Obviously, it would be a mistake to reduce the economic decline of the middle class simply to the issue of immigration. But clearly immigration policy plays a role in that story. This immigration bill in particular might be a strategic and policy misstep. Transitioning to a skills-based legal-immigration system, putting in place new structures for enforcement at the workplace, and, under the right conditions, providing some pathway to citizenship for those here illegally could have been part of a modernizing project of Republican reform. S. 744 is not that bill.
We might think of the Gang of Eight’s immigration bill as, in many respects, immigration policy post-1986 but only more so: more illegal immigrants legalized, more promises of enforcement, more distorted competition for jobs, more government intervention into the marketplace, and, very possibly, more illegal immigration and more people in the shadows. Endorsing an immigration bill that undermines wages, perpetuates economic and cultural divisions, and enshrines a new bureaucracy would seem a stumbling block for a GOP seeking to restore itself as the party of economic dynamism, popular prosperity, and limited government. Rallying behind the slogan “American workers . . . can’t cut it” isn’t exactly promising as an electoral or a governing strategy.
The United States has more to gain in approaching immigration and labor in a way that affirms some of the best of an opportunity-driven America rather than an America of, by, and for the special interests and the self-righteous elite. Instead of disparaging American workers, Republicans might instead argue that no American is too good for any job and that no job is too menial or exhalted for
any American. The United States does not need a serf caste — but a free market of free citizens, each endeavoring to put their talents to the best use. We can have an economy that works for all people, from the maid to the teacher to the CEO. This narrative of optimism and opportunity would argue that a rising tide can lift all boats in the American economy. Prosperity and dignity for all can help sustain our national tradition of limited and local government.
Unfortunately, it seems as though the present Senate bill muddles rather than reinforces that message of the dignity of labor, equality of opportunity, and common access to prosperity.
— Fred Bauer is a writer from New England. He blogs at A Certain Enthusiasm, and his work has been featured in numerous publications.