This week, John Oliver, the comedian host of "Last Week with John Oliver" did a segment on immigration in which he pined for a "fence of facts" to protect Americans from "undocumented opinions."
Oliver's first example of an undocumented opinion was a short clip from Senator Jeff Sessions decrying the Senate immigration bill for increasing immigration and taking jobs from Americans. "It's not true," Oliver said. And he flashed a blurb from a 2011 American Enterprise Institute study that read "...no evidence that foreign-born workers, taken in the aggregate, hurt US employment."
Oliver didn't say the word "aggregate" himself but the study did and it's important because immigration complements and creates competition for different groups of people, even if (as the AEI study put it) "the data reveal a slight negative, but statistically insignificant" impact on the whole.
Madeline Zavodny, the author of the study, wrote in her book Beside the Golden Door: "Current immigrant flows are disproportionately low-skilled and unauthorized, which leads to adverse effects on the earnings of competing native workers."
The wage impact is significant. The economist George Borjas estimates that workers in competition with immigrants lose $402 billion per year. On the other hand, Americans who employ immigrants increase their profits or incomes by $437 billion per year. Some people win, some people lose.
To be fair, Oliver specifically cited employment, not wages. In doing so, he came close to the undocumented opinion that immigrants do "jobs American's won't do." Almost all immigrants work in occupations in which U.S.-born workers make up the majority of the workforce. And 18 million Americans, many of them less-educated, are looking for full-time work but can't find the jobs.
A few years ago, former Labor Secretary Robert Reich criticized President Bush's immigration proposal much the same way Senator Sessions criticized the Gang of Eight's bill:
Regardless of how you come out on legalizing undocumented workers, this plan will surely mean fewer jobs for some Americans. The White house says the program will be limited only to jobs for which no American is available, but that's nonsense....The only reason any job remains unfilled is because the wage is too low. Require it to be filled with an American and employers have to raise the wage. But if they can get legal guest workers, they won't.
I like the idea of a "fence of facts." I just think Oliver's is missing a few links.
In the same segment, Oliver made fun of Cantor-slaying Dave Brat for using the straw-man argument that we can't "import 7 billion people on the planet into the United States."
"Yeah," Oliver quipped, "Except nobody is suggesting we import 7 billion people."
That's absolutely true. It is also true that many in the White House in Congress are suggesting that we import (and legalize) 33 million people to become permanent job seekers over the next decade. Those are the real numbers politicians should be talking about.
JEREMY BECK is the Director of the Media Standards Project for NumbersUSA
Updated: Fri, Jul 4th 2014 @ 7:45am EDT