Public Comment

The Corporate Immigration Agenda

Harry Brill
Friday September 22, 2017 - 04:20:00 PM

President Trump's decision to terminate the DACA program, which protects almost 800,000 immigrants from being arbitrarily deported, has triggered a massive outcry. These immigrants came here when they were very young. They can attend school and take jobs without fear of being arbitrarily deported. Among Trump's ardent critics has been the business community. The CEO of Microsoft boasted "We will always stand for diversity and economic opportunity for everyone." In fact, hundreds of corporate leaders, including Amazon and Apple, co-signed a letter expressing similar high minded sentiments. "Immigrants often risk their lives for a chance at freedom and opportunity. And our country remains the world's beacon of freedom and opportunity". 

Among the staunches advocates of immigration is Hillary Clinton who in a lecture to executives of Goldman Sachs complained that "Americans who want to limit immigration are fundamentally Un-American". She recommended doubling the annual admission of foreign workers and to also dispense 33 million green cards to foreign nationals within one decade. The green card allows the holder to live permanently in the United States and to work here. 

Many business executives and public officials seem proud of their presumably idealistic perspective. But their expressions of sympathy for foreign workers is just lip service. What they really yearn for is a workforce who they can pay the lowest wages they are able to get away with. Business works hard at attempting to undermine the interests of working people and their families even if it involves being deceptive and cruel. Take for example the federal H-1B program ,which according to federal guidelines, allows businesses to hire foreign workers provided that they cannot find qualified American workers. But the evidence is overwhelming that there is no shortage of educated and trained workers. In fact, American high tech workers are often required to train their replacements, which can take several months before they are laid off.  

Although this is hard evidence that the lack of qualified employees is not the motive for hiring foreign workers, the Department of Labor, whose Wage and Hour Division oversees the H-1B program, looks the other way. The soon to be laid off American employees agree to train their replacement despite the humiliation because they need the money and a recommendation when they apply for other jobs.  

According to testimony in Congress many companies save from 25 percent to 49 percent in wages. Yet lower wages is not the only advantage to hiring aliens. Also, because foreign workers can be easily dismissed, they are at the mercy of their employers. Moreover, they don't have the negotiating power of a U.S. citizen. Since American workers seem to lack the same "advantages" of alien labor, the CEO's are not expressing similar affection and commitment even though many of them have been working for these firms for a long while.  

Despite the propaganda of the corporate community and its allies, among the problems these laid off workers confront is there are not enough good paying jobs to accommodate unemployed workers. Incredibly, a leading California economist, Robert Kleinhenz claims that "The Bay Area and California are now at full employment". But that's preposterous. According to the California state labor officials, who tend to underestimate the extent of unemployment, the Bay Area last month shed 4,700 jobs and California lost 8,200 jobs. Indeed, the job situation is becoming more worrisome for displaced and laid off workers. 

The additional and irresponsible admission of thousands of more foreign workers, then, to compete for the increasingly scarce number of jobs, particularly good paying jobs, is economically devastating to almost all workers. It is accelerating the race to the bottom. In fact, the middle class has already become a working minority. 

How should we, then, respond to the immigration issue? Most of all, we need to ask the right questions. Of course, unjustly and arbitrarily deporting undocumented workers should be abolished. But the most relevant question is about those who aren't here but are being encouraged in one way or another to cross the border by our government and the business community. There are over 11 million unauthorized individuals in the United States. There is no way that such a substantial influx would be possible unless public officials and those who are protecting our borders are looking the other way and even encouraging illegal migration.  

About the undocumented workforce, many are subject to very severe exploitation. Court documents revealed that several months ago at least 140 foreign construction workers on questionable visas worked on the expansion of a Tesla factory for as little as $5 an hour! Also, several major automakers, including Mercedes-Benz, BMW, and Volkswagen illegally employed at very low wages foreign construction workers to build their U.S. factories. The companies were involved in creating false documents to secure illegal visas. Significantly, neither prosecutors nor the federal government have attempted so far to stop this practice and prosecute those who were engaging in what was clearly criminal conduct. 

In the long run, both foreign and American workers suffer economically by being compelled to compete with each other for scarce, unstable, low paying jobs. Moreover, this competition tends to exert downward pressure on wages. As a result, to paraphrase Henry Thoreau, a growing number of working people and their families are "living lives of quiet desperation". Moreover, since about 70 percent of domestic spending depends on consumers, who are mainly working people, the risk of a major economic collapse due to declining income is becoming more likely. 

It is imperative that working people carry on their labor struggles in the country where they reside. And to the extent that it is possible, workers in other nations must help each other by engaging in boycotts, organizing marches and rallies, publicizing their concerns, making financial contributions and doing whatever else that would advance their mutual interests. Rather than encouraging interracial and ethnic animosity, which fierce and desperate job competition promotes, working people must build international solidarity. That's certainly not an easy task. But keep in mind that there is also the precious joy of growing our community and building together.