more votes we lose. 

My experience in the last decade prosecuting civil RICO cases exposed me to the other side of this political Hobson’s choice.  Illegal immigration is upending the lives of virtually all Americans with high school educations, the bottom 20% of the socio-economic pyramid.  I’ll call them the Bottom Quartile Americans. 

They have very limited employment options to begin with, and this becomes more acute each year as the economy moves toward higher skilled service sector workers.  The Bottom Quartile Americans, about 45% black, 45% white and the rest legal Hispanics, gravitate toward the same job opportunities as illegal immigrants: hourly-paid labor in construction, poultry processing, cleaning crews, agriculture, etc.  Until the early 1990′s the Bottom Quartile Americans found employment in these industries at wages that enabled them to make a lower-middle class income. 

Today, not only do they have to compete with illegal immigrants for these same jobs, but the Bottom Quartile Americans compete for jobs that pay less in real terms than they did 15 years ago.  They see employers accepting bogus social security cards from illegal immigrants who cannot speak a word of English, employers who hire illegals off the books as “independent contractors,” employers who threaten to deport illegals who vote to unionize in NLRB elections, and they become justifiably enraged.  In one of my cases an HR director told a group of mostly illegal Hispanic workers who had staged a walkout after dutifully opposing unionization in exchange for management’s promise to raise wages (which management then refused to do), “I know you people need your papers fixed.  I can send you back to Mexico just like I brought you in here.”)  Another HR worker hired the same illegal immigrant three times under three different names and social security numbers.  (Each time Social Security caught up with the illegal worker, he purchased a new fake card, and then was issued a new state I.D.) 

These employers are, in my experience, solid George W. Bush Republicans, often showing up on lists of big donors to the party.  They are also flagrantly violating immigration laws and RICO, which Congress amended a decade ago to include the employment of illegal immigrants as “predicate offenses.” 

Which party to these employment practices should be the object of Republican indignation?  To Mr. Bush, it was the legal workers, which he consigned to a life of declining wages and unemployment with his refusal to acknowledge that the economy leaves them little alternative but to take jobs “that Americans won’t do.”  This just isn’t the case.  Not only will they do them (I represent many of them), but increasingly can’t get them.  Who does George Bush think worked construction and poultry plant assembly lines in the 1980s? 

Now back to the premise of the immigration advocates: that Republican immigration policy should be driven by the desire to get Hispanic votes.  No Republican presidential or congressional candidate has ever won the Hispanic vote.  George Bush’s alleged 40% in 2004 is a myth.  Here in Illinois he won 17% in the state’s majority-Hispanic congressional district.  The numbers are equally dismal in New York.  But our aggrieved Bottom Quartile Americans vote and are increasingly wedded, as they should be, to candidates who will save their jobs. 

They are part of our future coalition.

Recent Posts by Howard Foster

4 Comments so far ↓

  • jsinger008

    Bravo for an excellent post. The fact that certain Republicans (cough, “WSJ”, cough) were willing to look the other way when it came to immigration law enforcement is shameful and wrong, especially for a party that trumpets its modern-day respect and support for get tough on crime policies. The HR folks you call attention to above make me sick.

    Of course, there is a kernal of truth in the argument that immigration *in the aggregate* can help boost economic growth and keep prices low. But there are real and serious human costs to the levels of illegal immigration we have allowed/ignored in this country since Reagan’s mid-80s “reform”: see for example any of the many excellent “City Journal” articles on this topic:

    Or even Robert Rector’s excellent study of the government costs to illegal immigration:

    Finally, a smart immigration policy for this country would recognize the lasting contributions can make and would create laws that screened for the immigrants we think could continue to make contributions — smart Indian programmers, Chinese capitalists, savy Mexican businessmen, and Arabs and Africans (in reasonable numbers) who believe strongly in freedom and want a chance to live the American dream. Our supposedly liberal neighbors to the north in Canada have an immigration policy that explicitly looks at the contributions an immigrant can make to Canadian society. Why don’t we do the same?

  • dragonlady

    So now we’re supposed to ignore the rule of law? What’s wrong with comprehensive immigration reform? I don’t want to round up all illegals and send them back but can we at least send back the violent felons? I can’t tell whether this article is supporting blanket amnesty or what. But I believe the author has a good point on the GOP talking more about saving the “little guy’s” job and not do what’s best for a company’s bottom line. The trick to doing it is not to appear nativist. We should approach this as preventing a shadow underclass of illegals that are taken advantage of. Still, you can’t ignore the border problem. Perhaps that can be approached from a national security standpoint vs anti immigrant perspective, especially with all the drug violence in Mexico these days.

  • petty boozshwa

    I dispute the premise that “Hispanics” are a monolithic bloc that will penalize Republicans on this issue. Those that vote against us are doing so because they consume govt services, or on other issues, and might be lured back it there own jobs are made more secure by effective enforcement of E-Verify, a fence and other methods. No one is more supportive of the drawbridge being pulled up than those that just got across – ask the people on Eastern Long Island, or Vermont, or here in Western North Carolina where I live, and the most vociferous defense of “we natives” and our local culture are the people who have moved here in the last five years.

  • Cavosie

    Thoughtful post.