Mayor Dave Bing of Detroit was asked what he thought of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's suggestion that new flows of immigration to Detroit would revitalize the city. Bing said of Bloomberg:
I don't know what he [Bloomberg] was on. We can't provide jobs for the people here. My job is to take care of the people who are here and give them the opportunities they should have for jobs and living situations. But to think that we're going to get a boatload of people who aren't going to find a job doesn't make a lot of sense.
President Obama's call for legalization and increases in legal immigration deserves a similar response from Congress. The country - like Detroit - is struggling because there aren't enough jobs -- not because there aren't enough workers. Congress' job is to create an immigration policy that serves the national interest - that is, for "the people who are here," as Mayor Bing said. But the immigration policy President Obama prescribed in El Paso last week would have very little positive impact on the citizens and legal immigrants who are struggling in the U.S. today.
Increased immigration does not put Americans back to work
In his El Paso speech, President Obama claimed that "[i]n a global marketplace, we need all the talent we can get – not just to benefit those individuals, but because their contributions will benefit all Americans." Recent history tells us that Obama has only half his story correct. Today's immigration system primarily benefits new immigrants, often at a price for the citizens and legal immigrants who are already here.
According to his latest Census analysis, Dr. Steven Camarota of the Center for Immigration Studies' found that from 2000-2010, all of the net employment gains went to immigrant workers (legal and illegal). That is, there were fewer American-born workers employed in 2010 than in 2000, despite an increase of 13.5 million American-born workers during that time. If you measure the benefits of immigration by net employment, all of the benefits went to new immigrants.
In his Congressional testimony, Dr. Camarota drew the same conclusion as Mayor Bing:
Given the abysmal labor market for American workers generally and less-educated workers in particular, it is very difficult to argue that there is shortage of workers in this country. Tolerating the presence of illegal immigrants and allowing legal immigration to run at or near record levels is difficult to justify if one is concerned about the employment of native-born Americans and legal immigrants already here.
In this era of sustained high unemployment, the last thing citizens and legal immigrant workers need is the federal government flooding the U.S. labor market with, as President Obama put it, "all the talent we can get." Loose labor markets mean higher unemployment and lower wages. That's supply and demand. Most of the media coverage focused on President Obama's plans to legalize 8 million illegal workers, but his simultaneous call for an increase in foreign-born workers is the more frightening story. To put the president's plan in perspective, consider that the U.S. government granted over 900,000 new permanent work permits to working-age immigrants (source: Department of Homeland Security, Office of Immigration Statistics - see table 6) while the economy was losing 4.7 million jobs in 2009, during the height of the recession. Yet the president insists that the problem is lack of workers.
Immigration does not equal innovation
Bloomberg and Obama perpetuate the myth that America must import innovation and job creation. "Look at Intel and Google and Yahoo and eBay," Obama told the El Paso crowd. "Every one was founded by an immigrant." Actually, Intel was founded in 1968 by American born and raised Gordon E. Moore and Robert Noyce. In fact, the native and foreign-born have similar rates of entrepreneurship. For instance, among the founders of Intel, Hewlett-Packard, Google, and Microsoft, one in 8 is an immigrant, the same nationwide ratio of immigrants to native-born currently residing in the United States. Dr. Camarota's census analysis found that 11.3 percent of immigrants and 12.6 percent of natives are self-employed. The two groups also have virtually identical average incomes, showing that immigrant entrepreneurs do not create more wealth or jobs than American-born entrepreneurs. Adding a thousand immigrants to Detroit won't create any more jobs than if the city added the same number of Americans who currently live outside of Michigan.
A responsibility to those who are here
Since Americans are at least as entrepreneurial as immigrants, we could choose a sustainable immigration policy, tighten the labor market, and invest in the untapped human capital already here. But the Obama/Bloomberg approach is built on the unspoken assumption that the jobless Americans - disproportionately Blacks and Hispanics - have less to offer their country than foreign nationals do. Forty percent of young Americans between the age of 18-29 do not have a job (including 43 percent of young Black Americans and 50 percent of young Hispanic Americans). Obama and Bloomberg callously ignore the plight and potential of these millions of Americans in their calls for more foreign workers, just as they ignore the thirteen million, five-hundred thousand Jose and Jane Americans who have entered the labor force since 2000 and found that their help was not wanted.
As Bing pointed out, his responsibility -- and Obama's -- is to the citizens and legal immigrant workers who are already here. Detroit has its defender. Who in Congress will play Bing to Obama's Bloomberg?
JEREMY BECK is the Director of the Media Standards Project for NumbersUSA
Updated: Mon, Oct 2nd 2017 @ 4:12pm EDT