Professor Carter: Trump immigration policy based on bad economics - Kendall College of Arts and Sciences

Professor Carter: Trump immigration policy based on bad economics

Scott Carter, associate professor of political science at TU explores President Trump’s immigration policy through an economic lens. This article was first published in the Tulsa World in July 2017: 

Scott CarterWith the rollout of the Trump administration’s new immigration policy, once again the public is bombarded with arguments supposedly adhering to the laws of economics. The influx of low wage immigrant workers so goes the story, floods the labor market with an “excess supply of labor,” which “naturally” leads to a lowering of wages for American workers. This statement is spoken very matter-of-factly by proponents of tougher immigration policy who are able to gain cover for basing their argument in the so called “facts” of economic science, where laws of demand and supply are deemed akin to the law of gravity in physics.

This same matter-of-fact economic argumentation is used to justify repealing and replacing “Obamacare” and underlies the entire approach to tax reform. But as with most things, the reality is often very much different from the spin.

The economics of immigration are far from easy and the matter far from settled. Take the above example of low wage immigrant workers: it is far from a pre-determined fact that they take jobs away from U.S. American workers. If and when that does happen, immigrant workers are said to be a substitute for U.S. (or “native”) workers. However, economics is all about synergy, networks, and multiplier effects, in which case immigrant and native workers adding value to the economy by being complements to one another often manifests. Here employment of immigrants does not compete with U.S. workers; quite the contrary, as immigrant employment marches hand-in-hand with the employment of native workers. Here different individual segments of the labor market come together to create a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts.

In layman’s terms we may call this the American Dream, a dream made possible since the inception of this country by the hard work, grit, and determination of people in our community no matter their country of birth.

Perhaps the biggest irony (hypocrisy?) of the rollout of the new immigration policy is that proponents are brazenly appealing to U.S. black and “legal” immigrant workers, as if the only problem facing these communities is the deluge of “illegal” immigrants taking jobs that otherwise would be theirs. And low wages have even been touted as being the fault of immigrant workers; this coming from a political class that always and at every turn opposes government regulation and legislation to increase the minimum wage. But if low wages were the true problem, which many of us believe to be part of the case, there are more guilty culprits than the bogeyman of hordes of immigrants at play here, such as the attack on organized labor, the establishment of right-to-work laws, and the undercutting of the social safety net including rampant deregulation of hard-won workplace and environmental safeguards and a directed and purposeful defunding of public education.

Empirical evidence shows workers of all races and documented status benefit when social, regulatory and legal policies exist that support a healthy working and middle class, and that immigrant workers are by and large complementary to the native workforce in making this happen. The presence of healthy and vibrant immigrant communities has been essential to the culture, history and tradition of what makes America unique, and to assert otherwise revises the historical record and erases an important pillar of our shared American experience.