This week, the Senate is supposedly voting on the biggest immigration overhaul in decades. That is a polite way of saying that US workers are on the chopping block. The Senate’s “border deal” is a terrible bargain hashed out behind closed doors, one that sells out the American working class in favor of illegal immigrants, the biggest corporations, and Wall Street. To appreciate the harms that would befall workers from this bill, we’d do well to look to one of the heroes of the modern left: Cesar Chavez.
A co-founder of the United Farm Workers, Chavez is remembered today as a fierce champion of immigrants’ rights. His name adorns countless buildings and roadways across the American Southwest. Yet history is complex, and Chavez was, too. Though he is venerated by contemporary progressive activists, Chavez was a fierce opponent of illegal migration. He would have had little time for the open-borders agitation of today’s left liberals. In fact, he even encouraged his colleagues to report illegal aliens to federal authorities.
“Chavez understood that an infinite supply of cheap labor would drive down real wages.”
There was a good reason for this stance: Chavez understood that an infinite supply of cheap labor would drive down real wages. He knew that illegal immigration is just another form of labor arbitrage that undercuts worker power. Allowing unlawfully present agricultural workers to flood the labor market would burst any picket line and cripple any effort to organize for better outcomes. In the end, Chavez was more concerned with getting results than retweets.
America’s big corporations want cheap labor. They don’t want to raise wages or improve working conditions. They’d prefer to maintain the status quo of stagnant wages, unsafe workplaces, increasingly oppressive scheduling practices, and countless other harms. They want employees who will work as cheaply as possible, which means they want massive immigration flows—legal and illegal—to continue.
At the heart of the new border bill is a radical idea: legal provisions that, after a quick intake screening, would grant immediate work authorization to individuals requesting asylum. That might sound nice, until you recall that “asylum” is a primary vector of immigration-system abuse. Thousands upon thousands of illegal migrants claim that they’re entitled to “asylum,” but not even 20 percent of claimants end up proving it in court when facing removal proceedings. But now they will get work permits as soon as we can give them away.
If illegal immigrants could get this immediate work authorization—without fear of removal—we can expect a huge influx of migrants claiming asylum purely to get these benefits. Would they ever be heard from again? Doubtful. And second, the bill would allow employers to slash wages for American workers. Why risk employing an American citizen—who might be a member of a union and might insist on fair treatment—when you can hire illegal aliens newly authorized to work?
Any talk of automatic-shutdown provisions in the bill—that the gates would shut for the day when a few thousand individuals have been processed—is nonsense. Under the bill, the president would retain the power to override any such shutdown, and it is obvious that President Biden would do just that. Why risk alienating both the big corporations craving cheap labor and the progressive groups pushing for open borders? As the chief Democrat negotiator, Sen. Chris Murphy, was kind enough to make clear, “the border never closes.”
There are many other problems with this so-called deal. There are the 50,000 new green cards authorized by the bill, which would merely compound the impact on American workers. The bill would do little to solve the problem of child trafficking across the border—unaccompanied children are explicitly exempted from the supposed “shutdown” authority, a loophole that cartels and predators would no doubt exploit. Plus, the “deal” would dump billions of taxpayer dollars into Ukraine’s stalled war, rather than refocusing on deterring China in the Indo-Pacific. On and on it goes.
But make no mistake: This bill is, above all, a betrayal of American workers. Congress is poised to hand employers the ultimate anti-worker kryptonite: a shadow army of reserve labor, at the service of companies that have plenty of cash for dividends and stock buybacks, but somehow never enough to pay American workers a fair wage. After decades of flatlining pay and deteriorating protections, American labor deserves better. And a backroom deal like this isn’t merely bad policy—it is insulting.
In the end, America’s labor heroes of the past understood a very simple principle: You can have an open border, or you can have workers’ rights. But never both. That is a lesson Congress must take to heart. Every single member of the Senate must dump this bad deal.