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Campus Media Response: Are American Workers Threatened by Immigrant Workers?

In a recent column for the Harvard Crimson commenting on the dubious legislation in Arizona that would make it easier for police to question people about their immigration status, Raúl Carrillo makes the following argument:

Immigration reform, even during a recession, doesn’t have to put American’s citizen workforce and undocumented immigrants at odds. There’s more than enough room for common ground. Reform policies should be guided by the principle of offering safe employment to the undocumented who already work here and unionizing those jobs to raise wages. When workers of any origin can’t live with their families, organize, and work for their children’s healthcare and education, everyone in this country suffers. A more controlled and humane immigration system can help undocumented immigrants integrate into the rest of the American workforce.

Carrillo is right that American and immigrant workers don’t have to be at odds with each other. But he’s wrong that the source of the harmony is found in a policy that increases the level of government intervention in the market. As Rebecca Knapp argued in The Undercurrent in September of 2006, it is the free market, rather than government intervention, which ensures a harmony of interests between citizens and non-citizens alike:

It’s easy to see that the employer benefits from having his property rights protected when he’s hiring the cheapest babysitter or fruit picker. What everyone seems happy to ignore is that the other guy-the more expensive babysitter or fruit picker, the guy whose job was “stolen” from him-also benefits. He benefits from living in a society in which jobs are given to the most competitive job-seekers. He benefits because when goods can be produced at a cheaper price, the economy grows. He benefits because the owner of the orchard where he didn’t get a job uses his savings to open a produce store or cultivate a new orchard and hires twice the workers he employed before. Or it allows him to spend more money on entertainment and the entertainment industry grows, or he banks the money and the bank invests it in new, productive industries which hire more workers. Whatever the farmer does with his extra money, wealth increases, the economy improves, and the country becomes a better place to live.

Read Rebecca’s whole piece.

Image by Flickr user johnwilliamsphd

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Valery Publius is the pen name of a teacher living in the American South.