Opinion

Is There No One Left In America Who Can Make A Sandwich?

REUTERS/Jose Luis Gonzalez

Ian Smith Immigration Reform Law Institute

When news broke in England a few years back that the country’s largest sandwich-supplier was importing workers from Eastern Europe, one of their biggest newspapers sarcastically put on its front page, “Is there no one left in Britain who can make a sandwich?” It was the kind of snide confrontation with the corporate addiction to immigration that’s so severely lacking this side of the pond.

Recently, businesses, particularly restaurants, across the country decided to close their doors for a day in “solidarity” with the “Day Without Immigrants”-movement. The coordinated gesture coincided with the recent multi-company media campaign pushing Congress to support the Graham-Durbin amnesty bill known as the BRIDGE Act.

When corporations speak about “solidarity” and “immigrant rights” are they merely hiding their cheap-labor needs in a rhetorical safe harbor? Is this inner morality on the part of corporate execs or mere cynical veneer? Most Americans certainly discount corporations’ general marketing and ad campaigns; shouldn’t corporate PR campaigns on immigration be treated the same way?

Immigration policy is labor policy. That’s why for most of our nation’s history immigration was managed by the Department of Labor. Supply shocks in labor operate just like they do with goods: when supply jumps, prices (or wages) have to come down. For businesses with high labor-costs, these expansions lead to giant windfalls that get siphoned up to shareholders and upper management. In effect, the process acts like a highly regressive tax on the lower and middle classes. It’s probably no coincidence then that most pin our income inequality problems to the early 1970s, the same time our modern mass immigration system got started.

We’ve known about the wage-crushing effects of loose labor-markets for centuries. Marx, for instance, wrote about industrialists’ need for so-called ‘reserve armies of labor’ in order to keep wages low and profits high. President Truman’s Migratory Labor Commission found similar effects on US farm workers as a result of the Bracero program. Even President Obama acknowledged this dynamic when he wrote in The Audacity of Hope that the “huge influx of mostly low-skill workers” in America “threatens to depress further the wages of blue-collar Americans and put strains on an already overburdened safety net.”

Why we can no longer grasp such an iron-clad law of basic supply and demand is testament to the wizardry of modern marketing and the propaganda prowess of Big Business. Foremost among their manufactured mantras is that the US has a “labor shortage.” This is a myth, says former Cornell labor economist, Vernon Briggs. Recalling the tech industry’s hand in creating the H-1B program in 1990, Briggs notes,

If labor shortages did occur, industry leaders feared, higher wages would be required to hold present workers and to entice younger workers to aspire to enter these skilled occupations. Facing the reality of such a free market outcome, industry leaders sought to find a way for government to artificially swell the skilled labor pool.

Nearly 30 years on and the tech industry still maintains that we have shortages in labor. Never mind that, by definition, there’s no such thing as a shortage in market-based systems (at least in the long-term). And never mind that we all know that no one hates the market more than corporations, at least large entrenched ones. If given the choice between a subsidy (which the mass importation of workers most certainly is) over market discipline, they’ll choose the former every time.

Then there’s the other mantra. In the late nineties when the outsourcing of manufacturing jobs became increasingly felt, the public was told ‘these are jobs Americans shouldn’t do.’ Now, with the debate focusing on ‘insourcing’, or the labor-importing which service-based businesses do to slash costs, the public is told ‘these are jobs Americans won’t do.’ Putting aside that such an assertion drips with bigotry, there simply is no such thing as a job an American won’t do. For the right price, anyway. And if a business is unwilling to pay that price, it’s not being run efficiently enough and it should have to either innovate or be allowed to fail. But in an open-borders economy, employers needn’t do either. Uppity American workers can simply be replaced.

With the anger in the UK over unlivable wages boiling over, immigration minister James Brokenshire put out a warning to “rogue employers” who hire illegal aliens, saying he’d use “the full force of government machinery” against them (with the opposing Labor party saying they’d do more). Our own “rogue employers” need to be told the same. On top of mandating e-Verify and re-starting worksite enforcement actions, the president should issue an Executive Order based on section 63 of the Internal Revenue Code directing the IRS to classify all compensation paid to aliens without employment authorization as illegal payments that cannot be deducted by the employer as a business expense. If they cannot pass a verification-audit, businesses will have to rescind these deductible benefits. Taking away these huge deductions from businesses will go very far in pushing them to do the right thing: Put Americans first.