What Are the Candidates Saying About Immigration Reform? Senator John Edwards on Immigration
In December former Senator John Edwards announced his intention to run for the Presidency. Edwards is the former Democratic Senator from North Carolina and perhaps best known for being John Kerry's running mate in the 2004 Presidential election.
At first to my disappointment, the "issues" page on Edwards' website does not even include immigration, possibly signaling its prominence as an issue in his campaign. However, when Edwards does speak about poverty, the minimum wage and middle-class Americans, which he does quite frequently, he will often tie in the issues of immigration and free trade and their effects on wages and job opportunities here. These are important connections often ignored by politicians. Although his website does not say much about immigration reform, Edwards has spoken about this issue and his positions are outlined below.
At a town hall type event in Iowa this month Edwards was asked about his views on immigration. His usual response to questions about immigration is to talk about his support for more enforcement of our Southern border and his support for an earned path to citizenship for the undocumented population living in the U.S.:
"Of course we know there is a problem. We can address the problem at our southern border by assigning more personnel and equipping them with better technology to police the border...As for the people who are living here now who came illegally...the practical thing we can do is to provide a path to citizenship to those who are here illegally but are otherwise law-abiding. First, they will have to come forward and admit that they came here illegally and pay a fine. They will have to learn to speak English. Then they can move through the process for citizenship."
Here you can listen to a podcast of Edwards and his wife Elizabeth talking about the issue of immigration last April (but still very relevant today). In the podcast, Edwards and his wife talk about immigration, job competition with native-born workers and legislative reforms they support. Elizabeth Edwards answers a question about immigration first by addressing the issue of an exploited underclass of immigrant workers and the effect this has on wages for American workers. She states that she does not believe that immigrants do work that Americans won't do, but rather that wages are suppressed because immigrant workers cannot enforce their rights. She argues that if the jobs had the incomes that they should have, more people would want them. Now I don't know if she is running for the Presidency or if she will be in charge of immigration policy, but she seems to understand the connection between immigration and wage suppression pretty well.
When it was her husband's turn to answer the question, he clarified that he did not believe that immigrants themselves suppress wages at all. He said studies have been divided on this issue. This is a connection he has made before too. When speaking in Arizona, Edwards agreed that raising the minimum wage was tied to immigration reform. "These are problems that are certainly connected." He went on to say that there should be better ways for immigrants to become U.S. citizens. Since he is very tied to labor organizations, he is no stranger to the importance of workplace organizing. It seems he is able to connect this issue to why immigrants are exploited and underpaid. "We need to make it easier and be aggressive about organizing workers in the workplace so they can become members of unions." He says we need to understand "the difference between those who are organized and those who aren't" in terms of pay and working conditions and being able to support a middle class standard of living.
When asked about how we should reform our immigration laws, Edwards says we have three options: We can do nothing at all, deport all of the undocumented immigrants here or have "meaningful reform that recognizes that they should pay a fine, learn English, and give them a path to earned citizenship." He says the third choice is the best one for the country. "We want to change the immigration system, so people can get on the path to citizenship."
So what type of legislative reform would he support? On his podcast he says that the McCain-Kennedy bill was a good start. He says that it would have moved the country in the right direction and he said "I supported it." But he does not sound satisfied that this approach would fully fix the problems that we face today. He went on, "[w]e cant sustain what is happening on the border." He said he supported the bill's approach to use more technology and manpower on the Southern border.
Edwards also ties trade policy to immigration when he says we need "trade policy that actually works which means real environmental, human rights and labor standards that we actually enforce." He says this is important to lift the standard of living in other parts of the world so that native-born workers don't have competition they can't compete with.
While some more specifics from Edwards would be appreciated -- especially regarding what type of legislative reforms he would consider ideal -- he does a good job of talking about immigration in the context of trade policy and workplace rights and how immigration does affect American workers in terms of job opportunities, competition and wages.
For the rest of the posts in this series on where the candidates stand on immigration reform, please click here.