By Quinlyn Manfull
When Trump imposes a travel ban that has stopped numerous U.S. citizens, as well as legal visa holders, I have a hard time believing that he is merely trying to fight illegal immigration. When Republicans can say their white immigrant parents haven’t benefitted from white supremacy while arguing that refugees do not deserve a place here, I have a hard time believing it isn’t about race.
When the Republican Party proposed the Reforming American Immigration for Strong Employment (RAISE) Act a few weeks ago, I felt the same way. There are two main paths for immigrants to become legal permanent residents in America: work and family. RAISE restricts the already excruciating process of immigration by family.
Proposed by two Republican senators, Tom Cotton of Arkansas and David Perdue of Georgia, the bill would allow legal permanent residents to sponsor their spouses or children under 18 for residency, but not more distant or adult relatives as green-card holders can now. It would also cap the number of refugees offered residency at 50,000 a year and stamp out the diversity lottery, which distributes 50,000 visas a year to people from countries that have low rates of immigration to America.
Many anti-immigration groups have commended the bill, citing that “low-skill” workers have lost out in jobs because of immigrants being willing to work at lower wages. This notion of immigration harming the job market has dominating mainstream political dialogue for much of the past century.
It was popular in the late ‘20s, early ‘30s after the large wave of immigration which resulted in some of the most restrictive immigration laws in recent history: the Emergency Quota Act of 1921 and the Immigration Act of 1924, which together established a quota system based on national origins. Immigration waves commonly come when the U.S. is in the need for more labor, and immigration is blocked when we have too many laborers.
This is harmful for numerous reasons, the first — and most obvious — being that it is abusive to toy with the lives of those less fortunate just because our job market may be bettered by it. These quotas are often buying into harmful and racist scapegoat tactics used to garner support of the white working class.
But there is also no proof that restricting immigration has ever even helped the job market or the socioeconomic standing of the white working class.
Michael Clemens and Hannah Postel of the Centre for Global Development, and Ethan Lewis of Dartmouth College, have used archived records of American agricultural jobs and wages to test the ever-so-commonly cited analysis of the Republican Party and of anti-immigration groups.
A good example is the Bracero Program, which Kennedy supported, only to block it in 1964. The program allowed for almost half a million Mexican workers to come to the U.S. to work seasonally on farms, and there was no positive economic impact when the program was blocked.
In states where farmers had relied heavily on foreign labour — a group that includes California and Texas — American natives found temporary and insignificant amounts of farm jobs.
Within a few years the long decline in agricultural jobs had resumed. And the trend was almost identical in states where there had been no braceros.
This assessment is increasingly significant as Donald Trump and the Republican voter base continue to complain that immigrants are keeping Americans from good jobs, which the party has promised to fix.
In a time in which it is so easy to scapegoat and to gain support through fear, it is vital that we turn to history. Nothing is unique about this election other than the degree by which everything is happening. Restricting travel and immigration is nothing new, supporting white supremacy over an increase in diversity is nothing new, voting against your own best economic interest is nothing new.
In California, America’s most prevalent farming state, politicians have ensured that workers will receive at least $15 an hour by 2023. The issue of poverty among farm workers is serious, but we have the evidence to show that restricting immigration will likely just harm their ability to improve these conditions. It’s time we started looking at it.