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Discussion muddled on unemployment effects
December 20, 2009
Originally published in The Washington Times
The Comprehensive Immigration Reform for America's Security and
Prosperity Act (CIR ASAP) was introduced last week by Rep. Luis V.
Gutierrez, Illinois Democrat.
The co-sponsors are a mix of mostly left-wing groups, and the
bill is a hodgepodge of different ideas and political compromises all
too common in today's Washington. Consequently, few are enthusiastic
about it, and many will be outraged.
Republican opposition leaders state that it would exacerbate
the unemployment problem during a recession. That economic fallacy, and
the readiness with which it is believed, could kill the good in this
Besides a genuine desire to overhaul our flawed immigration
system, there are other motivations to introduce CIR ASAP at this time.
The health care bill is in serious trouble, and Democrats need a
distraction. They also are worried about the midterm election. Throwing
a bone to the pro-immigration camp, particularly Hispanics, could help
increase turnout and shift votes to Democrats. Regardless, CIR ASAP is
the beginning of another long political battle that will stretch long
into next year.
But bringing millions of undocumented workers out of the
shadows and streamlining immigration are in America's best interest.
The best idea in the bill is allowing an unlimited number of visas for
foreign graduate students from American universities. The bad ideas are
increased paperwork and oversight for visas. But the worst idea is a
proposed extension of the E-Verify system to all workers.
A modified E-Verify system would require both immigrants and
citizens to prove their eligibility to work to a government-run
database full of errors and incompetently run. This will hamper
employers, discourage and reject legal employees and otherwise
"Europeanize" America's labor market during a recession. Terrible idea.
Those regulations dissipate many, if not all, of the benefits
of increased highly skilled green cards. The anti-immigration crowd may
love this requirement but for the American economy, employers, and
innovators it would be disastrous.
Ironically, a recession should be the best time to streamline
immigration. During the boom times of the 1980s, 1990s and mid-2000s,
the numbers of immigrants increased steadily while the unemployment
rate repeatedly hit record lows. That is because there is no static
number of jobs for immigrants to "take." Rather, immigrants fulfill a
demand for jobs created in boom times. This experience is mostly lost
in Washington, though.
Moreover, immigrants create a great number of economic
opportunities for Americans. Highly skilled immigrant entrepreneurs,
like Google co-founder Sergey Brin and Ozen Engineering founder Metin
Ozen, employ Americans at the firms they start up. Intel, eBay, Yahoo!,
and Sun Microsystems, which have created economic opportunity for
millions of Americans, all include immigrants among their founders.
Many of today's highly skilled immigrants come in on H-1B
visas. Rules and caps on the number of these visas issued each year
hamper economic growth and entrepreneurship. H-1Bs and former H-1Bs
have been in on the ground floor of new firms. As of 2008, one-third of
all companies founded in Silicon Valley had Indian or Chinese
immigrants as co-founders.
Moreover, expanding enterprises rely on H-1B workers to fill
needed slots. According to the nonpartisan National Foundation for
American Policy, each H-1B visa requested increases employment by five
workers. Foreign skilled workers need support and management, so they
typically do not substitute, but complement American labor. A firm
willing to employ H-1B foreign workers employs Americans alongside
The CIR ASAP should just eliminate the cap for H-1B visas or,
as has been suggested, recycle unused H-1B visas from the past.
Instead, it creates a government agency to suggest "market" changes to
the system. Markets do a much better job as markets.
When immigration rules are strict, employers are denied
laborers. Customers are denied greater shopping choices at businesses
owned by immigrants. Perhaps most important, technology consumers are
denied the inventions of immigrants. Five of the eight American winners
of Nobel Prizes in the sciences have been immigrants. How would it have
helped America to have denied them entry?
Everyone agrees that criminals and terrorists need to be kept
out. Let's focus our border resources on weeding out criminals instead
of turning away laborers. Our immigration authorities should not waste
time monitoring the pay scales of computer programmers or rounding up
construction or agricultural workers. Such exercises make us less safe,
weaken our economy, and waste everyone's time.
Immigrants come and will continue to come because of economic
opportunity. Yet typically it takes 15 to 20 years for a low-skilled
laborer to get a green card - if he's lucky. Highly skilled workers and
H-1B visa applicants fare hardly better. Anyone ambitious enough to
seek a better life in a new country isn't going to wait for a
Without a legal path to entry, many will continue to break the
law and the economy will continue to suffer. CIR ASAP offers some
positive reforms, but the politically motivated E-Verify program would
be a disaster.