A Compassionate Case Against the Immigration Bill

June 20, 2013

Pete Spiliakos

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has issued a news release in support of the Gang of Eight’s immigration proposal. The problem is that the Gang of Eight proposal fails by the standards enunciated by the bishops and for other reasons too. At a press conference, Archbishop Gomez said:

Each day in our parishes, social service programs, hospitals, and schools we witness the human consequences of a broken immigration system. Families are separated, migrant workers are exploited, and our fellow human beings die in the desert. Without positive change to our immigration laws, we cannot help our brothers and sisters.

The Gang of Eight bill does not solve the problem of mass illegal immigration, but instead extends the problem. The CBO estimated that, even with the amnesty in the Gang of Eight bill, there would still be upwards of seven million illegal immigrants and their children in the U.S. ten years from now. We would still have a broken immigration system, a mass of mixed status families, and a large number of workers without legal status outside the protections of the formal economy.

We should not be surprised. This is what happens when Congress awards amnesty while leaving border and internal enforcement to bureaucratic discretion. The Gang of Eight amnesty will replicate (and seems designed to replicate) the problems caused by the flawed 1986 amnesty—the amnesty that brought about the situation that the bishops now decry.

Bishop Wester opposed making “the legalization program contingent upon border metrics that are practically impossible to achieve.” The alleged metrics in the Gang of Eight deal are indeed frauds, but that doesn’t mean that significant steps toward border and internal enforcement cannot be made prior to granting legal status. The border fence could be completed. E-Verify could be mandated for both current and new employees rather than having verification be voluntary for the foreseeable future. These are security measures that could be implemented in the near-term. Political figures that would scuttle amnesty in order to prevent improved border and internal enforcement are telling us something about their priorities. They value continued illegal immigration more than they value amnesty for the current population that is in the U.S. illegally.

How, then, to think about immigration? Archbishop Gomez has asked precisely the right question: “Do we want a country with a permanent underclass, without the same rights as the majority?”

The answer, of course, is no, and that is why we should oppose the current bill. The Gang of Eight bill would create a laboring class—some tied to particular jobs—that would be ineligible for U.S. citizenship. And from the CBO’s estimate and from experience, we know what will happen when Congress passes an amnesty without serious border and internal enforcement—we will get yet another wave of illegal immigrants who will lack the protections of labor law. So by both omission (lack of enforcement) and commission (the guest worker program), the Gang of Eight bill would ensure that the U.S. had a substantial permanent underclass that lacked the rights of the majority and was blocked from full membership in the American polity.

The priorities enunciated by the bishops are not the only ones that matter. The CBO estimates that the Gang of Eight bill would substantially increase the flow of low-skill immigration. This would tend to somewhat lower the wages of the least-skilled American citizens and current residents. The lowest-skill sector of the U.S. labor force has seen wage declines for the past thirty years. This decline in wages has coincided with declining labor force participation and collapsing marriage rates among this population. It is quite likely that the enforcement portion of a policy that combined amnesty with border and internal enforcement would be an economic benefit to the recipients of amnesty (among others).

But even according to the priorities enunciated by the bishops, the Gang of Eight plan is something between a failure and a disaster. The key to integrating the current population of illegal immigrants and preventing the perpetuation of a permanent underclass is to combine internal and border enforcement with a limited amnesty and transitioning to a Canadian-style system that favors high-skill immigration and language proficiency. Support for the Gang of Eight plan, in practice, aides those would seek to profit both economically and politically from a permanent legal underclass and stagnant wages among the least-skilled in the workforce.

If you share the Catholic bishops’ opposition to a permanent underclass, oppose the Gang Of Eight plan.

Pete Spiliakos writes for Postmodern Conservative. His previous “On the Square” columns can be found here.

6.20.2013 | 9:48am
Rick says:
Could someone direct me to the section of the constitution in which we authorized the central government to regulate immigration?
6.20.2013 | 10:20am
Bruce says:
I am a citizen and I vehemently object to e-verify. I have an inalienable human right to work which supersedes any government law and should not even be subject to a government mandated check. E-verify and border security create a police state. The problem with our existing immigration is that the limits on legal immigration are miserly and inflexible.

What about: I was a stranger and you welcomed me
6.20.2013 | 10:45am
Thomas Murray says:
“Do we want a country with a permanent underclass, without the same rights as the majority?”

Unlike the present political class and so-called Latino leaders, this was something that Cesar Chavex understood back in the 1960’s. As long as there is a ready supply of illegal aliens available to compete for jobs in the US by undercutting wages of workers already here, there will be no real advancement for either group. That is why he started, along with his brother, a group to patrol the border and report border crossers to the Border Patrol/INS or in some cases physilly turn them back. Unlike the later Minutemen, they were not as polite when they did turn people back themselves.

Leaving aside the fact that the porous border allows entry to those who are not coming here looking for work, true social justice will not happen until the border is secure, and those folks who are already here can be brought into our society in a orderly way. This must include the deportation of those illegal aliens who have been convicted of criminal activity, or are gang members. Unfortunately, the number of these people is not insignificant.
6.20.2013 | 10:45am
Norm says:
Aren’t these pro-amnesty Republicans also handing the Democrats a political bludgeon for the next few decades? Mass legalization is sure to boost statistical measures of “income inequality”.
6.20.2013 | 11:01am
Thomas Murray says:

As with much of our modern government, the Constitution does not directly address immigration. With respect to the border, many have argued that Article 4, Section 4 – Republican Government – applies:

The United States shall guarantee to every state in this Union a republican form of government, and shall protect each of them against invasion; and on application of the legislature, or of the executive (when the legislature cannot be convened) against domestic violence.

Calling the movement of millions of people across our borders an invasion does not seem like too much of a stretch. The preamble and Article 1, Section 1 address the provision for the common defense of the country. Additionally, that section also states that Congress shall have the power to “establish an uniform rule of naturalization” which would deal with those laws addressing those people who were citizens of other countries who wish to become US citizens.
6.20.2013 | 11:44am
Rick says:
That kind of reasoning is exactly why American is undone. There are not millions of people on our borders attempting to invade and do us harm. There are poor people seeking a better life in a country that used to value hard work. They come here looking for jobs in order to improve their lives and the lives of their families. Calling them an invading army does violence to them, to plain English and the constitution (what’s left of it) itself. The 10th amendment governs here. It is outside the purview of the central government to be involved. America is in terminal decline because the right wants to twist and subvert the constitution so that it can pretend that its agenda is legitimate. And the left wants to twist and subvert the constitution so that it can pretend that its agenda is legitimate. The rule of law is dead. The law of the jungle reigns supreme. The strong do what they will. The weak suffer what they must. We have descended into nothing more that a squabble for power to loot the other.
6.20.2013 | 12:19pm
Thomas Murray says:

In attempting to answer you question, I mentioned those parts of the Constitution that people reference on this matter. I didn’t say that there were millions on the border attempting to invade, the millions are already here. Nor did I call them an army. If you were to read my first post above, you would get a better idea of what I think. Not everyone crossing the border is just a poor person looking for a job. Poor people looking for jobs here does create some harm, both to previous immigrants and to those born here. There are industries in this country in which people have been displaced by illegal aliens (such as meat packing in the plains states) willing to work for substantially less. Those people and their families have been harmed. Even at the lowest end of the job market, I have seen folks who previously did odd jobs now squeezed out of that market by illegal aliens. Just because they are willing to work for less, does that give them more of a right to a job that the Americans who were previously doing it? George Bush’s statements concerning “jobs that Americans won’t do” flies in the face of Americans losing jobs they once did.

Regarding the 10th Amendment, do you intend for each state to come up with its own immigration laws? Wouldn’t that go against the stated role of the Congress to “establish an uniform rule of naturalization”?
6.20.2013 | 4:32pm
Rick says:
Invasion implies army, don’t you think? I read your post, and I’ve heard the argument before. It is still an attack on the constitution. It is still an attack on liberty. It is still and attack on the free market. Don’t you think? Of course, you obviously aren’t a fan of the free market anyway.

Regarding the 10th amendment, I absolutely intend that the states come up with their own immigration laws, if and only if, the citizens of those states have granted that authority to them in their individual state constitutions. To advocate the central government usurping is to attack constitutional government. Not that we have it anyway. It is national suicide. Which, of course, we have already committed. But I wouldn’t stick another knife in the back of America while she is dying. And, no naturalization and immigration are two entirely different things.
6.20.2013 | 5:36pm
Thomas Murray says:

If I meant army I would have stated it. However, if invasion implies army, naturalization certainly implies immigration, without which there would be no need for naturalization.

I don’t know where you get the idea that I am against the free market. The continual exploitation of an unlimited supply of ‘undocumented workers’ that only serve to depress wages and displace American and legal immigrant workers, and flouts the law is not a free market, it is a black market. The squalid conditions in which some of these people live (having seen it first hand) reminds me of what I have seen in the third world. If that is the free market you desire, you are welcome to it. As stated in my first post, even Cesar Chavez recognized the evil of unfettered illegal immigration.

At the end of the day, I suppose we will agree to disagree. Thankfully we are still free to do so.
6.20.2013 | 10:34pm
ahem says:
This bill is the death of the two-party system.
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I am a retired Roman Catholic Bishop, Bishop Emeritus of Corpus Christi, Texas