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Illegal Immigration and Environmentalism: The Rule of Law


The business lobbies that have been so successful in keeping our immigration laws from being enforced operate out of the same motives when they lobby against environmental laws: profit. And if they can get away with it and secure amnesty for illegal aliens, then we have to be very concerned that the process can be repeated versus any law, including the environmental laws. For that reason, all environmentalists should be at the forefront of the battle against illegal immigration.

Let’s look at an example. Assume company A is hiring illegal workers. The company can pay them less and provide inferior working conditions. The lower cost of labor allows Company A to sell its products at a cheaper price, and thus garner more business. When the Michael Bianco company was the target of an immigration raid in Massachusetts in March, 2007, Rep. Barney Frank reported that Bianco’s competitors called him and said, “Now I understand how they kept outbidding me,”—lower costs due to an illegal workforce. The problem would not go away if the workers were legalized. A high rate of immigration increases the supply of labor and reduces the wages for all workers. If we had suddenly legalized the workers at Michael Bianco they would still have worked for less because they would still need the job. Plenty of other people needed the work even at the height of our recent economic boom, and even more people need the work today due to our 9% unemployment rate. Even though the raid occurred during 2007, when there was a very low unemployment rate, Michael Bianco was back in operation within days of the raid with a fully legal workforce no doubt recruited under the watchful eyes of ICE. 1

The environmental laws can work similarly for businesses. One way environmental laws add to the cost of doing business is by forcing companies to clean up after themselves. A company can gain a cost advantage over other companies by shirking the environmental laws while its competitors spend time and money following the laws. For example, if company A just dumps its toxic waste in a remote pond, that company will have a cost advantage over companies B,C, and D who pay good money to have their wastes disposed of in an appropriate disposal facility. Company A can then bid lower on job proposals, win the contracts, and grow in size.

By no means do all businesses use cheap labor to increase their profits at the expense of their workers and the United States. Over 100,000 United States businesses use E-Verify, currently a voluntary program. But when they compete against businesses that use illegal cheap labor, they can be at a disadvantage -- at least in the short run. That is one reason why E-Verify should be mandatory – there will be a level playing field.

It is the same principle regarding environmental laws: as long as there is a level playing field, businesses should agree to be bound by the laws. Cheaters should be detected and punished by a government that faithfully enforces its laws.

The most powerful interest group working against the immigration laws has always been the cheap labor lobby. The cheap labor lobby is businesses that want massive immigration of both the legal and illegal sort because it provides them with a large pool of low-wage, compliant workers. Some of the primary industries are currently, construction, demolition, meatpacking, poultry processing, landscaping, janitorial services, hotels, and food preparation. Some of the primary lobbyists are the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Essential Workers Immigration Coalition, and ImmigrationWorks.

To glimpse of just how much money is at stake, let’s assume that the large pool of immigrant workers enables cheap labor businesses to lower the wage rate by $1 per hour in the above industries. There are 8 million illegal workers in the United States workforce. So the businesses are saving a collective $8 million per hour. With an 8 hour workday, that is $64 million per day. If the typical worker works 340 days per year, that is $22 billion per year in labor costs saved by these businesses.

With that kind of money involved, it is obvious that the cheap labor businesses will combine into various interest groups and be willing to spend billions of dollars for lobbying, “research studies,” and favorable articles in the news media.

Non-enforcement of the immigration laws is procured by the same forces that work against enforcement of the environmental laws. If environmentalists let the cheap labor lobby and intentional lawbreakers get away with evading the perfectly reasonable and non-racist immigration laws, then the environmental laws, and all other laws, are at risk at the hands of forces in society that stand to gain from non-enforcement of the law. That is one reason why illegal immigration is a rule of law issue.

The United States is in jeopardy of having a situation where the laws that Congress passes are pretty much meaningless because the executive branch can get away with refusing to enforce them. Yet a number of environmental groups, such as the Sierra Club, refused to denounce McCain/Kennedy immigration legislation that would have granted de facto amnesty to 12 million or more illegal aliens. This blog is part of a series that is a call-out to these people. Since NumbersUSA is the most effective grassroots organization fighting amnesty, even Sierra Club environmentalists should be among NumbersUSA’s most active supporters.

CHARLES BREITERMAN is a Lawyer and Research Analyst for NumbersUSA

1 Debby Collins, The Factory and Its Workers, Letter to the Editor of the Boston Globe, March 18, 2007.

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