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October 11, 2002

Tapped Goes Nativist (sorta)

I have to admit to being both perplexed and dismayed by this response by Tapped (scroll down) to my recent post on Democrats' increasing opposition to employer sanctions and support for amnesty of undocumented immigrants . Tapped writes:

Employer sanctions are "moderately anti-immigrant"? Hold on there, little doggy. Why is it anti-immigrant to hold employers responsible for employing people who are in the U.S. illegally? Not only is it illegal, it's also basically anti-labor. Employer sanctions were opposed primarily by knee-jerk civil libertarians, Latino organizations (which gain political power the more open the border is) and big business (which likes the downward pressure on wages illegal immigrants provide).
The disturbing part of the post is the slightly Buchananesque quality to lumping together Latino civil rights groups and big business as special interest groups on the issue as if they are equally predators on low-wage immigrants.

What's odd is that the employer sanctions in the 1986 Simpson-Mazzoli Bill were seen as anti-immigrant and proudly so by their sponsors at the time. Part of the sea-change in politics I alluded to is that no one wants to be seen as "anti-immigrant" today, so the whole debate narrows to a law-and-order "tssk-tssking" that starving Mexican peasants crossing the border haven't filed the proper paperwork.

But the point where Tapped is just dead wrong is to argue that employer sanctions are pro-labor. Yes, labor unions supported them in the 1980s but Tapped seems to have missed the fact that the AFL-CIO has publicly repudiated its old position as a collosal mistake. Employer sanctions as they currently operate just create a split workforce and an excuse by employers to fire undocumented immigrants whenever a union organizer shows up. In February 2000, the AFL-CIO Executive Council passed a resolution calling for a new immigration policy, specifically repudiating the federations old support for employer sanctions. Here is what the AFL-CIO web site said in part about the resolution:

The so-called "I-9" sanctions process, which unscrupulous employers have systematically used to retaliate against workers who join together in unions, must be eliminated. The "I-9" process currently requires employers to verify the eligibility of people to work in the U.S.

"Employers often knowingly hire workers who are undocumented, and then when workers seek to improve working conditions employers use the law to fire or intimidate workers," Chavez-Thompson said. "This both subverts the intent of the law and lowers working and living standards for all workers—immigrant and non-immigrant—in many industries. The law should criminalize employer behavior, not punish workers."

A new amnesty program is needed to provide permanent legal status for undocumented workers and their families, millions of whom have made and continue to make enormous contributions to their communities and workplaces.

The resolution reverses parts of the AFL-CIO's 1985 resolution, which called for a process such as the I-9 sanctions. The I-9 process became law in 1986.

Folks may find it odd to have latino groups, labor unions and the Wall Street Journal all on the side of open immigration, but it's even odder to find Tapped huddling on the other side of the issue with Pat Buchanan.

The reality is that the best defense of US labor rights is to embrace workers in other countries and those seeking to immigrate here as equals, whose labor rights we defend across the board.

Posted by Nathan at October 11, 2002 11:05 PM

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Hear, hear.

Posted by: Martin Wisse at October 12, 2002 04:58 PM

Immigration lowers the wages of unskilled workers, which is why the WSJ likes it. You'll have to toss Christopher Jencks in with Tapped and Buchanan.

Posted by: rncarpio at October 13, 2002 04:38 AM

Yes, Jencks has been moving to the conservative side on such issues for a while.

However, immigration raises the wages of the unskilled workers who immigrate to the US which means they are not lowering wages in the US by competing in third world sweatshops.

Low skilled workers in the US have seen their wages drop in the last few decades for a range of reasons-- changes in technology, the deindustrialization of cities, the assault on unions, increasing global trade etc. Immigration has no doubt played a small role but it also has relieved downward wage pressure in Mexico, so it may have prevented some jobs from moving across the border. The exact balance is hard to determine.

Yet the folks working day-in-and-day out representing workers and fighting to raise their wages have come to the conclusion that embracing immigrants and building international solidarity is far more likely to protect low-skill workers than a nativist response. I'll take their expertise over a pile of statistical studies.

Posted by: Nathan Newman at October 13, 2002 10:20 AM

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