Immigration Fight Turns To U.S. Workers

Immigration fight turns to U.S. workers

By Stephen Dinan
The Washington Times
September 3, 2007

Immigration-limits groups are in the midst of a Labor Day campaign to pressure Congress and presidential candidates to pledge to cut the flow of foreign labor in order to protect American workers.

The groups' plea being made in a new television-ad campaign and an online petition occurs as think tanks on both sides of the immigration debate ponder the role of immigrants in the labor force, and arrive at different conclusions about how necessary foreign workers will be over the next half-century.

The new ad campaign is stark and blunt: It features a young couple sitting at a kitchen table, with a baby crying in the background. The man tells the woman he didn't get a job because “they hired all foreign workers, but none of us,” and the woman wonders aloud how they are going to make their house payment.

The group behind the ad, the Coalition for the Future American Worker, says there are 54 million Americans of working age without a job, and nearly 28 million foreign-born workers both legal immigrants and illegal aliens who hold jobs here. The group plans to deliver a petition to all of the 2008 presidential candidates tied to Labor Day asking them to crack down on employers who hire illegal aliens, but also to require businesses to look at American workers first, rather than legal foreign workers.

As of yesterday morning, about 76,600 people had attached their names online to the petition.

Feeling emboldened after helping to kill the Senate's immigration-overhaul bill this year, groups that want more restrictions placed on immigration both illegal and legal are hoping to push the political debate further in their direction. But they face a newly energized immigrant rights community that found itself on the losing end of the Senate immigration battle and has vowed to redouble efforts.

The moves are taking place even as both sides debate what role immigrant workers can and should play in the future. A pro-immigration think tank, the Immigration Policy Center (IPC), says the U.S. will need immigrants to help take care of an aging population.

The IPC, part of the American Immigration Law Foundation, said in a report last week that the number of senior citizens in the U.S. will double from 35 million in 2000 to 71 million in 2030, and they will need care 3.7 million long-term workers by 2014 and 6 million by 2050.

The report's author, Walter N. Leutz, says the problem is not that American workers cannot get the jobs. In fact, he says, in one major metropolitan area he studied, the training costs were $575, financial aid was available, and it took just one course at a community college to earn certification.

“The problem is relatively low wages and difficult work just the type of jobs that immigrants (often, recent arrivals) are ready to take,” he wrote, though he noted that immigrants will require access to training programs that fit their needs.

“Immigrants will continue to play a significant role in the growth of the U.S. labor force in general and of the direct-care work force in particular,” Mr. Leutz wrote.

But even as foreign workers may be needed to solve problems in certain segments of the economy, the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) argues immigration cannot help the U.S. grow out of its broader problem of a looming Social Security crunch and other economic imbalances from an aging society.

Even with immigrants and their children potentially adding 105 million new residents to the U.S. by 2060, it would raise the percentage of those of working age by only 1 percent, to 61 percent of the population, says the report CIS issued last week.

“Our population is going to get older no matter what we do. This is part of what happens when birthrates go down and life expectancy goes up,” said Mark Krikorian, executive director of CIS. “This is part of modern life, and immigration can't do much about it.”