The complex issue of immigration reform

The chances of comprehensive immigration reform being passed by the US Congress have waxed and more recently waned with splits clearly emerging as various factions within the Republican party have struggled to decide whether it is a good thing or not.

On the one hand are those who see the changing demographics in the US as posing a challenge to the long-term viability of the party. As the size of the Hispanic community grows, it becomes more and more important to any party’s electoral success. The Republican party’s image among that population is appalling right now (Mitt Romney lost them by over 40 points) and the thinking goes that if they are seen as dooming this effort at reform, Republicans can pretty much give up any hope of capturing a sizable chunk of their vote in the future and thus are doomed to losing all but local elections. This group thinks that immigrants generally and the Hispanic community in particular are socially conservative and religious, and that this gives them a chance at making inroads if they tailor their message correctly and are seen as more welcoming.

On the other side are those who think that the Hispanic vote is already lost and that reform that leads to citizenship will only result in the Democratic party gaining yet more guaranteed votes. They think that what the Republican party needs to do is a better job of appealing to white voters and opposing immigration reform is one way to do that. A significant segment of this group is undoubtedly nativist, xenophobic, and even racist and cannot bear the thought that the US may in the future no longer be one in which white people are making the decisions. They fear people of color becoming more numerous and want to resist that trend as much as they can. Especially in the House of Representatives, redistricting has resulted in many conservative Republicans representing predominantly white districts and those members have no fear of a minority backlash by speaking out strongly against immigration reform.

On the other side of the political fence, this issue would seem to be a winner for the Democratic party whatever the outcome. If immigration reform passes, it will do so only with significant Republican support. But Democrats will still be credited as having led the way and cement their reputation as welcoming to minorities and the Republicans will be too compromised in its passage to use it as a political weapon. If the reform effort is defeated because of Republican opposition, that can be used as a weapon against that party in future elections and used to get an even larger share of the minority vote.

But not all on the liberal/Democratic side see the current immigration reform efforts as a good thing. There is some concern about provisions in the bill that would increase the number and ease of obtaining H1B visas that are used to bring in highly qualified, highly educated people from overseas. The argument is made that this would enable companies to bypass qualified Americans (especially in the high-tech, information services sector) in favor of lower-paid foreigners, thus driving down salaries. T. A. Frank says that immigration reform would also spell trouble for low-wage low-unskilled American workers by driving down their wages as well. These lead to fears that the bipartisan pro-oligarchic Congress is using immigration reform to give a gift to their big corporate sponsors by allowing them much easier access to a large pool of lower-wage foreign workers at the expense of American ones.

The major problem is the large wage differentials and employment opportunities that exist across countries. This is a systemic problem caused by the long history of colonialism and imperialism that has resulted in adverse terms of trade for much of the developing world, and this will remain the case as long as they remain exporters of lost cost raw materials and importers of high cost finished products. As long as that differential exists, you are bound to have illegal immigration as people cross borders to seek a better life than the one in their home countries. Ideally, what one should hope for is the emergence of a rough parity across nations in how much people are paid for the work they do so that the pressure to leave home becomes less.

Oddly enough, outsourcing by companies in the developed world likely has helped reduce the wage gap, by raising the wages of the workers in the countries they move to while lowering the wages of the workers in countries they leave, and also transferring some of the technology for producing finished products. We have seen the rise of the so-called ‘Asian tigers’ as major centers for the production and export of manufactured goods and the more recent rise of countries like Brazil and India. As a result we see some reverse migration as many high skilled workers return to those countries from the US, seeing better prospects there.

We are also likely to see major growth in Africa in the coming decades, especially since China is wooing that continent and helping those nations develop their manufacturing base and weaning them away from the historical ties to their colonial masters. The next generation may see the ‘African lions’ overtaking the Asian tigers.

The best way to solve the problem of illegal immigration to the US is if Mexico and other Central American countries develop to the extent that people there see no benefit to coming to the US. And this may well happen fairly soon.


  1. slc1 says

    Due to the recession, it’s already happening as potential immigrants from south of the border are staying home and some who have been in the US illegally have returned home, there being better prospects in Mexico and other Latin American countries at this time.

  2. says

    Immigration law is really something that does not only concern immigrants but also the citizens living in a particular country. The question is, is there really an economic migration?
    This is also a concern in Australia.
    According to, the Department of Immigration and Citizenship or DIAC in Australia projects that 46,325 visas will be approved where partner visas are concerned while single stream employer-sponsored visas number to 47,250.

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