Immigrant Worker Rights


Historically, U.S. and foreign workers have often been pitted against each other, and racism and immigrant bashing have divided workers domestically to the advantage of corporations. Now, Jobs with Justice, along with many others, is bridging the gap between the labor movement and immigrant rights groups as we explore strategies to fight for better living and working conditions for all workers, regardless of their legal status. This includes the right of immigrant workers to join a union without being intimidated by ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement), the right of immigrants to have access to public services such as health care and higher education, and the right of immigrants to live free of harassment and attacks in the name of “national security.” JwJ supports thousands of immigrant workers; the barriers they face make the cause for immigrants’ rights central to winning justice for them as workers. As unions seek to organize immigrant workers, Jobs with Justice can facilitate relationships with organizations in immigrant communities that can support campaigns. The majority of local JwJ coalitions have been active on supporting organizing drives for immigrant workers and active in solidarity mobilizations for immigrants’ rights. Immigrant rights issues cut across our other program areas: threats to immigrant workers thwart organizing campaigns; immigrant families face critical barriers to accessing quality affordable health care; and immigrant families in the U.S. are very invested in global justice issues, particularly as they affect their countries of origin.

In order to win lasting immigrants’ rights, we have to increase our organizing and help build a constituency for legalization and against legalized harassment (ie. the Patriot Act and other tools of coercion). Our program does not seek to supplant other immigrant rights organizing; rather we hope to be in solidarity with, and support higher levels of education and mobilization to stop all attacks on immigrants.

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Fact or Fiction, Immigrants cause labor wages to decrease ??

Immigration reform has been an ongoing topic in the United States. Many agree that reform is necessary, in order to boost the economic recovery. However, others disagree, and convince themselves that immigrants steal our jobs, depress our wages, and are a net drag on the economy. According to Ben Powell, Professor of Economics at Suffolk University, when immigrants come, they largely complement our towns; they don’t substitute for us.

Immigration reform will create more jobs for both U.S. citizens and undocumented immigrants. President Obama’s book, Change We Can Believe In, states that small businesses are the engine source of our economy, which means millions of immigrants will start up their own business due to their eagerness of progressing. In fact, according to the White House blog, immigrants create businesses and file patents at a much higher rate than native-born residents do. Therefore, for those who oppose the immigration reform, because they’re scared of being unemployed, think again.
Not only will reform create more jobs for people, but also increases wages. Here’s another myth about immigration: Immigrants will depress our wages. False. American workers have also convinced themselves that the reform will have a negative effect on the economy. The way they see it: More immigrants, less high-paying jobs for Americans, which means, lower wages. They way they should see it: More immigrants means more workers, which leads to an increase in cumulative earnings. Eventually, workers would spend the money they are being paid, strengthening the economy.

According to the same blog mentioned above, immigrants are our engineers, scientists, and innovators. Immigrants represent 33% of engineers, 27% of mathematicians, statisticians, and computer scientists, and 24% of physical scientists. Even numbers can attest that immigrants come to America for opportunities to improve their lives, and they do so by funding higher education. Immigrants will add to the labor force, helping to reverse a decline in workforce participation that began a decade ago.

In addition to job creation and higher wages, immigration reform will curb the federal deficit. According to an April analysis by the American Action Forum, the reform will reduce the deficit by $2.5 trillion during the next 10 years, and according to a Social Security Administrator analysis, the reform would help bolster Social Security. Because undocumented workers already contribute $15 billion per year to Social Security, more legal workers would mean more contribution to payroll taxes to its trust fund.

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Immigration and American Jobs

For years, economists have been poring through job market statistics looking for evidence that immigrants undercut less-educated Americans in the labor market. The most recent empirical studies conclude that the impact is slight: they confirm earlier findings that immigration on the whole has not led to fewer jobs for American workers. More significantly, they suggest that immigrants have had, at most, a small negative impact on the wages of Americans who compete with them most directly, those with a high school degree or less.

Meanwhile, the research has found that immigrants – including the poor, uneducated ones coming from south of the border — have a big positive impact on the economy over the long run, bolstering the profitability of American firms, reducing the prices of some products and services by providing employers with a new labor source and creating more opportunities for investment and jobs. Giovanni Peri, an economist at the University of California at Davis, estimated that the wave of immigrants that entered the United States from 1990 to 2007 increased national income per worker by about $5,400 a year on average, in 2007 dollars. He also concluded that the wave had a small positive impact on the average wage of American workers, by lifting the overall economy. If immigrants hurt anyone, it was the previous cohort of immigrants, with whom they most directly compete in the labor market.

These conclusions may seem to fly in the face of the laws of supply and demand. But they are not quite so odd. They can become obvious, in fact, once we take into account the response of American companies, and workers, to the inflows of cheap foreign labor.

The belief that immigration would simply displace American workers relies on the assumption that employers would do nothing but replace their costly domestic labor force with cheap imports. But that’s not typically what happens. For one thing, immigrants and domestic workers are not identical. Even the least-educated Americans are likely to be more fluent in English — better at talking with bosses or communicating with customers. When a contractor in Fresno expands into roofing, it will not just need a bunch of cheap immigrant roofers. It will also need an American supervisor and maybe an extra clerk.

Faced with a new, different pool of workers, companies often invest to reap the higher profits that the labor allows. Contractors, for instance, will be able to take on projects that would not have been profitable paying higher wages to domestic workers – like the roofing example in Fresno. This provides new opportunities for immigrants and for more highly paid domestic workers alike.

Mr. Peri and Chad Sparber of Colgate University found that American workers in states with large shares of less-educated immigrants gravitate toward occupations like cashiers and bank tellers, waiters or sales floor clerks, which require more communications skills. Foreigners, in turn, stick to manual tasks and physical labor. By encouraging this specialization and capital investment, immigration contributes to productivity growth.

In other words, immigration can produce domestic jobs. Restaurants are much less common in Norway than the United States because Norway lacks the cheap labor — making a dinner out in Oslo prohibitively expensive. In many New York restaurants, the American waiters and hosts owe their jobs to the underpaid illegal immigrants in the kitchen, whose low wages allow the restaurant to exist. The vast agricultural industry in the Central Valley of California might not exist without cheap immigrant farm workers who make it profitable.

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