Two years into the jobs recession, some reporters are still operating under the false assumption that immigration policy is determined by U.S. labor market conditions.
According to The New York Times' coverage of a Brookings Institution report, “The flow of immigration has resumed, after….[having] stopped almost completely during the recession….The rise pointed to an increase in demand for immigrant labor in the economy, said Audrey Singer, a demographer and co-author of the report.”
Immigration did NOT come to a virtual standstill during the recession. A careful reader will note that the Brookings Institution measured the foreign-born population, not new arrivals. During the recession, illegal workers took their families back home in numbers virtually equaling arriving legal immigrants. As a result, the foreign-born population leveled off, even as immigration continued on autopilot.
The Center for Immigration Studies recently studied Census data on new arrivals and found that immigration has remained steady throughout the decade, despite two recessions. Furthermore, we know directly from Department of Homeland Security statistics (table 6) that the government issued 903,279 permanent residency permits to working-age immigrants in 2009, despite a loss of 4.7 million jobs.
Meanwhile, the news division from The Arizona Republic states: “The U.S. labor market has needed Mexican workers on and off since the 19th century....The U.S.-Mexican relationship has included multiple periods when Mexican labor was welcomed in the U.S., such as the "bracero" worker program, which was instituted during World War II and which fell out of public favor.” The reporter implies that the existence of such a program necessarily reflects a need for one. But why exactly did the Bracero program fall “out of public favor?”
As it turns out, both Bracero programs (1917-1922; 1942-1964) ended after organized labor and other critics, including Mexican-American advocacy groups as well as union activist Cesar Chavez, effectively argued that there were no labor shortages. The programs, according to critics, undermined the economic well being of citizen workers. A 1952 report from President Truman’s Commission on Migratory Labor confirmed those suspicions (see “Guestworker Programs: Lessons from the Past and Warnings for the Future,” by Vernon M. Briggs Jr.).
Reporters, like many Americans, might take it as an article of faith that immigration policy makers are wise enough to establish immigration systems that reflect the changing conditions of the U.S. labor force. If only it were true…
JEREMY BECK is the Director of Media Standards Project for NumbersUSA