Pitfalls of the latest amnesty plan

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By Robert M. Hardaway


In 1986, President Reagan ushered in the first of the great immigration amnesty bills, offering amnesty to millions of illegal immigrants in return for assurances that border security would be tightened, and employers would be rigorously prosecuted for hiring illegal immigrants.

We all know the consequences of this first great amnesty bill and those that followed: Millions more illegal immigrants were lured into the U.S. in hopes of future amnesties (many to agonizing deaths in the desert), flooding the unskilled labor pool and reducing minorities and legal immigrants to poverty and economic desperation.

Meanwhile, to no one’s surprise, border security was neglected. Big Business, in the pursuit of cheap labor and high profits, vigorously resisted all attempts at immigration job enforcement, particularly any means of enforcement, which would actually work to preserve jobs for minorities and legal immigrants, such as e-verify.

In the 1970s, for example, office buildings in Los Angeles hired union workers as janitors, paying high wages and substantial health and other benefits. Then greedy businessmen, thirsty for cheap labor and high profits, began to hire independent contractors who in turn hired illegal immigrants. Within a year, wages were cut by two-thirds and benefits were eliminated.

In 1987, at a time when teenage unemployment among African Americans approached 80 percent, greedy garment makers petitioned the Immigration and Naturalization Service to import more cheap labor on grounds that there was an “unskilled labor shortage,” repeating the tired mantra that “Americans won’t do the dirty work that illegal immigrants are willing to do” — ignoring the fact that it isn’t the dirty jobs that Americans disdain. Cities have no problem recruiting for the dirtiest of jobs, such as garbage collection, when decent wages are offered.

Most Americans would be willing to pay a few cents more for their tomatoes if it meant social justice for minorities and the legal immigrants who have been reduced to grinding poverty by the Reagan/Bush amnesty agenda.

Few did not see through President George W. Bush’s lame claim that his immigration proposal was not amnesty because iIIegals would pay a $500 fine in order return for being allowed to jump the line for legal residency in front of the teeming millions waiting many years for legal entry, paying thousands for physical exams and background checks, or trying to a win a million-to-one immigration lottery. Why risk winning the lottery, when a winning ticket can be earned by illegal entry, identity theft, and felonious forgery of Social Security cards and other government documents in order to gain jobs that reduce wages of legal immigrants and minorities?

As immigration researcher Gary Imhoff has observed, illegal immigration “widens the differences between classes in the U.S.; it keeps down the price of hiring a maid or gardener for the rich while it makes thing more desperate for the poor.”

Meanwhile, Big Business and many populist politicians seeking votes have adopted the Reagan/Bush amnesty agenda, apparently ignorant of a poll by Hispanic Opinion and Preference Research showing that a large number of Hispanics understand the effect of illegal immigration on the jobs and economic security of minorities and legal immigrants.

Most minorities and legal immigrants do now understand the devastating effects of illegal immigration that has reduced so many of them to grinding poverty.

Perhaps most puzzling, Big Business and populist politicians continue to demand even more of the Reagan/Bush-type amnesty programs as the only means of “fixing” the illegal immigration problem, while at the same time disdaining the plan of Mitt Romney and other moderate immigration reformers to “make legal immigration more attractive than illegal immigration.”

Anything but that!

Robert M. Hardaway is professor of Law at the University of Denver and author of Population, Law and the Environment, a book on immigration issues. Comments; rhardaway@law.du.edu


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