July 16, 2019

SEND MORE, WE HAVE 7 MILLION OPEN JOBS:

Let Them Work: Detention centers at the border are full of able-bodied people. Our economy needs workers. Maybe we can work something out. (LINDA CHAVEZ  JULY 16, 2019, The Bulwark)

In the past, parents who could not feed their children often made the difficult decision to leave them behind with family members in the home country while they sought work in other countries. For the last hundred years, millions ofmen, mostly Mexican, came north, crossing the porous border illegally, to work in fields, plants, and factories, sending money back to support their families when work was available and returning home when jobs dried up. 

Employers were eager to hire them--which did not become illegal until 1987-and, at least in prosperous times, the government was happy to turn a blind eye. In the 1940s, the Bracero Program formalized the arrangement, sending illegal migration plummeting, by providing temporary work visas for some 4.6 million Mexicans. Even after the Bracero Program ended in 1964, Mexicans continued to come to the U.S. for seasonal work--albeit without documentation. As the Cato Institute had pointed out, Ronald Reagan remarked in 1977 in one of his regular radio addresses, "'It makes one wonder about the illegal alien fuss. Are great numbers of our unemployed really victims of the illegal alien invasion or are those illegal tourists actually doing work our own people won't do?," Reagan asked. "One thing is certain in this hungry world; no regulation or law should be allowed if it results in crops rotting in the fields for lack of harvesters.'" 

Of course, Reagan famously granted amnesty in 1986 to some 3 million illegal immigrants, but the inept and ineffective legislation Congress passed that year to try to deal proactively with the problem of illegal immigration did little to stem the flow because it did not address the real issue: namely, how to provide employers with a reliable flow of immigrant labor for niche industries and markets where Americans shunned available jobs. Unsurprisingly, less than a decade later with the economy booming, more and more migrants made the trip north so that by 2000 the population of illegal immigrants had grown to more than 12 million. 

In successive administrations from Bush '41 to Trump, the response has been to throw money at enforcement rather than recognizing the role of labor market forces in driving immigration. Conservatives used to understand market economics--maybe some still do, but Trump's appointees and supporters clearly refuse to. With unemployment at historic lows, the economy producing more jobs than there are workers to fill them, and an aging native population, we must find a way to expand our labor force--and quickly. Why not give those adult asylum seekers languishing in CPB facilities who are willing and eager to work the right to do so by releasing them and granting temporary work permits immediately, as we once did, instead of making them wait at least six months? Many of these migrants have skills that are sorely needed in agriculture, construction, and other services. 

Posted by at July 16, 2019 12:00 AM

  

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