On Thursday, March 4, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) expressed confidence that the so-called jobs bill will be passed as early as next week. A tweaked version of the Senate measure has already passed the House. This latest attempt to address the economy which has been hailed as a rare bipartisan effort, is a welcome development, especially in places like Los Angeles, where double-digit unemployment has contributed to the city's worsening budget problems.
There is, however, a darker undercurrent to this jobs package, as anti-immigrant members of the Republican Party once again attempt to turn debate on this economic recovery bill into a referendum on immigrant workers. A group of GOP Senators wants to introduce restrictions on the bill aimed at preventing employers from hiring undocumented immigrants. They propose a series of steps that would make it difficult if not impossible for certain segments of the immigrant population to access employment by requiring use of faulty employment verification systems and reinstating obsolete policies like the No-Match Rule, which impose more burdens upon employers -- all within the context of a broken and unworkable immigration system.
It does not take an economist to understand that in times of economic downturn, "expanding the pie" rather than shrinking it could only boost growth. Exploiting fears about the recession and blaming immigrants for unemployment to score political points with constituencies is shortsighted.
Immigration hardliners who have taken it upon themselves to scapegoat immigrants for every ill that plagues the American economy do not realize that the positive legacy of immigrants and immigration to this country far outweighs the negative perceptions that they attempt to promote. Numerous studies that came out recently reinforce the assertion that immigrants are critical to economic development, and policies that do not take this into account are myopic at best. For example, a recent study by the Center for American Progress and the Immigration Policy Center demonstrated that a comprehensive immigration reform package would yield an additional $1.5 trillion in cumulative U.S. gross domestic product over 10 years.
Another study released by the University of Southern California's Center for Immigrant Integration Studies, asserted that legalizing undocumented immigrants and incorporating them into California society would provide a much-needed economic boost to the state. Immigrants spend money in stores and restaurants, creating jobs. They pay property and sales taxes. Many are much more likely to spend money than save it, a sometimes ironic outcome of belonging to this country's low income population. They have as much stake in making sure our economy succeeds as the next person.
Using the immigration issue as a wedge to block critical policy solutions, whether health care reform or the jobs bill, will eventually backfire, especially in an election season where the biggest growing population of Latino and Asian voters could determine certain Congressional races. Policies that target and harm a specific population do not help everyone in the long run.
In the end, race-baiting or immigrant-baiting does not provide solutions to the festering and underlying problems engendered by a broken immigration system. What they do is create ever deeper chasms within our communities, at a time when every person in this country, native born or immigrant, should be joining the tide that lifts all boats. Let us not persist in tearing at the fabric that makes our country great: its values of openness, generosity, and fairness. Let us show our immigrant brothers and sisters that we do not have to sacrifice these cherished values to get out of our economic woes.
Cynthia Buiza, Director of Policy at the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA), is the principal contributor to this article.