Political Football and Immigration Reform: Is the GOP Playing Games With Our Economy?

Another great post from our guest blogger, Robert Gittelson. My apologies for getting this up late! Last week people across the country celebrated the beloved American holiday of Thanksgiving, hundreds of millions of proud Americans, (some 12,000,000 or so being undocumented, but American none-the-less), opened their homes to friends and family, feast on turkey, and of course, watch football.

It is that other favorite American Pastime - political football – that is on my mind, as I write this article. You see, earlier this week, in response to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano’s speech at the Center for American Progress, the Republican anti- Comprehensive Immigration Reform starting team decided to suit up, and get in the game. On November 20th, they wrote a letter to Sec. Napolitano that attempted to explain why, in their narrow minded opinion, now was not the time, (nor would there ever be a time), for Comprehensive Immigration Reform. The letter was signed by 12 Republican Restrictionist Senators, (their starting 11, plus a punter – although one could argue convincingly that they are all punters).

It is in the spirit of continuing this football metaphor, that I reference a very good article by Mary Giovagnoli at Immigration Impact.

In the article, she takes the Restrictionist arguments to task and labels their letter thusly: “It’s a playbook for the coming year, showing how to make points that are long on emotion and short on facts.” She makes the following points about the letter, (playbook):

Plays include:

  1. Express mild outrage, disappointment and disbelief that legalization helps the economy. Pretend that immigration reform is all about enforcement, despite the warnings across the political spectrum that failing to get a handle on immigration undermines America’s economy, its security, and its role in world.
  2. Assert, with no facts, that legalizing twelve million people creates more competition for limited jobs. Ignore the growing evidence from all sides of the political spectrum that there is no one-to-one competition for jobs between native born workers and undocumented immigrants; that undocumented workers don’t steal American jobs; and that legalization improves the status of all workers by raising wages and working conditions for all. Ignore the business community who has been begging for reform to improve productivity and grow the economy. In short, ignore the facts.
  3. Demand that Napolitano “refrain” from even talking about legalization in this bad economy. Use this as a code for do nothing on immigration reform.
  4. Pivot to delay and stalling tactics. Criticize Obama administration for pulling regulations that sound tough (ignore that they were universally hated by business and labor).
  5. Call for more worksite raids in order to show solidarity with the American worker. Ignore the devastating impact of these raids, especially in your own state. Almost two years after the raid in Postville, Iowa, for example, the town and surrounding communities still have not recovered from the economic or emotional devastation brought on by the raid.
  6. Grudgingly acknowledge border improvements but conveniently forget that you said you would be happy to support immigration reform once the border was more secure.
  7. End on the stealing jobs note, painting yourselves as remaining vigilant that undocumented workers don’t take American jobs.

The actual letter attempts to argue that CIR will hurt unemployed American workers in their pursuit of gainful employment.

While on the surface, the elementary and frankly embarrassing simplistic viewpoint of these Restrictionist Senators on this issue might seem to make some rudimentary sense, I want to caution readers that the modern global economy, and specifically the American economy, is a little more complicated than these politicians would have you believe.

The approximately 7-8 million undocumented workers are employed predominately in small to medium sized businesses, (which are exactly the business segments that will produce the new jobs that America will need to pull itself out of our current high unemployment recession). These Senators would have you believe that it is in the best interest of our economy to fire and deport these workers, and give their jobs to unemployed citizens. Let me explain why this is a horrible economic plan.

The undocumented that still have jobs, are employed because they are the best workers at their respective companies. During this deep recession, virtually all companies have cut back their workforce to their best and most productive workers, and by doing so, hope to weather the economic storm and survive. Again, at this point in time, almost all American companies are struggling to stay in business, and are employing the minimum amount of employees that will enable them to stay afloat. These remaining workers are experienced, productive, and have proven their worth.

The unemployed workers in this nation are unemployed for a variety of reasons, sometimes due to circumstances beyond their control. Some lost their jobs when their companies failed. However, many were laid off because they were not deemed to be among the best and most productive workers at their downsized companies, or perhaps because they lacked seniority. Some were fired because they were not good workers. The Restrictionists would have us fire good, experienced, and proven – albeit undocumented workers, and replace them with citizen trainees that cannot find jobs in their respective fields, and are theoretically willing to take jobs picking fruit, making hotel beds, or manufacturing products, until the economy expands, and they can get a better job.

Let’s think about their plan for a moment, and honestly explore the impact that their plan would make on our economy. For starters, these replacement workers would have varying degrees of impact on the productivity of their new companies. Some workers might step right in, and seamlessly replace good and experienced workers immediately. However, this would be extremely unusual and rare. A few might be as good, or almost as good as the workers that they are replacing, but this will be the vast exception. Most of these new workers will be less productive than the experienced and good workers that they will be replacing, especially in their first year of training, while our business climate is at its worst. In other words, to varying degrees, most of these workers cannot possibly be expected to replace experienced workers without some level of productivity drop-off.

What will the loss of productivity mean for these businesses, since we are already in a tough business climate, and these companies were already barely struggling to make a profit, or keep their losses to a minimum? Obviously, they will see a decline in revenue, and an increase in cost per unit. In the best of cases, these businesses, their owners, and their employees will contribute less tax revenue. In the worst of cases, these businesses will be forced to close. Make no mistake, at least some of these businesses will fail due to this Restrictionist game-plan. Of that, we can be mathematically certain. I can think of no probable situation in which these businesses will produce higher profit. Therefore, the result of the Republican Restrictionist plan will be lower tax revenues, continued and expanding unemployment, a longer recession, and less new employment from the small to medium size business segments, (who produce most of the new jobs in our economy).

Moreover, we will end up with twice as many people trained for old economy jobs, and fewer people trained for new economy jobs. This sounds counter productive to me. When our economy eventually does pick back up, (which will take considerably longer under this Restrictionist plan), we will reward these small and medium sized businesses by leaving them in the lurch, because these replacement workers will leave for better jobs at the very first opportunity.

Doesn’t it make much more economic sense to keep the government’s paws off of our remaining businesses, and instead have the government concentrate on stimulating new economic growth opportunities through programs such as job training for the unemployed, so that they will be prepared to re-enter the job market with improved skill-sets to assume the new economy jobs that effective legislation can help to achieve for our economy? This Thanksgiving season, the Restrictionists are trying to force us to feed like carrion off the already picked bones of our surviving businesses. They should instead be looking forward, and trying to build our economy, instead of cannibalizing off of the withered remains of the economic “turkey” that the previous Republican administration has left us with.