Donors Dominate

07.14.13

The Immigration Hustle: A New Class War on the Besieged Middle Class

Both parties, at the direction of their donors, are turning their backs on the American working class, writes Lloyd Green.

The comprehensive immigration bill that passed the Senate, with the strong support of President Obama, is an attack on the American working class. It is also a sop to each party’s donor base and a wholesale embrace of cheap labor.

The legislation crafted by New York Democrat Chuck Schumer and Florida Republican Marco Rubio looks to grow the economy by suppressing take-home pay for those workers least able to afford it. Under their bill, “average wages would be slightly lower than under current law through 2024,” according to the Congressional Budget Office. So American workers, who have been battered by three decades of wage stagnation and now by a recent payroll-tax hike, are being asked to take still another decade for the team. Meanwhile, the stock market flirts with new records.

In the fifth year of the Obama era, this is not your father’s Democratic Party. New Deal? Fair Deal? Happy days are here again? Not so much.

At the same time that the president and the Senate majority leader proceed to claim that open borders are essential for the GOP’s future, the administration signals its hostility toward economic expansion and the development of energy resources. In other words, those newly legalized Americans should not be absorbed into booming projects that would push the United States in the direction of growth, energy independence, and preeminence. Instead, they would be steered toward low-wage service work: country-club maintenance, blue-state suburban-lawn preservation, and the urban nanny sisterhood. 

Just ask New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. He’ll tell you. He’ll explain the dynamics of this new class war. All you have to do is listen.

According to the mayor, golf greens and their rich patrons would suffer without cheap labor. In a 2006 radio interview, Bloomberg pointed out, “You and I both play golf. Who takes care of the greens and the fairways in your golf course?” He went on: “You and I are beneficiaries of these jobs.”


Like many backers of the Senate bill, Bloomberg is rich, but no one would confuse him with FDR. In Bloomberg’s view, New York City is “a high-end product, maybe even a luxury product.” Man of the people? Not exactly.

And in that vein, omnibus immigration reform is but another iteration of the Obama campaign playbook—a pincer movement by coastal and high-end America against the middle of the country and the working class. In this view of life, helping those on the lowest rungs of the social ladder is ennobling—to the helpers—but extending a hand to struggling workaday America is simply déclassé or worse.   

In all fairness, however, immigration reform is not just an elite Democratic goal, it is also one shared by the Republican elites, as noted by The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza and Sean Sullivan. And what the GOP donor base wants, the GOP donor base usually gets, courtesy of those who do their bidding, such as Rep. Paul Ryan. 

“You can have a high-wage social-democratic welfare state, or you can have unlimited immigration—but you can’t have both.”

Ryan is the point man for immigration reform in an otherwise skeptical House Republican Conference. Apparently, Ryan would do to America’s workers what he’d like to do to America’s near seniors: make them do with less after a lifetime of work. So, Mr. and Mrs. Six-Pack, you get less later—and less now. 

Discounting working and middle America is a failed strategy for Republicans, as illustrated by last November’s results. Romney lost running mate Paul Ryan’s home state of Wisconsin, an indicator that Ryan is more popular among Republican contributors than in his hometown of Janesville. Overall, the Republican ticket struggled to eke out a plurality of Northern, white, working-class voters, voters who were rightfully offended by Mitt Romney’s simultaneous support for TARP and opposition to the automobile-industry rescue—voters who once were at the core of the modern GOP’s coalition.  

Unlike their Democrats counterparts, many Republicans can’t even manage to fake caring about folks outside their party’s donor base.

Immigration has now become the latest example of the GOP ignoring its voting base. Silicon Valley and the denizens of Gucci Gulch are clamoring for a comprehensive fix, but Middle America does not view immigration as a national imperative. In fact, Middle America is poised to be hurt more than helped by this attempt at bipartisanship insofar as immigration will further test an already strained social-safety net and drag down already-stagnant wages.

According to Harvard immigration expert George Borjas, immigration affects workers “primarily, but by no means exclusively, at the bottom end of the skill distribution, doing low-wage jobs that require modest levels of education.” As David Frum explained, “Whatever else you say about the U.S. economy of the 21st century, it cannot be described as suffering from labor shortages. Yet however little workers earn, there is always somebody who wishes they earned even less.” On Thursday jobless claims rose to a two-month high.

Michael Lind of the New America Foundation zero–summed up the situation this way:  “You can have a high-wage social-democratic welfare state, or you can have unlimited immigration—but you can’t have both.” With 116 million Americans holding full-time jobs and more than 110 million Americans receiving food or disability benefits, Lind clearly has a point. Given these numbers, Republicans might cheer the collapse of the social-democratic welfare state. The mystery is why Democrats seem to like it so much.

With Obamacare looking ever more like an open-ended train wreck and employment still below its pre-recession peak, absorbing a round of low-wage workers does not seem like the way to improve living standards for all. The president, Chuck Schumer and Paul Ryan don’t seem to care, and so the question is, does the House? We’ll know shortly.