The announcement of Trump’s new immigration plan was filled with rhetoric to pit communities against each other: immigrants vs. working class Americans and immigrants vs. the Black community.
It’s a disturbing trend among conservatives. Recently, I was on a panel during Politicon with conservative commentator Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson, who went as far as saying that immigrants hate Black people, and that Latinos and Blacks are in constant battle.
The RAISE Act has been presented as a way to raise wages for lower-skilled Americans and communities of color by reducing the supply of low-skilled immigrants, cutting immigration into the country by half over the next decade.
“The RAISE ACT protects U.S. workers from being displaced,” Trump said during a press conference. According to Trump this affects blue collar and minority workers the most. This line of thinking assumes that minority communities are only competing for low-skilled jobs. If the Trump administration seriously cares about minorities in this country, they can start by leaving affirmative action policies in place so that minorities can access higher education. Instead the Department of Justice is set to investigate policies deemed to discriminate against white applicants.
The Reforming American Immigration for a Strong Economy Act, or “RAISE ACT” was introduced by Republican Senators Tom Cotton and David Perdue, from Arkansas and Georgia and has the full endorsement of Trump.
The RAISE ACT eliminates the diversity lottery, cuts green cards for family members who are not spouses, or minor children of U.S. Citizens and permanent residents, and places a 50,000 cap on refugee relocation. Interestingly, the bill does not mention cutting temporary worker visas for low-skilled immigrants, such as HB-2, and H2-A visas which are issued for agricultural work. In 2014, over 89,000 H2-A visas were issued.
Low-skilled immigrants many times do the jobs that American citizens do not want to do, even if the wages were higher. Will low-skilled Americans living in Ohio, Texas, or New York move to California to pick berries, mow lawns or cook in hot kitchens? Immigrants do labor-intensive jobs that pay below minimum wage. Even if we reduced the number of immigrants who take those jobs, the wages for agricultural, landscaping, and restaurant jobs are not likely to increase past minimum wage. What the RAISE Act promises to do is to create minimum wage jobs for working Americans and minorities instead of promising better opportunities to move up the economic ladder. These communities do not need more low wage jobs so they can continue to struggle to make ends meet, especially since the GOP does not support a $15 minimum wage policy.
Studies have shown that reducing the labor force does not necessarily mean a pay-increase for American workers. The Cato Institute cited a paper by the National Bureau of Economic Research, which found that ending lower-skilled migration for farm workers, for example, did not raise wages for Americans who worked those jobs. Another study by the University of California-Davis found that in the short-term, immigrants had little effect on wages, and in the long-term the effect is actually positive. And a study by the National Academy of sciences, called immigration “integral to the nation’s economic growth.”
The RAISE Act does not take into account that immigrants, even those with a low level of education, start new business, which employ U.S. citizens. In 2011, immigrants started 28 percent of all new U.S. business. Asian-American owned businesses, for example, provided 3.6 million jobs.
If the Trump administration is serious about putting American workers first, they should focus on creating policies that give these workers the skills necessary to take higher-paying jobs that can lead them to achieve the American Dream. Instead, the Trump administration pits communities to battle for the most arduous, lowest-paying jobs.