Immigration and Jobs (II) – For Conservatives

A few days ago, I addressed the issue of holders of H1B visas (first mis-indentified on my FB as “HB1” ) and the common impression that foreigners coming to the US on such visas took jobs from qualified Americans. A debate ensured that left me largely but not completely unconvinced. Reminder: H1B visas are awarded to individuals with an occupational qualification deemed to be in short supply in the US. Right now, it’s likely that most of those who get an H1B are trained in some IT area but that’s not all. For a long time, farriers from everywhere could easily get one. (If you don’t know what a farrier is, shame on you and look it up.)

There are other – presumably non-specialized – categories of immigrants who are widely suspected of taking jobs from Americans. The truth is not always easy to discern, not even conceptually. Five or six miles from where I live in Santa Cruz, there are growers who are tearing off their hair. Their problem is that they can’t figure out who is going to pick the crops they are now putting into the ground. As I have said repeatedly, the Mexicans they counted on in years past have largely stopped coming.

A quarter of a mile from where I live, and in the same direction, there are dozens of perfectly healthy US-born Americans who are working as “sales associates.” The apparent conceptual issue is this: sales associates earn $10/hr while a moderately experienced crop picker earns $15. The question arises of why we don’t see a full exodus from the sales positions to jobs that pay 50% more?

I think it’s lazy to call the US-born sales associates “lazy.” The reality is that the Mexicans who came, and are still coming, to pick vegetables and fruits in California overwhelmingly came from a rural population. They were reared under conditions where almost everyone around them labored in the fields. When they arrive in the US – legally through family reunion – or illegally, they are ready to take picking jobs. They then just do here more or less the same work they would do at home but for five times the pay or more.

In American society that kind of population disappeared several generations ago through mechanization and, of course, through the importation of foreign labor, precisely. Native-born Americans won’t do the work because it’s alien to their background. I think US-born people of Mexican ascendancy whose parents labored in the field won’t do the work either. Their parents do what they can to make their own work experience alien to their children. I am not surprised, that’s another expression of the American dream. It’s  what many would do back in Mexico but then, why emigrate?

I am pretty sure that any immigration reform should include a temporary agricultural program, a sort of H1A ( “A”for “Agriculture”) visa. It would allow foreigners to come to the US legally, just to work in the fields and for a set period only. It would not lead to permanent residency, nor, of course, to citizenship. Such a program existed between the forties and the early sixties, if memory serves. It was called the “Bracero program.” I don’t know why it was terminated. (Perhaps a reader can tell us.)

Mexicans would be the first to take advantage of such a program. As Mexico’s economy develops, they may be replaced by Central Americans and, eventually, by Africans. Such a program would sidestep the kind of assimilation problem France, for example is facing right now with its North African population.

PS Personally, I think Mexicans make good immigrants to the US. I would bet than in ten years we will be begging them to come.

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About Jacques Delacroix

I am a sociologist, a short-story writer, and a blogger (Facts Matter and Notes On Liberty) in Santa Cruz, California.
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6 Responses to Immigration and Jobs (II) – For Conservatives

  1. roger desmoulins says:

    I know a computer science academic in a mediocre department in the northeastern USA. The fellow was Department Head for at least one term, and his remit as Head included perusing data from his University’s placement office. It was his considered opinion that the main reason why a large fraction of graduates from his department could not find work was the preference many employers had for hiring H1Bs to fill entry level jobs — because H1Bs were docile unto servility, and never dared complained about pay or working conditions. My friend said that H1Bs were unlikely to resign the job they had to take up another job that struck them as better, something that young Americans do with alacrity. He believed that this preference for H1Bs was commonplace in much of the American IT industry. His frustration at this situation, which made him feel that his educational endeavors were in vain, led him to retire early and to go full time as a code writing consultant.

    • Jacques Delacroix says:

      What can I tell you, Roger? Opinions are a dime a dozen. I live on the edge of Silicone Valley and I worked in the middle of it until ten years ago. I have heard this opinion before but I have heard others too. And then, there is my broad and deep experience of a good sample of Indian expatriates and of their high level of preparedness. The Europeans who work in IT fields ,also likely candidates for H1B visas, are also superior, on the whole, in terms other than technical. Like immigrants in general, they tend to be mobile, to go where the jobs are. What may be wrong with your acquaintance’s students in the north east may be simply that, the northeast location. (Another opinion.)

  2. dalemannes says:

    From a strictly a job/worker economic perspective, freedom of movement is best, and borders restricting that are immoral; again, strictly from a labor market perspective. “They took our jobs”, is the least sympathetic argument for immigration restriction.

    The stronger arguments you make for immigration are regarding some admirable immigrants and the benefits to the immigrants themselves. I agree with the praise for Indian graduate students and Mexican agricultural workers. And that praise extends to most other groups.

    The counter points on immigration are stronger. I have several and I hope someone reads them:

    – Immigrants doing low end labor consume large amounts of government provisioned social services relative to the amount that they pay in taxes. I’m sympathetic to the immigrants, I’m happy that they get nicer state funded health care and social services, but this is ultimately funded with resources taken from the host society and people. That’s not a reasonable expectation.

    – Past programs that made special exemptions and positions for agricultural labor immigrants ended up overwhelmingly being used fraudulently by immigrants who never did agricultural work. I can dig up details if there is interest.

    – You highlight admirable immigrants such as hard working laborers and devoted business + IT types. To be fair, there are unsympathetic scenarios. To take on famous anecdote, consider former President Obama’s Aunt, Zeituni Onyango: She never worked in the US, lived at least 14 years of her life in the US, while receiving government funded food assistance, government housing including her own apartment in Boston, extensive government funded health care, and additional monthly disability payments. She entered on a temporary visa, deliberately overstayed, and successfully hired lawyers to fight deportation orders. I suspect the US government ultimately paid for her legal services too. Why does US society and government owe complete foreigners like her lavish treatment and the full benefits of middle class western life for long stretches of her lifetime for absolutely nothing? This is a single anecdote, and it’s grouchy to complain about stuff like this, but it’s not reasonable to just cite the positive happy anecdotes and exclude the negative ones.

    – Mass immigration completely undermines the model of sovereign nation states that are owned by their current members and exist primarily to serve the interest of their current members. That loyal relationship between nation state and it’s members is replaced by a more competitive mercenary relationship. This has lots of downsides.

    – Mass immigration clearly completely and permanently upsets the political structure of a host nation often for the worse.

    – There is some moral argument that humans worldwide be afforded have some right to physically move and live and work by the rules of the place that they choose. But those people and their children have no inherent claim to full membership and voting rights in foreign existing social structures.

    – Consider ethnic groups. In the US it is widely acknowledged that people vote for ethnic/racial interests. The existing ethnic groups obviously lose when they give large fractions of voting ownership to foreign ethnic groups that vote for different ethnic interests. I see no moral obligation for them to make such a sacrifice this.

    – If we want to solve the problems of mankind across the globe, we should expect more drastic change and compromise from the failed states of the globe that want change rather than the gems of the globe that are doing well as it is.

    – A more reasonable compromise is annexation. Especially with situations like Mexico, where large percentages of the Mexican population has already chosen to enter the US, often illegally with great risks, and many more Mexican residents would do so. It is far more reasonable for the US to simply annex the regions of Mexico as new states of the US empire. Many Mexicans would not want to forfeit their sovereign identity, but of course, that’s exactly what they expect the United States to do. I still think that a simple annexation of Mexico is more favorable to the people of Mexico than the people of the US.

    • Jacques Delacroix says:

      Thank you. The soup you served is too rich and thick for a morning. I will get back to you. Let me just say as an introduction to what ‘s to come that, of course, I don’t believe the US government – or US society in general for that matter – owe anything to any category of foreigners. I mean, except that it owes the protection of their basic human rights to any foreigners that happen to find themselves under American jurisdiction. Second: You seem (seem ) to be missing something important: When a 20 year-old Mexican enters the US – legally or not – ready to dig ditches, it’s a very good deal for me because it is Mexican society, not American society that bore the costs of bringing him to a productive age. More later.

    • Jacques Delacroix says:

      I don’t make any arguments in favor of immigration. I am just trying to straighten out mistakes common among my fellow conservatives.

      You say, “Immigrants doing low end labor consume large amounts of government provisioned social services relative to the amount that they pay in taxes.”

      I don’t know if this widespread impression is correct. To figure it out, you would have to assume that you know what those immigrants pay in taxes. I don’t think we really know that. There are difficulties in finding out. For example, some illegal immigrants in this country have their payroll taxes deducted to the benefit of a fake Social Security number. Those people are putting money into the common pot from which they will never benefit.

      I would guess that the same immigrants consume less in social services than Americans do in general. My expectation is based on the fact that they are younger on the average than Americans and that the sickly tend to stay home rather than emigrate. I have taken into account the possibility that they consume more than average – for the same reasons – in maternity care and in prison and jail costs.

      I am sure special worker programs were affected by corruption of different kinds. That’s inevitable. As always, it’s the net effect that matters. The past is not a good guide to what would happen now in this respect because we have enormously better ways of checking where people are and who they are than used to be the case.

      It is simply not true that many Mexicans expect the US to forfeit its sovereignty. Many individual Mexicans think they have more pressing problems than to speculate about such abstract concepts. They just want to make a better living. We encouraged them to come through twenty years of passivity about our borders. There is no grand design except for a handful of half crazy American organizations such as La Raza that the liberal establishment persists in treating seriously.

      Of course, there will be no annexation of Mexico although I can see a the underlying economic logic. We don’t want to; they don’t want us. The End.

      Keep commenting. Remember to share the links to this blog.

  3. Pingback: Immigration and Jobs – III – Reprise | FACTS MATTER

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