Krugman and Clinton: Shut the Door

by SHARON SMITH

Economist Paul Krugman is "proud of America’s immigrant history, and grateful that the door was open when my grandparents fled Russia."

Now, however, he argues that the U.S. should close its door on the poor huddled masses, warning, "We need to do something about immigration, and soon," in a New York Times op-ed on March 27-the same day the Senate opened debate on immigration reform.

Krugman cites "serious, nonpartisan research" revealing "some uncomfortable facts about the economics of modern immigration, and immigration from Mexico in particular."

In reality, the foreign-born population today remains under its historic high point of 15 percent a century ago, when Krugman’s grandparents presumably emigrated to the U.S.

But Krugman claims that the current pool of Mexican migrants reduces wages for unskilled native-born workers, citing a recent Harvard study estimating that "high school dropouts would earn as much as 8 percent more if it weren’t for Mexican immigration."

Krugman neatly sidesteps another "uncomfortable fact": the federal minimum wage, unchanged by Congress for eight years, fell to its lowest level in 56 years in 2005-to just 32 percent of the average wage for private sector workers-surely exercising a greater downward pressure on wages than that of Mexican workers.

In addition, he claims, "low-skill immigrants don’t pay enough taxes to cover the cost of the benefits they receive," threatening to "unravel" America’s (suddenly generous) welfare state.

Yet, according to the National Conference of State Legislators in 2005, immigrants pay on average $1,800 in taxes in excess of their "cost" in government services.

Krugman’s argument, furthermore, fails to account for the millions in unpaid taxes, thanks to Bush’s tax cuts, from extremely wealthy, native-born Americans.

His anti-immigrant stance showcases the bankruptcy of the "liberal" flank in the current immigration debate now supposedly "raging" on Capitol Hill.

Senator Hillary Clinton helped raise the level of melodrama last week, accusing Republicans of promoting legislation that would criminalize "even Jesus himself," while Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid threatened to filibuster Republican legislation raising the crime level of undocumented immigration to felony status.

Yet back in 2003, Clinton told WABC, "People have to stop employing illegal immigrants." She also went on record supporting "at least a visa ID, some kind of entry-and-exit ID. And … we might have to move towards an ID system even for citizens."

Politicians of both parties face a similar dilemma: balancing their search for votes among Red State conservatives with the growing Latino vote, 40 percent of which went to Bush in 2004.

Both Democrats and Republicans have already opportunistically agreed to limit the parameters of debate to varying degrees of "enhancing border security" and the desirability of guest worker programs-both assuring certain deportation for Mexican workers.

Linda Chavez-Thompson, AFL-CIO Executive Vice President, recently argued that "all" bills in Congress "fail to protect even the most basic rights of immigrant workers and their families."

Wholesale amnesty is not in the cards on either side. Also missing is the notion that foreign-born workers hold the potential to raise working-class wages through their own struggles for union organization.

Immigrant workers have played a key role in advancing the labor movement historically, from the battle for the eight-hour day that led to the 1886 Haymarket Square massacre to the United Farm Workers, a self-organized movement that finally unionized California’s migrant farm workers in the 1960s.

According to the Pew Hispanic Center, undocumented immigrants make up 24 percent of all workers currently employed in farming occupations, 17 percent in cleaning, 14 percent in construction and 12 percent in food preparation.

Their potential for organizing is far greater today than 100 years ago, when the American Federation of Labor’s president Samuel Gompers routinely described immigrant labor as "garbage".

In 2000, the AFL-CIO finally reversed its long-standing opposition to undocumented immigrants, supporting amnesty and the right to organize into unions.

Now it is time for the labor movement to make good on this promise to the hundreds of thousands of Mexican-American workers who have been demonstrating across the country, demanding legalization, in recent weeks.

SHARON SMITH is the author of Women and Socialism and Subterranean Fire: a History of Working-Class Radicalism in the United States. She can be reached at: sharon@internationalsocialist.org



 

Like What You’ve Read? Support CounterPunch
Weekend Edition
July 31-33, 2015
Roberto J. González – David Price
Remaking the Human Terrain: The US Military’s Continuing Quest to Commandeer Culture
Jeffrey St. Clair
Bernie and the Sandernistas
John Pilger
Julian Assange: the Untold Story of an Epic Struggle for Justice
Lawrence Ware
Bernie Sanders’ Race Problem
Will Parrish
The Politics of California’s Water System
Andrew Levine
The Logic of Illlogic: Narrow Self-Interest Keeps Israel’s “Existential Threats” Alive
ANDRE VLTCHEK
Kos, Bodrum, Desperate Refugees and a Dying Child
Paul Street
“That’s Politics”: the Sandernistas on the Masters’ Schedule
Ellen Brown
The Greek Coup: Liquidity as a Weapon of Coercion
Sam Husseini
How #AllLivesMatter and #BlackLivesMatter Can Devalue Life
Stephen Lendman
Russia Challenges America’s Orwellian NED
Jeffrey Blankfort
Leading Bibi’s Army in the War for Washington
Geoffrey McDonald
Obama’s Overtime Tweak: What is the Fair Price of a Missed Life?
Brian Cloughley
Hypocrisy, Obama-Style
Robert Fantina
Israeli Missteps Take a Toll
Pete Dolack
Speculators Circling Puerto Rico Latest Mode of Colonialism
Paul Buhle
The Leftwing Seventies?
Binoy Kampmark
The TPP Trade Deal: of Sovereignty and Secrecy
David Swanson
Vietnam, Fifty Years After Defeating the US
Ron Jacobs
Black Literature and the FB Eye Blues
Shamus Cooke
Why Obama’s “Safe Zone” in Syria Will Inflame the War Zone
David Rosen
Hillary Clinton: Learn From Your Sisters
Shepherd Bliss
Why I Support Bernie Sanders for President
Howard Lisnoff
The Wrong Argument
Louis Proyect
Manufacturing Denial
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
A Day of Tears: Report from the “sHell No!” Action in Portland
Robert Hunziker
Human-Made Evolution
Colin Todhunter
GMOs: Where Does Science Begin and Lobbying End?
Masturah Alatas
Six Critics in Search of an Author
Mary Lou Singleton
Gender, Patriarchy, and All That Jazz
Charles Larson
Tango Bends Its Gender” Carolina De Robertis’s “The Gods of Tango”
July 30, 2015
Bill Blunden
The NSA’s 9/11 Cover-Up: General Hayden Told a Lie, and It’s a Whopper
Richard Ward
Sandra Bland, Rebel
Jeffrey St. Clair
How One Safari Nut, the CIA and Neoliberal Environmentalists Plotted to Destroy Mozambique
Martha Rosenberg
Tracking the Lion Killers Back to the Old Oval Office
Binoy Kampmark
Dead Again: the Latest Demise of Mullah Omar
Kathy Kelly – Buddy Bell
No Warlords Need Apply: a Call for Credible Peacemaking in Afghanistan
Ramzy Baroud
Darker Horizons Ahead: Rethinking the War on ‘IS’
Stephen Lendman
The Show Trial of Saif Qaddafi: a Manufactured Death Sentence
John Grant
The United States of Absurdity, Circa 2015
Karl Grossman
The Case of John Peter Zenger and the Fight for a Free Press
Cesar Chelala
Cultural Treasures Are Also Victims of War
Jeff Taylor
Iowa Conference on Presidential Politics
July 29, 2015
Mike Whitney
The Politics of Betrayal: Obama Backstabs Kurds to Appease Turkey
Joshua Frank
The Wheels Fell Off the Bernie Sanders Bandwagon