I am really bothered that the United States cannot have the conversation it needs to have about immigration, because immigration (especially illegal immigration) is undermining a number of our industries.
When people come to the country illegally, they work at jobs that pay less than minimum wage and have terrible working conditions. We say that we want to improve the economy and conditions for workers, but when we aren’t willing to enforce our laws we cannot accomplish that goal. Allowing businesses to pay less than the minimum wage has an impact on our economy at large, and overlooking terrible working conditions among the illegal immigrants makes conditions worse for American citizens.
Even with legal immigration, there are still problems. Most people don’t know this, but the linchpin in the unions’ ability to negotiate was not the mass of unskilled workers going on strike – those people are fungible on the job, which is why they are so easily replaced. The unions really made headway when they convinced the few but important skilled workers to support their cause. Generally, skilled workers can negotiate on their own, and are pretty secure in their jobs (they are hard to replace), so they don’t really need unions to represent their interests. Unions appealed to their sense of morality to get their support for their less skilled coworkers.
With the legal immigration that we have, most of the work visas go to people who work in skilled positions. Supposedly, this is to “fill a need” that we have in the United States. That sounds dandy on the surface, but it is terrible for the workers of the United States. If a United States employee has a conflict with his employer, the employee has legal protections that he can lean on in conflicts with his employer. If an employee is working under a work visa, then the employer doesn’t even have to explicitly fire the employee; a company can just not support his visa any longer and let him be sent home by the government. The immigrants know that they are in this position; but their lives are generally okay, so they are neither safe nor motivated to make waves with their employers.
And that means that there is nobody left to stand up for the unskilled employees.
When you add the fact that the jobs being filled with work visas are actually the ones our college graduates were trying to enter, you have an extremely big economic problem being caused by immigration.
To top it all off, when we have discussions about immigration, it tends to center on the unskilled labor being done for less than minimum wage in terrible working conditions. We talk about how things need to improve, something ought to be done, and how hard it is to immigrate. To fix the last point, the number of visas is increased; but not a single one goes to the people who were used to justify the increase, and the problem continues to grow. The result is declining working conditions and lower pay, even as workers make more money for their employers than ever before.
And, for some reason, when anybody complains about the economy and the effect that immigration has on their communities, the conversation turns into personal attacks, claiming xenophobia (colloquially called “racism”). Though, now that I think about it, that mostly happens in the media when news ignores the legitimate points to sensationalize the topic without sharing all the information.
I think the solutions are clear. We have the skilled workers we need, and more are graduating all the time, so we don’t need any more work visas for skilled labor. What people we have allowed to come here need to be secure in their jobs. For the unskilled workers, we should focus more on improving working conditions and enforcing minimum wage than on deporting immigrants. As I noted before, the unskilled workers are largely interchangeable, so sending them home is just going to make companies hire different people and nothing is going to change. I think the best way to eliminate illegal immigration is to enforce proper pay and proper working conditions for all employees, such that there is no compelling reason to hire illegal immigrants over legal candidates. Holding businesses accountable is the only way to get any results.