Maybe Republican House Whip Kevin McCarthy was just floating a trail balloon when he said earlier this week that he supports granting legal status to illegal immigrants.
If McCarthy's serious, and judging from similar statements made by his boss House Speaker John Boehner and Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte, then working Americans and the Republican Party should brace for a tough slog.
Legal status, a soft-sounding term used to comfort and win over immigration skeptics, includes work permits and represents amnesty. With 20 million Americans unable to find full time employment, 91.8 million out of the job market and the economy creating only 74,000 positions last month, the last thing the the U.S. needs is to add more workers to the labor pool.
But that's exactly what will happen if illegal immigrants are legalized. Whether the path to citizenship takes five, 10 or 15 years doesn't matter. For illegal immigrants, work permits, not citizenship, seems to be the goal. A February 2013 Pew Hispanic Center report based on Census Bureau data found that only two-thirds of the 5.4 million legal Mexican immigrants who are eligible to become citizens have taken the test.
The harm legalization would do to unemployed and under-employed Americans would come at the front end of immigration reform legislation. Even if the border is secured, and promises will be made but broken, Americans will suffer. Last year in McCarthy's California Kern County District, unemployment averaged over 11 percent. Legalization would hurt most the already vulnerable Black and Hispanic Americans without a college diploma and with few skills.
Let's assume for the sake of argument that House Republicans are willing to sacrifice American workers in exchange for what they ill-advisedly perceive to be political inroads with Hispanics. A mountain of evidence proves that no matter what Republicans do, Hispanics will vote Democrat.
To start with the most devastating example: President Barack Obama's trouncing of John McCain in the 2008 election. No Republican in Congress had a longer, more well-established record of championing Hispanic causes than McCain whose advocacy dated back to 1983 when Obama was still a Columbia University undergraduate, and included the 2005 McCain-Kennedy proposed Secure America and Orderly Immigration Act. McCain's payback: 67 percent of Hispanics voted for Obama.
The New York Times, in its 2012 analysis, wrote that even if Mitt Romney had won all the Latino votes in Wisconsin, he would have lost the state. Similarly, the Times reported that the Hispanic vote was not the deciding factor in Iowa, Pennsylvania, Virginia or New Hampshire. In conclusion, the Times suggested that Republicans focusing solely on Hispanic voters to regain the White House in 2016, "may want to re-examine this year's exit poll results."
The congressional push for its version of reform is 13 months old. Few legislators, however, have mentioned that between new lawful residents and foreign-born visa holders, the U.S. admits about 150,000 work-authorized immigrants a month, or about 1.8 million annually. The yearly new worker total barely keeps up with US population growth.
According to the findings of its latest research, the Economic Policy Institute revealed that today there are "no job openings for three out of five job seekers."Given those discouraging facts, Congress should be debating how to limit immigration until the U.S. returns to full employment instead of pressing to add millions more legal workers who will compete with unemployed Americans for scarce jobs.
Joe Guzzardi is a member of the national board of advisors at FAIR, an anti-immigration advocacy group.