DMI Blog

Elana Levin

DMI releases “Principles for an Immigration Policy to Strengthen and Expand the American Middle Class: 2007 Edition”: Why everyone needs to get smart on immigration & the middle class

immigrationCover.jpgDMI is excited to announce the release of our new and updated report soon after the Senate held its first hearings on immigration reform and just as Congress and advocates on all sides gear up for what has become a very divisive and not always educational debate. As elected officials, candidates for office and advocates are debating exactly how to best reform our immigration laws, we offer our report as a tool to encourage immigration reform that is progressive and has a positive impact on America's squeezed middle class. I know there are some who use xenophobia as a faux-populist economic policy but the truth is that there are many American workers who have legitimate concerns about the impact of immigration on their livelihoods. That is what our report addresses and is highlighted in DMI's immigration & the middle class talking points.

The status quo on immigration is unacceptable. The middle class depends on the economic contributions of immigrants - including undocumented immigrants - yet the exploitation of undocumented workers threatens to drive down wages and erode working conditions for the current and aspiring middle class. The DMI report looks at how smart immigration reform could actually improve the economic situation of all workers in the U.S. if it focused on strengthening the workplace rights of immigrants:

"As long as a cheaper and more compliant pool of immigrant labor is available to employers who are willing to wield the threat of deportation against their workers, those same employers will be less willing to hire U.S.-born workers if they demand better wages and working conditions. Eliminating the second-class labor market in this two-tiered system, allowing foreign and U.S.-born workers to compete on an even playing field with equal workplace rights and making sure that employers cannot use deportation as a coercive tool in the labor market would strengthen the existing middle class. It would also give a leg up to both immigrants and U.S.-born workers trying to join the middle class."

Our report also includes a new section devoted entirely to guest worker programs and how they threaten the livelihood of American workers by sustaining an underclass of exploitable workers.

"Guest worker programs institutionalize a permanent two-tiered labor market, formalizing some of the workplace exploitation that already exists informally. They also ensure that a continued stream of vulnerable workers will always be available, threatening to undermine middle-class wages and working conditions much as undocumented workers do now. The more jobs that can be transformed into "temporary worker jobs," the fewer domestic jobs will provide the wages and benefits capable of providing a middle-class standard of living."

As President Bush urges Congress to pass reform that includes a guest worker program, progressives need to learn more about them. You can see some of the real-life negative effects guest worker programs have on immigrants themselves in Wednesday's New York Times article "Low Pay and Broken Promises Greet Guest Workers".

The exploitation and workplace abuses faced by guest workers like those in the Times' article can have a negative impact on American workers too. Guest workers and undocumented workers are vulnerable to exploitation because their ability to stay in this country is dependent on their employers. A guest worker program formalizes a two-tier labor market. Immigration will cease to threaten American workers when everyone participating in the workforce can exercise their rights without fear of being deported or fired. When immigrants are vulnerable and exploitable by employers it creates a perverse incentive for employers to only hire undocumented workers and the quality of entire sectors of jobs can be reduced.

Immigrants already have a positive impact on America in a variety of ways. They are entrepreneurs, consumers and yes, taxpayers. Our report contains a syntheis of extensive research and data on how immigrants contribute to our economy in a way that is invaluable for native-born workers. One of the places that this is the most obvious is within our Social Security system:

"...the overall solvency of the Social Security system has become one of the nation's most controversial political issues. The problem is that as the large baby-boom generation ages, there will be fewer working people paying into the system for each retiree drawing benefits. As a result, the Social Security Board of Trustees projects that the system will no longer be able to pay the full promised benefits in 2042. Immigrants help to provide a solution, because those entering the country are younger, on average, than the American population as a whole. The initial generation of immigrants also tends to have more children who will pay into the Social Security system for their entire working lives before withdrawing benefits. In this way, immigration slows the decline in the ratio of workers to retirees, shoring up the system's solvency."

Beyond data and research our report provides legislators, advocates and certainly the netroots with an important tool to analyze specific legislative proposals as they are introduced. Out of our analysis comes a two-part test that can be used to evaluate how legislation will impact middle-class Americans and those struggling to achieve a middle-class standard of living. In the legislative appendices we put our test to work by applying it to actual legislative proposals and we grade each bill by its impact on middle-class Americans.

Now you may not be a policy wonk. This policy paper was still meant for you! That's why we provide an online toolkit containing talking points, a discussion guide to facilitate conversations about immigration and the middle class and Spanish translations of the Executive Summary and the items above. If you are struggling over how to engage your apolitical roommate, your immigrant hating in-laws, your tone-deaf to framing activist friend or your union shop-steward about these issues-- these talking points are for you!

DMI's new immigration website is just a jumping off point for the debate. Join us for ongoing discussion on the DMIBlog - like our series of posts on every Presidential candidate's stance on immigration. Immigration reform policy could be a huge win for Americans AND for immigrants - or it could be a huge failure. The public's participation in that discussion and understanding of the issues will be key to a progressive success.

Elana Levin: Author Bio | Other Posts
Posted at 9:23 AM, Mar 05, 2007 in Drum Major Institute | Economic Opportunity | Economy | Employment | Immigration | Middle-class squeeze | Social Security
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