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Something that struck me in the SOTU speech was the contrast between the president’s goal of importing more cheap foreign labor and his call in the speech for a “Prisoner Re-Entry Initiative,” which no one seems to have remarked on. With so many people in jail, especially young black men, helping ex-convicts build constructive lives is an extremely important goal, and the president is to be commended for having highlighted it. But what did he propose? Another government program to spend $75 million a year for four years to expand job training, mentoring, blah, blah, blah. How about putting $75 million a year extra into immigration enforcement at worksites, so as to tighten the low-wage labor market? This way, the free market would respond and make these ex-cons a lot more appealing, prompting business to do what the president is suggesting bureaucrats and do-gooders try to do. The Wall Street Journal did a story on this in April 2000, when the tight labor market (which would have been tighter sooner for longer without immigration, but was tight nonetheless) created new opportunities for former prisoners. As one consultant who recruits ex-cons for employers said, “This economy has given offenders a chance to show they are not all Jeffrey Dahmer.” On the other hand, if we flood the low-skill labor market with even more “temporary” foreign workers, another quote from the article will be more apt: “The biggest problem is ex-offenders don’t make a living wage. So they go out and rob again.”


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