Democrats begin internal debate about illegal immigration
Democrats are rightly realizing the potential power of the illegal immigration issue, an area where Republicans have a major advantage at this time. Dick Lamm, former Governor of Colorado, has (apparently) written the following interesting take on the issue, explaining to Democrats what the problems are with illegal immigration in order to try to lessen Democrat vulnerability. I think Lamm is right to be concerned, and his article is excellent.
After his article, I am including a note which Colorado State Representative Joel Judd (apparently) wrote to Governor Lamm in reponse to the article. Judd is a lawyer who represents part of Denver. His reaction, including his being proud to "represent" illegal immigrants in the Legislature (!!!) makes Lamm's point: the Democrats are going to have serious trouble with this issue.
The Liberal Case Against Illegal Immigration
Dear Fellow Democrat:
A group of Democrats is challenging illegal immigration and we would
like you to understand why we think this should be a Democratic issue.
We welcome your comments.
Richard D. Lamm
LIBERALS BEWARE: THERE IS A HIGH COST TO "CHEAP" LABOR
Richard D. Lamm
There is a liberal case for controlling illegal immigration that is
seldom articulated. As the issue heats up and sides are drawn, both
objectivity and civility seem to be in short supply. Armed citizen
groups travel to the Border as self-appointed border guards, setting
the stage for worrisome and perhaps violent conflict. Defenders of
illegal immigrants call any and all concern about this issue "racist,"
and attempt to take the issue completely off the table. The wise words
directed at another subject by the late John Gardner seem to apply; the
issue is "caught between unloving critics and uncritical lovers."
Dialogue is particularly difficult when addressing issues that deal
with, or are claimed to be motivated by, race. In a strange way, this
is a compliment to America. The struggle for civil rights, even now
not completely resolved, was so overdue, so right for its time, so
glorious in its accomplishment, that it required the vast majority of
Americans to inoculate themselves against all forms of racism.
Unconscious insensitivities that had developed over the 100 years since
the Civil War, had to be changed or at least made into a faux pas. We
all step gingerly around the subject of race, and have even taken
innocent words like "niggardly" out of our vocabulary because they
might accidentally offend. All revolutions have casualties, and by a
large margin the small costs are eclipsed by the large gains in
justice. But you can't solve an issue you don't talk about, and a
problem ignored just grows worse. It is time for an honest discussion
about illegal immigration. Not out of a narrowness of heart to
newcomers, but because illegal immigration is hurting U.S. taxpayers
and the poorest Americans for the benefit of a few. A coalition of
"cheap labor conservatives" and "open border liberals" reinforced by
political correctness has kept this debate off the table too long.
It almost seems naïve to start out the argument that we are a nation of
laws, and that people should come here legally. This is not a mere
formality as some imply, or a tiresome technicality: remember that
there are millions of people patiently waiting to come to America, and
illegal immigrants skip the line. To continue to tolerate this practice
is not only a legal issue; it is morally unfair to those waiting to
come legally. The argument should stop there, but it doesn't, so let's
look at some of the public policy reasons against the institution of
Economic Impact of Illegal Immigration
Illegal immigration is having a heavy economic, social and demographic
impact and it is past time to make a liberal case for controlling
illegal immigration. Economic and social justice is the glue that holds
liberals together. I first got interested in illegal immigration when
a Colorado packing plant fired a group of Hispanic Americans and
replaced them with illegal immigrants. A small group of the fired
workers came to me, as Governor, to complain. There was little I could
do. I called the President of the packing plant who nicely told me to
mind my own business and claimed that all his new workers had Green
cards, which indeed they had, bought in the underground market along
with fake Social Security cards for $25 apiece. Some time later, INS
raided the plant but the workforce evaporated during the raid, to
return (or to be replaced by other illegal immigrants) shortly
thereafter. The plant continued to employ a largely monolingual
Spanish-speaking workforce until it was bought out and closed 10 years
It is easy to see why this underground workforce is attractive to
employers. The owner of this particular packing plant essentially told
me he was not going to pay his (legal) workers $16 a hour, plus
benefits, when he could hire illegals at $10 a hour without benefits.
This type of reasoning will forever lock the bottom quartile of our
American earners into poverty: for how are they ever to obtain a decent
wage? Illegal immigrants are generally good hard working people who
will quietly accept minimum wage (or below), don't get health care or
other benefits, and if they complain they can be easily fired. Even
minimum wage is attractive to workers from countries whose standard of
living is a fraction of ours.
But that is not to say it is "cheap labor". It may be "cheap" to those
who pay the wages, but for the rest of us it is clearly "subsidized"
labor, as we taxpayers pick up the costs of education, health, and
other municipal costs imposed by this workforce. These have become a
substantial and growing cost as the nature of illegal immigration
patterns has changed.
For decades illegal immigrants were single men who would come up from
Mexico or Central America, alone, pick crops or perform other low paid
physical labor and then go home. They were indeed "cheap labor". But
starting slowly in the 1960s, and steadily increasing to this day,
these workers either bring their families or smuggle them into the
country later. They become a permanent or semi-permanent population
living in the shadows but imposing immense municipal costs. Illegal
immigration today isn't "cheap" labor except to the employer. To the
rest of us it is "subsidized" labor; where a few get the benefit and
the rest of us pay. These costs ought to be obvious to all, but the
myth of "cheap labor" and "jobs Americans won't do" persists. But let
us examine it in more detail.
It is hard to get an exact profile of the people who live in the
underground economy, but studies do show the average illegal immigrant
family is larger than the average American family. It costs Colorado
taxpayers over $7,271 a child just to educate a child in our public
schools (closer to $10,000 per child per-year for
non-English-speakers). Realistically no minimum wage workers, or even
low wageworkers pay anywhere near enough taxes to pay for even one
child in school. Even if they were paying all Federal and State taxes,
Colorado's estimated 32.3 thousand illegal alien children in Colorado
school systems (out of an estimated Colorado population of 230,000
illegal immigrants) impose gargantuan costs on our taxpayers. This
figure is actually a significant under-statement because there are an
estimated 30,000-40,000 additional children born to illegal immigrants
while they are in the U.S. (and these children are considered U.S.
citizens), clearly adding to the total impact of illegal immigration.
We have here in Colorado, and increasingly nationwide, single family
houses with three or more families of illegal immigrants earning, at
the most, between $15,000 and $25,000 per family, but with multiple
kids in the school system costing our taxpayers more in education costs
alone that all three families gross in wages. Studies show that
approximately two-thirds of illegal immigrants lack a high school
diploma. The National Academy of Sciences has found that there is a
significant fiscal drain on U.S. taxpayers for each adult immigrant
(legal or illegal) without a high school education. But don't get
caught up in the battle of studies: just use your common sense and
thoughtfully consider whether a low income family with three or four
kids in the school system are paying anything close to what it costs to
educate their kids. These are expensive families to provide with
governmental services. Some employers are getting cheap labor and
externalizing the costs of that labor to the rest of us.
Americans pay in more ways than taxes. Cheap labor drives down wages
as low income Americans are forced to compete against these admittedly
hard working people. Even employers, who don't want to wink at false
documents, are forced to lower wages just to be competitive. It is, in
many ways, a "race to the bottom" fueled by poor people often recruited
from evermore-distant countries by middlemen who profit handsomely. It
isn't only wages, the employers of this abused form of labor often
violate minimum wage requirements, Occupational Safety and Health
Administration standards, and overtime laws. Further, if injured,
illegal workers often have no access to Workmen's Compensation.
The Americans who pay the price are those at the bottom of the economic
ladder who directly compete with this illegal workforce. The very
people that liberals profess to speak for and care about pay the price
in lost and suppressed wages while employers get the benefits of
reduced wages. Professor George Borjas of Harvard, an immigrant
himself, estimates that American workers lose $190 billion annually in
depressed wages caused by the constant flooding of the labor market
The dilemma is compounded by the fact that approximately 40 percent of
illegal workers are paid in cash, off books. Go to any construction
site, almost anywhere in America, and you will find illegal workers who
are paid cash wages with no taxes withheld. Equally important, those
illegal workers whose employers do pay withholding taxes have learned
to claim 12 or more dependents, so their withholding taxes are either
non-existent or minimal. Virtually every city in America has an area
where illegal immigrant workers gather and people come by to get
"cheap" cash wage labor. High costs, low taxes, downward pressure on
wages, this is not cheap labor; this is the most expensive labor a
community could ever imagine.
Supply Side Poverty
Consequently, we have a group of workers who pay no, or reduced
withholding taxes, with above average birthrate (thus above average
impact on schools), impacting our school system, with more, and more
arriving every year. It is Orwellian to call this "cheap labor." It
is "supply side" poverty added to our society so a few employers can
get "cheap labor." It is happening nationwide. Mortimer B. Zuckerman,
Editor in Chief of U.S. News and World Report, speaking of U.S. poverty
"So why haven't overall poverty rates declined further? In a word --
immigration. Many of those who come to the United States are not only
poor but also unskilled. Hispanics account for much of the increase in
poverty -- no surprise, since 25 percent of poor people are Hispanic.
Since 1989, Hispanics represent nearly three quarters of all increase
in overall poverty population. Immigration has also helped keep the
median income for the country basically flat for five straight years,
the longest stretch of income stagnation on record." (10/3/05)
Nationwide people and organizations are starting to object. The
Atlanta Business Chronicle wrote that "Georgia taxpayers spend $231
million a year to educate illegal alien children" while "public schools
(are) facing some of the most significant decreases in state education
funding in decades, communities' tax dollars are being diverted to
accommodate mass illegal immigration." How can the American
educational system improve when it is impacted, year after year, by
this source of "supply side poverty."
Health Care Impact
The health care cost of this illegal workforce is also significant and
also subsidized by U.S. taxpayers. You can go to virtually any
emergency room in Colorado and you will hear Spanish as the predominant
language. "Colorado has one of the highest rates of new mothers who
speak little or no English" (RMN 10/13/05). Over eighty percent of the
births in Denver Health and Hospitals are to monolingual Spanish
speaking women. Increasingly we are seeing elderly grandparents with
health problems present in emergency rooms as extended families
consolidate. No, we don't know for sure that they are illegal, because
it is against Federal law to check, but it is safe to assume that most
are. Denver Health alone estimates that they spend one million
taxpayer dollars just in interpreting for non-English speakers. What
would the total taxpayer cost of interpreting be statewide, and that is
just a fraction of the total health care costs? The cumulative cost of
this "subsidized" labor is impossible to ascertain and difficult to
even estimate, but it is immense and growing as our population of these
workers grows. A few benefit, the rest of us pay.
It is technically illegal for illegal immigrants to claim Medicaid, but
as Health and Human Services Inspector General found, "Forty-seven
states allow self-declaration of U.S. citizenship for Medicaid" and
over half of those do not verify the accuracy of these claims as part
of their post-eligibility quality control activities." The barn doors
are wide open! Families without a word of English boldly declare
themselves U.S. citizens and nobody checks! When states don't use the
tools available to them, it is more the states' fault than those
abusing the system.
Many of my liberal friends like to think of themselves as "citizens of
the world" who dislike borders, and indeed we all realize we live in a
more interdependent, interconnected world. But "to govern is to
choose" and if everyone is my brother and sister than nobody will ever
get covered by Social programs liberals compassionately seek. I have
been fighting all my life for universal health care, but we can't have
"the best health care system in the world" combined with Swiss cheese
borders. Social and redistributive programs require borders. It is
fine to think of yourself as a citizen of the world, but we solve most
problems in a national context and therefore we owe a greater moral
duty to our fellow Americans than we do to non-citizens. Liberals must
defend borders or they will lose all the social programs that they care
about! No social program can survive without geographic limits and
We often hear that 45 million Americans are without health insurance,
but this figure is likely overestimated, because it includes over 10
million illegal immigrants. Most of the estimated 12 to 15 million
people living illegally in America do not have health insurance. More
and more hospitals are going broke because of the constant stream of
uninsured, particularly in our border states. The Census Bureau
estimates that 11.6 million people in immigrant households are without
health insurance. Not all immigrants are illegal; nevertheless, our
experience here in Colorado indicates a substantial majority is not
legally in the country. The problem is much like when the gods
condemned Sisyphus to ceaselessly rolling a rock to the top of a
mountain, and the stone would fall back of its own weight. It is not
unlike when you expand education funding or Medicaid and give extra
state aid to impacted hospitals, but the problems grow faster than the
solution. We use the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP)
to cover uninsured children, but a new flood of immigrant children
without health insurance quickly overcomes our gains. The Center for
Immigration Studies has estimated that for a recent five-year period,
immigrants and their children accounted for 59 percent (2.7 million
people) of the growth of the uninsured.
Ironically, the price of compassion is restriction. The only way we
can help America's poor is to develop programs which are not constantly
diluted by the rest of the world's 6 billion, no matter how sympathetic.
Illegal Immigration and the Environment
The environmental community stands mute on the subject of illegal
immigration. I was President in the late 1960s of the First National
Congress on Population and The Environment, and later of Zero
Population Growth (currently known as Population Connection). It was
taken for granted at the time that the size of both world population
and U.S. population was an environmental issue. We had a formula I=PAT
that approached dogma at the time: Impact equals population times
affluence times technology. Total environmental impact can be gauged
by looking at the average individual impact on the environment
(compounded or mitigated by technology) multiplied by the number of
people. There was little argument among environmentalists or even
civic leaders on this point. Yet the President's Commission on
Population Growth and the America Future (1970) found:
"We have looked for, and have not found, any continuing economic
argument for continued population growth. The health of our country
does not depend on it, nor does the vitality of business, nor the
welfare of the average person."
Today no major environmental group will take on the issue of
immigration, legal or illegal. The fear of charges of racism silence
the environmental community as the American population grows toward a
half a billion consumers by mid-century. I fear history will show that
the U.S. environmental movement, silenced by political correctness, is
committing public policy malpractice by avoiding this issue.
Impact on our Social Fabric
Illegal immigration is having a heavy impact on our social fabric. A
vast majority of illegal immigrants are from Spanish speaking
countries. The sheer numbers are retarding assimilation as large
ethnic ghettos develop and a de facto apartheid is forming. It is
important to America's future that we look at how our Hispanic
immigrants are doing. Too many of our Hispanic immigrants live in
ethnic ghettos, too many are unskilled laborers, too many are
uneducated, too many live in poverty, too many are exploited, too many
haven't finished 9th grade, too many drop out of school.
The Center for Immigration Studies issued a report last year, which
found nationwide: "Almost two-thirds of adult Mexican immigrants have
not completed high school, compared to fewer than one in ten natives
not completing high school. Mexican immigrants now account for 22
percent of all high school dropouts in the labor force." But what is
most disturbing is that second and third generations don't do much
better. Again, the study from The Center for Immigration Studies: "The
lower educational attainment of Mexican immigrants appears to persist
across the generations. The high school dropout rates of native-born
Mexican-Americans (both second and third generation) are two and a half
times that of other natives." It found that Mexican immigrants and
their young children comprise 4.2percent of the nation's total
population, yet they comprise 10.2 percent of all persons in poverty.
They also comprise 12.5 percent of those without health insurance and
their use of welfare is twice that of Native Americans.
Robert J. Samuelson writing in the Washington Post states:
"Our interest lies in less immigration from Mexico, while Mexico's
interest lies in more. The United States has long been an economic
safety value for Mexico: a source of jobs for its poor. By World Bank
estimates, perhaps 40 percent of Mexico's 100 million people have
incomes of less than $2 a day. The same desperate forces that drive
people north mean that once they get here they face long odds in
joining the American economic and social mainstream. Surely we don't
need more poor and unskilled workers, and Mexican immigrants fall
largely into this category. The stakes here transcend economics."
(July 20, 2000)
The question has to be asked: "By tolerating illegal immigration are we
laying the foundations for a new Hispanic underclass? A Hispanic
Quebec?" The mere phrase makes liberals cringe. Frankly, it makes me
cringe, but immigration is building the new future of America. Are we
not building up a large, unintegrated, unassimilated underclass similar
to what France is suffering from currently? Is this not a harbinger of
social unrest in our own society? We owe it to our children to have a
Illegal aliens are, as is pointed out endlessly, "good hard working
people who just want the American dream." But that can't be the end of
the argument. The trouble with that level of analysis is that there
are over four billion "good hard working people" in the world living
below the American poverty level, most of who would love to come to the
U.S. Obviously we can't take then all. We already have ten-percent of
Mexico living here, and a recent poll showed that forty-six percent of
all adults in Mexico want to move to the U.S. Then there is Central
America. South America. Bangladesh? China? The pool of poor people is
bottomless. Yet, we are a nation of laws, with our own unemployed and
underemployed, our own kids to educate, and our nation needs to come to
some enforceable consensus on what our policy should be on people
entering the country illegally.
I have not mentioned what is perhaps the biggest reason to get control
over our borders: terrorism. It isn't that I forgot, it is just that
all Americans are concerned about terrorism and I seek here to make
uniquely liberal arguments. I sense a backlash against illegal
immigration that risks many/most of our most important social programs.
Polls show that over 70 percent of Americans object to illegal
immigration, and we run a serious risk of a backlash against all
immigrants if we don't reach some consensus on this issue. Polls also
show that there is no issue in America where there is a bigger gap
between public opinion and opinions of the media and other "elites."
But many of us are against illegal immigration because we do take
social justice seriously.
The late Congresswoman Barbara Jordan, one of my liberal heroes, was a consistent foe of illegal immigration. In testimony to the House Immigration Subcommittee, February 24, 1995 she
stated: "Credibility in immigration policy can be summed up in one sentence:
Those who should get in, get in; those who should be kept out, are kept
out; and those who should not be here will be required to leave."
"...for the system to be credible, people actually have to be deported
at the end of the process."
Barbara Jordan was a liberal who understood that immigrants must be
legal and that the law needed to be enforced for the sake of our own
poor and our own social fabric. But reasoned dialogue in America is
rare these days and issues of immense importance to America's future
are not being discussed or even debated. The question of illegal
immigration is high on that list.
* Some argue that illegals contribute to our economy through their
spending. In fact, because illegals' salaries are low, they have little
to spend. In addition, while American-born workers spend most or all of
their earnings here in the US, creating more jobs and in turn, more tax
revenues, illegals send much of their earnings back to relatives in
their native country. For example, according to a study by the Pew
Hispanic Center and Inter-American Development Bank, Latino immigrants
in 2002, despite the soft economy, sent a record $23 billion to
relatives and others in their home countries.
Now the letter from Joel Judd
Dear Governor Lamm,
Thank you for your thoughtful Thanksgving essay.
Almost three years ago you and I debated this subject in a Capitol basement committee room. We succeeded in generating a good deal more heat than light.
Choice of language may explain some of the acrimony. You note children born to illegal immigrants while they are in the U.S. are "considered" U.S. citizens. They are "considered" U.S. citizens for the same reason you are "considered" a U.S. citizen. For 140 years the fourteenth amendment to the United States Constitution has conferred citizenship on all persons born in America. Even today not all countries do this. Kuwait for example, at the commencement of the first Gulf War hosted three generations of Palestinian workers - two generations native born - none admitted to citizenship and all expelled once we and our coalition partners restored the Kuwaitis to control.
I see the immigrant world differently than you do. I see a self-indulgent society descending into a sybaritic flaccidity saved from ennui by an invigorating stream of immigrants with the industry and initiative to overcome archaic barriers to entry.
Excluding race, as you admirably suggest we do, I see your essay as fundamentally a jeremiad against low wage employers - an indictment of the Wal-Marts of the world; a challenge to employers who externalize the true cost of their labor by forcing the social welfare system to bear the inevitable cost of low wages paid to large families.
I am proud to represent a large number of immigrant families in my district. I say "represent" knowing full well the numbers who are ineligible to vote for me - parents due to their citizenship and children due to their age. I see these immigrant families as the hope and promise of America. I accept them as they are and where they are and seek to move them along the same educational and social acculturation tract followed by earlier waves of immigrants; that is, the same tract followed by your family and mine. I see this as our country's salvation.
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