Lisa Irving Venus's picture

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  by  Lisa Irving Venus

As part of NumberUSA's mission, the Media Standards Project team analyzed and reviewed news throughout the year focusing on media that elevated discussions about how immigration limits and levels should serve our national interest. While the global pandemic and U.S. elections dominated news cycles this year, these events also influenced writers on how to broach immigration topics.

These 10 noteworthy pieces encapsulate the immigration conversations that took place during 2020 that will help inform policy decisions for 2021.

*This entry pairs with a counterpart blog of my colleagues' lists, which you can read here.

Florida's E-Verify Legislation

E-Verify is a program that enables employers to determine whether a new hire is authorized to work in the U.S. legally. There is a challenge to the effectiveness of E-Verify, however, if employers use it only voluntarily. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis pushed for mandatory E-Verify for his state earlier in 2020, facing challenges from businesses and legislators.

In his January column "E-Verify proposal helps Florida workers, deprives big corporations of cheap illegal labor," David Caulkett wrote in the Sun Sentinel of the popularity of mandatory E-Verify among voters as well as the opposition posed by businesses:

According to recent polling, Florida voters side with the governor by a 3:1 margin — and for good reason. Mandatory E-Verify would deprive big corporations of cheap illegal labor. Those companies would then be forced to raise wages and offer more generous benefits to Floridians, including legal immigrants.

Florida legislators ultimately settled for a watered-down version of E-Verify, with Governor DeSantis signing the legislation during the summer.

How Many Workers Does the U.S. Need?

There were a couple of notable 2020 articles in which authors examined how increased immigration impacts labor supply in ways to diminish job opportunities and wages for workers in the United States.

Lex Rieffel wrote in the February the Globalist column "US: Don't obsess about population size":

In the past industrial era, a larger population was necessary to build a world-class economy. Now, with the accelerating introduction of robots and artificial intelligence and the internet-of-things, it may be difficult to provide decent jobs for all the young men and women entering the labor force in the coming decades.

This is not an argument for completely closing the immigration door. Rather, it's an appeal for the United States to embrace a smart immigration policy—emerging from a sense of the country's optimum population size.

In the September American Compass column "Labor For The Future," Micah Meadowcroft wrote:

To build the future of our imaginings, labor must become more expensive. 'Labor shortage' is just libertarian for 'more than titans of industry want to spend'...To make American labor more expensive, we must restrict the supply of labor. If we want to live in space-age America, we need...enforced immigration laws...

Trump's Immigration Policies

The policies of the Trump administration were at the forefront for journalists covering immigration in 2020.

Zolan Kanno-Youngs of The New York Times explored in the February story "As Trump Barricades the Border, Legal Immigration is Starting to Plunge" how Trump's immigration stances affected the flow of immigrants to the United States:

President Trump's immigration policies — from travel bans and visa restrictions to refugee caps and asylum changes — have begun to deliver on a longstanding goal: Legal immigration has fallen more than 11 percent and a steeper drop is looming.

While Mr. Trump highlights the construction of a border wall to stress his war on illegal immigration, it is through policy changes, not physical barriers, that his administration has been able to diminish the flow of migrants into the United States.

Highlights on Work Visas

In particular, the Trump administration's halting of most foreign worker visas in 2020 to help address challenges the American workforce faces during the pandemic spurred further examinations into the abuses of these visas. Two writers poignantly noted how employers use work visas to their benefit by depressing wages and exploiting migrant labor.

Timothy Noah contended in the June The New Republic column "How to Fix America's Broken Guest-Worker System":

There's an understandably strong temptation to condemn President Donald Trump for suspending guest-worker visas through the end of 2020...But the truth is that even those of us who take an expansive view of immigration's benefits to society and the economy get a little queasy when the subject turns to guest-worker programs. As the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute noted in a 2018 report, such programs tend to leave migrant workers 'vulnerable to exploitation and abuse' and employers altogether too 'reliant on temporary, low-wage migrant labor'.

Focusing on the numbers of H-2B visas consistently and increasingly given out in the landscaping and construction industries, Dennis Martire, vice president and regional manager of the Mid-Atlantic Region of the Laborers' International Union, wrote in the June The Hill column "Time to eliminate or reform the H-2B visa program":

The White House this week paused issuing additional H-2B visas for temporary foreign workers in a move worth praising. But it's time to go further: eliminate the program altogether in the landscaping and construction industries and reform the H-2B visa program overall.

It's time to address the failures of the program, which grants temporary visas to foreign workers, ranging from the flagrant violations of visa law by employers, to the abusive conditions it creates for these workers and to the denial of good-paying jobs for Americans in need of work...

If employers provide better pay, better working conditions and use better recruiting, they will not need H-2B visas. Working people and our country will be better off for it.

Democrats and Immigration

In the January op-ed "I'm a Liberal Who Thinks Immigration Must be Restricted" in The New York Times, Jerry Kammer explains how support for immigration restrictions is not inherently or fundamentally a partisan issue:

... conservatives who seek loose labor markets so employers can keep wages down — align themselves with liberal activists...to pursue policies that serve their groups.

...I call myself a liberal restrictionist.I have long considered myself a moderate liberal, in part because Democrats have always been the allies of working people. For many decades, liberals were outspoken in their alarm about illegal immigration.

Earlier this month, Oren Cass penned the American Compass column "Worker Power, Loose Borders: Pick One," where he challenged Democrats on their pretense of supporting American workers while advocating for more immigration:

...[T]he evidence piles up that immigration places downward pressure on wages of comparable workers, as one would expect. And shorn of its political connotations, the question isn't even a particularly controversial one...

What you cannot do, though the Democratic Party and a large number of academic economists seem determined to try, is pound the table for worker power while also saying the more unskilled workers willing to accept low wages the merrier. The political forces leading them to attempt that straddle are understandable. The economic reasoning is not.

....But as a policy agenda for worker-led growth comes further into focus, and finds champions on the right-of-center, the tradeoff between liberal immigration policies and tight labor markets will only become more obvious, and the choice a litmus test for commitment to American workers and their families.

The Future of Immigration Policy

Matthew Continetti wrote of the lack of immigration coverage in the 2020 Presidential debates in the October The Washington Free Beacon column "Whatever Happened to Immigration?" while also noting how its absence as an issue will not go ignored for long:

Why the omission? It is tempting to say that immigration did not come up because the elites who manage the presidential debates are uncomfortable with the topic, are worried that the issue favors Republican border hawks, and are more interested in subjects relevant to their cultural coterie. But it is also true that presidential debates tend to focus on current events and pressing challenges, and that immigration just does not seem as great a concern today as the coronavirus, the economy, race relations and civil unrest, and California brushfires.

If the Trump campaign fails to raise the question of immigration, the Democratic establishment that stands to gain from the public's judgment of the president's coronavirus response will happily ignore it. But they will not be able to avoid immigration forever. Or the furies it unleashes.

In the November The Hill column "The migration surge is coming," Joseph Chamie writes about how an impending influx of immigrants will necessitate bringing immigration issues to the political and policy forefront in 2021:

The clear signs of the coming migration surge are likely to be observed in the U.S. With the incoming government's proposed changes to immigration policies, especially with respect to asylum seekers, undocumented migrants, migrating families and unaccompanied minors, a big migration inflow along the U.S southern border should not come as a surprise.

The coming surge of migrants can be expected to overwhelm immigration systems, including border control, security vetting, the courts, legal representation, medical clearance, shelter and quarantine facilities and operating costs. Particularly challenging for the authorities is deciding on how best to deal with migrating family units, unaccompanied minors and asylum seekers.

So, make no mistake about it; the migration surge is coming. And with it comes the divisive and contentious issue of how governments will choose to address it.

  1. E-Verify proposal helps Florida workers, deprives big corporations of cheap illegal labor, David Caulkett, Sun Sentinel, January 29
  2. U.S.: Don't obsess about population size, Lex Rieffel, Globalist, February 11
  3. Labor For The Future, Mitch Meadowcroft, American Compass, September 14
  4. As Trump Barricades the Border, Legal Immigration is Starting to Plunge, Zolan Kanno-Youngs, The New York Times, February 24
  5. How to Fix America's Broken Guest-Worker System, Timothy Noah, The New Republic, June 24
  6. Time to eliminate or reform the H-2B visa program, Dennis Martire, The Hill, June 27
  7. I'm a Liberal Who Thinks Immigration Must be Restricted, Jerry Kammer, The New York Times, January 16
  8. Worker Power, Loose Borders: Pick One, Oren Cass, American Compass, December 16
  9. Whatever Happened to Immigration?, Matthew Continetti, The Washington Free Beacon, October 9
  10. The migration surge is coming, Joseph Chamie, The Hill, November 19

LISA IRVING VENUS is the Volunteer Standards Program for NumbersUSA

Updated: Wed, Jan 13th 2021 @ 9:10am EST

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