Progressive Perspective | Gingrich’s Immigration Proposals: Statesmanship—Or Class Warfare On American Workers?
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[Peter Brimelow writes: As I keep saying, is a forum site and we welcome all critics of America’s post-1965 immigration disaster, regardless of their other views. Randall Burns, who tells me the only Presidential candidates he has volunteered for were Jimmy Carter and Dennis Kucinich, is one of several writers, and more readers, who consider themselves “progressives”.  Of course, progressives like Samuel Gompers did play a major role in ending the First Great Wave of Immigration (1880-1920), and there are many good reasons for them to do so again today.  Alas, I personally have more or less concluded that the progressives’ leadership will never let them, because its motives are now different. Still, Randall writes in a great tradition, and we’re happy to post his progressive perspective on Gingrich tonight]


Newt Gingrich recently came out with one of the most detailed immigration proposals of any Republican candidate. It contains 2907 words. Obviously Gingrich's staff put some work into this proposal. The question is: on whose behalf? Is this an example of realistic politics and statesmanship—or craven pandering to wealthy donors?

The crux of the Gingrich program is a tradeoff:  increased border control in return for (at least) partial amnesty, called “earned legalization”—plus increased legal immigration and expanded guest worker visas, amounts unspecified. A move towards English as an official language of government is also included.  A significant omission: reforming birthright citizenship.  To my eye, Gingrich seems to approach immigration as a cultural issue and only peripherally an economic issue. (However, critics like David Frum have argued Gingrich’s plan is still designed to benefit Big Business in effect).

On its face, the Gingrich proposal is strikingly naive. For example "earned legalization" in the Gingrich proposal means "once an applicant has been granted the right to obtain legal status, he or she will have to pay a penalty of at least $5,000".  But in a world where wages in the US are several times that of many source countries, a $5000 fine or even a $20,000 fine would merely be a cost of doing business.

Famously, Gingrich has recently stated : "Once you've put every piece in place, which includes the guest worker program [and tougher border security], you need something like a World War II Selective Service Board that, frankly, reviews the people who are here." [What would Gingrich’s plan for dealing with illegal immigration look like?, by Liz Goodwin, The Lookout,  November 23, 2001]

And I myself suggested a jury system in five years ago (December 13, 2006). But I was thinking of juries that would represent a broad cross-section of America—not just the “local committees” envisaged in Gingrich’s proposal. Many recent immigrants live in communities that are quite different from the rest of America.  For example, often English is not the primary language.  If we rely purely on local boards, it would rapidly become apparent that some jurisdictions were more sympathetic to immigration petitions. Those needing a hearing would seek to obtain a hearing in sympathetic locations. Gingrich’s approach would accelerate immigration to Border States—increasing the disassociation of those states from the rest of the US.

Moreover, immigration is an important, national decision-and it must be made with national interest kept in mind.   Each act of immigration must be viewed as the equivalent of granting someone something worth over $200,000. We should assure the American public gets at least that much collective benefit from the presence of the new arrival.

Gingrich’s concept that normalized immigrants be monitored to make sure they remain “self supporting” also needs to be refined. Most lower-wage earning Americans get more in benefits than they pay in taxes. As a progressive, I support such policies—for citizens. However, in a world with mass poverty, and wages a small fraction US levels, such policies make no sense for non-citizens.  

We must be absolutely certain that immigrants, and those who profit from their presence, pay ALL direct AND INDIRECT costs associated with presence of immigrants. That means that citizens shouldn’t have to pay higher taxes than they might otherwise to pay for cost of education, health benefits or law enforcement. Similarly, citizens shouldn’t have to pay for increased crime, increased disease risk or increased insurance costs associated with presence of immigrants.

Arguably, denying illegal aliens health benefits could pose a public health hazard for citizens. But what we must assure instead is that citizen taxpayers aren’t paying for the cost of those benefits. Additional taxes and fees on non-citizens working in the US and/or their employers, like those used in Singapore, are worthy of seriously consideration.

And we should also remember that even deportation doesn’t need to be “tragic” with modern communication and transportation. For those deported, we can create provision for resettlement aid-particularly for those that have been in the US for some time.

Overall, the Gingrich proposal would tend to weight US immigration policy towards people with an ability to earn money here. It implicitly assumes that economic activity is always a positive-sum game.

But in a country where one percent  of the population controls over 30% of the wealth—and that one per cent has been the recipient of the lion’s share of increases in national wealth since immigration has been expanded and disproportionately favors high levels of immigration —that assumption needs careful examination. Huge fortunes have been obtained because of the dramatic expansion of US immigration the last few decades and the stagnant or declining wages in that same period.  In my view, all increases of the wealth of the top one percent can be explained by the trickle-up effects of tax cuts Gingrich supported and immigration’s suppressing wages to the benefit of the owners of land or capital.

There is nothing in Gingrich’s proposal acknowledging that some immigrants arrive via human trafficking—a sad reintroduction of involuntary servitude. It doesn't deal with the exploitation of guest workers via fraud and intimidation, a near inevitability when large numbers of people arrive not knowing the legal system well and when legal resources are limited. It doesn't deal with the fact that many recent immigrants, both legal and illegal, may actually want to go home but might need some relatively modest assistance to do so.

There are no clear protections in place for US workers in the Gingrich proposal. It is clear his policies will help the wealthy and some immigrants to make money in America. But it isn’t clear how he will differentiate between workers that actually bring unique valuable skills or capital—and those that are simply taking positions Americans might otherwise take.   There is no analysis of what increased immigration numbers to American from a world with wages far below what America will mean.  I question whether any real analysis of other highly developed countries with “streamlined" immigration processes (i.e. Singapore) was actually done by Gingrich’s staff.

We also need to address the fact that recent immigration has been edging some Americans out of the work force completely. If Gingrich really wants to contain that, I suggest a variant of Ron Unz’s minimum wage proposal: raise the minimum wage for all non-citizens in the US to at least twice that of the local minimum wage where they are working. That would give US citizens at least some preference for truly “entry level” jobs.

Gingrich asserts that “We want people to come to America to become Americans”.  He touts American Exceptionalism and his own version of the Proposition Nation fallacy: “America is a learned civilization built on ideas.” He doesn't consider that the reason why immigration through the late 1800s was accompanied by unusual dynamism is that:

a) there were specific informal immigration selection mechanisms in place (i.e. specifically weighted towards Protestant Europeans)

b) The United States during that period had a substantial frontier gained at the expense of Native Americans.  

An America that had a substantial new frontier in space or in the ocean deserts could perhaps absorb substantial immigration without reducing wages and living standards for the native-born. But unless such factors are in place, any expansion of employment-based visas without clear safeguards to monitor displacement of US citizens can only be seen as yet another act of class warfare on the part of the wealthy towards American workers.

Bottom line: an anti-unemployment immigration moratorium as advocated on make much more sense.

And it would be simpler!

Randall Burns [email him] holds a degree in Economics from the University of Chicago where his professors included Maynard Krueger, Ira Katznelson and Arcadius Kahan.  He studied Software Engineering as graduate student at Carnegie Mellon University and was involved in the IT business for over 20 years. Burns has been active in furthering the introduction of immigration, trade, and tax realities into the progressive agenda. In 2004, he helped create the Kucinich campaign's position paper on H-1b/L-1 visas.


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