POLITICS: White House

Obama takes his trademark 'the science is settled' approach to immigration reform

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Beltway Confidential,Opinion,White House,Immigration,Barack Obama,Mexico,Austin,Central America,Becket Adams

President Obama is fond of writing off critics of so-called “global climate change” as "flat-earthers” who deny “settled science.”

And it looks like the president is now taking that same dismissive tone with critics of his administration's position on immigration reform.

"We know that if we pass immigration reform, it's not just good for the families, it's good for the economy: We attract the best and the brightest; they invest here, they create jobs,” he said Wednesday night at a Democratic fundraiser in Austin, Texas. “It's estimated that it would cut our deficit and the economy would grow by more than an extra trillion dollars. We know these things."

Of course, there are several things wrong with promising that immigration reform, such as it exists in Congress, is nothing but a boon to the U.S. economy and that anyone who says otherwise is denying things that we supposedly "know." There are a few points that need to be considered:

First, the immigration bill proposed by the so-called “Gang of Eight” in the Senate, which has Obama’s support, boasts that it will attract high-skill workers, but it will obviously attract low-skill laborers as well.

Remember, adult unauthorized immigrants currently in the U.S. are “disproportionately likely to be poorly educated,” according to Pew study released at the outset of Obama's presidency.

“Among unauthorized immigrants ages 25-64, 47 percent have less than a high school education,” the report added. “By contrast, only 8 percent of U.S. born residents ages 25-64 have not graduated from high school.”

And there's no sign that the flow of low-skill laborers to the U.S. will slow down any time soon. In fact, the Senate bill will likely increase these rates, since it provides a path to citizenship to those already in the U.S. illegally.

Yes, the immigration bill supported by Obama, Democrats and some Republicans such as billionaire Sheldon Adelson promises to make it easier for high-skill (i.e. well-educated) immigrants to come to the U.S. and work in high-end industries. But it also will likely continue the explosion of low-skilled labor migrating to the U.S., which could lead to further strain on an already-shaky job market.

Second, should immigration reforms as it exists in Congress pass, it could have a negative effect on wages for at least one segment of U.S.-born workers, according to the Brookings Institution's Hamilton Project.

The following graphic “estimates the impact of the proposed change in immigrant demographics on wages for U.S.-born workers of differing education levels between 2014 and 2023,” the report explains:



As you can see in the above, the Senate-passed immigration bill would depress wages for native-born workers with “less than a high school education.”

However, on average, wages for U.S.-born workers would increase. Further, it’s worth noting that a separate study found that an increase in immigration would lead to a wage increase for this same group.

Lastly, National Review's Reihan Salam argues that although an influx of low-skilled workers would not prove devastating to the wages of low-skilled workers born in the U.S., it could hurt immigrants already in the U.S.

"Though less-skilled immigration does not appear to depress the wages of less-skilled natives, there is strong evidence that it tends to depress the wages of less-skilled immigrants currently residing in the United States,” Salam wrote, offering a useful word of caution.

“The basic reason is that while a new less-skilled immigrant might prove complementary to a less-skilled native — e.g., because the less-skilled native has stronger English language skills than the less-skilled immigrant — a new less-skilled immigrant is more likely to compete with rather than to complement an old less-skilled immigrant,” he added.

Now, all of this is to say that there are yet unknown consequences to Congress’ current proposals for immigration reform. A few studies argue that the Senate's plan could depress wages for certain low-skilled U.S.-born workers, while other studies show that an influx of low-skilled immigrant labor could strain on an already fragile job market.

This isn’t to say that Congress shouldn’t deal with immigration reform. On the contrary, U.S. lawmakers really need to do something about the shameful system currently in place.

What the aforementioned points do reveal, however, is that the president’s “we know these things” approach to immigration reform is both narrow-minded and lacking in nuance.

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