It’s Time to Stand Up For American Workers

Today Peter Kirsanow, a Civil Rights Commissioner, wrote President Obama to urge him to abandon the executive amnesty that is planned for after the election. Kirsanow’s letter focuses on the damage an amnesty, and increased legal immigration, will do to American workers, especially African-Americans and STEM workers. First, here is Kirsanow’s letter in its entirety. Then I will excerpt some paragraphs, omitting the extensive footnotes:

Executive Amnesty Letter October 2014

I write to express my concern regarding reports that you plan on issuing an executive order that purports to grant legal status and work authorization to millions of illegal immigrants after the November elections. My concerns center around the effect such grant of legal status will have on two subsets of American workers: low-skilled workers, particularly low-skilled black workers, and high-skilled STEM workers. …

Such an increase in lawful workers would have a deleterious effect on low-skilled American workers, particularly black workers. In 2008, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights held a briefing regarding the impact of illegal immigration on the wages and employment opportunities of African-Americans. The testimony at the briefing indicated that illegal immigration disproportionately impacts the wages and employment opportunities of African-American men.

The briefing witnesses, well-regarded scholars from leading universities and independent groups, were ideologically diverse. All the witnesses acknowledged that illegal immigration has a negative impact on black employment, both in terms of employment opportunities and wages. The witnesses differed on the extent of that impact, but every witness agreed that illegal immigration has a discernible negative effect on black employment. For example, Professor Gordon Hanson’s research showed that “Immigration . . . accounts for about 40 percent of the 18 percentage point decline [from 1960-2000] in black employment rates.” Professor Vernon Briggs writes that illegal immigrants and blacks (who are disproportionately likely to be low-skilled) often find themselves in competition for the same jobs, and the huge number of illegal immigrants ensures that there is a continual surplus of low-skilled labor, thus preventing wages from rising. Professor Gerald Jaynes’s research found that illegal immigrants had displaced U.S. citizens in industries that had traditionally employed large numbers of African- Americans, such as meatpacking. …

Granting work authorization to millions of illegal immigrants will devastate the black community, which is already struggling in the wake of the recession that began in 2007 and the subsequent years of malaise. Americans of all racial groups have seen their incomes stagnate since the recession. African-Americans have been particularly hard-hit, however. Their median wages were already the lowest of any racial or ethnic group, and they have not recovered from the recession. In 2007, median black household income was $35,219 and declined to $34,218 in 2008. In 2013, median black household income was $34,598 – better than during the worst of the recession, but still not back to the 2007 level. …

Granting legal status to millions of people who are in the United States illegally will continue to depress the wages and employment opportunities of African-American men and teenagers. …

Finally, I would like to say a few words about the supposed need for an increased number of high-tech visas. There is little evidence, other than the protestations of tech titans and politicians, that there is a shortage of STEM workers in the United States. Statistics suggest otherwise. Five professors who, variously, study economics, public policy, labor, and computer science recently wrote, “[the] Census reported that only one in four STEM degree holders is in a STEM job … As longtime researchers of the STEM workforce and immigration who have separately done in-depth analyses on these issues … none of us has been able to find any credible evidence to support the IT industry’s assertions of labor shortages.” Others note, “America ‘produces far more science and engineering graduates than there are S&E job openings – the only disagreement is whether it is 100 percent or 200 percent more.’”

Furthermore, if there is a shortage of IT workers, why aren’t wages increasing? Hal Salzman notes that wages in the IT field fell after the dot-com bubble burst in 2000, and “[are] well below their earlier peak and now hover around wage levels of the late 1990s.” Also, as Jay Schalin notes, the fact that STEM graduates are more likely to be employed than those with other degrees does not mean that they are employed in STEM fields or at high wages. For example, students who graduated with chemistry degrees had a 6.6% unemployment rate, but had a “starting mean salary of $32,000 [which] is surprisingly below average for all graduates, equal to those with sociology degrees.” The problem is not that there are insufficient STEM graduates; the problem is that tech companies do not want to pay the wages American workers would demand absent a continual influx of high-tech visa holders.

Here and there Republican candidates in high-profile races have made defense of American workers important themes of their campaigns. Tom Cotton and Scott Brown come to mind, but there are others. Still, the coming election will probably not be what it could have been, had Republicans consistently nationalized the immigration issue.

This morning Tom Cotton appeared on the Laura Ingraham radio show. In this clip, Tom talks about his defense of American workers: