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What Will New Immigration Policy Mean For Jobs?


I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE, from NPR News.

Coming up, Congressman Keith Ellison is among the progressive Democrats meeting in Washington, D.C. this week at a conference called Take Back the American Dream. We'll ask him what the meeting's all about in a few minutes.

But first, we want to take another look at President Obama's announcement last week that his administration will stop deporting certain young people who came to the U.S. as children without authorization. They have to meet certain requirements. For example, they have to have arrived here before the age of 16 and be 30 or younger now, can't have a criminal record and must be in school or a high school grad or a military veteran. But if they meet these requirements, they will now be eligible for a work permit.

Now, questions have been raised about this from a number of quarters. But we wanted to go back to the very first, raised even before the president had finished his speech in the Rose Garden.


PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: It is the right thing to do.

NEIL MUNRO: Why do you favor foreigners over American workers?

OBAMA: Excuse me, sir. I - it's not time for questions, sir.

MUNRO: No, you have to take questions.

OBAMA: I - not while I'm speaking.

MARTIN: Now the president was reacting to somebody from the conservative website The Daily Caller, who was shouting: Why do you favor foreigners over American workers? Now, the rude behavior notwithstanding, we thought we'd evaluate the substance of the question and ask if this is true. And, having already heard from those who support the plan yesterday, we also wanted to get reaction more broadly from those who favor a more restrictionist approach to immigration.

We've called upon, once again, Mark Krikorian. He is the executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies. He joins us from time to time to comment on these matters. Also with us, once again, Professor Carol Swain. She's a professor at Vanderbilt University Law School and has written extensively about this issue, also.

Welcome back to you both. Thank you both so much for joining us.


CAROL SWAIN: Thank you.

MARTIN: Now, I understand that you both question the president's authority to do this. Professor Swain, let me just start with you on this. Why so?

SWAIN: Well, first of all, last summer, in June, the president announced that they were scaling back on deportations of anything except criminal aliens. And at that time, it seemed that the policy that he - that we're discussing now was actually placed - it was put in place back then, a year ago. And I guess what's different is that it's more sweeping.

I believe what the president has done is purely for political purposes, that it harms American workers - especially those that have low skills and low levels of education - and that he is trying to bypass Congress and assume the power to legislate, and that it's a blatant, brazen violation of separation of powers. It shows that he has no respect for the Constitution and the rule of law in America.

MARTIN: Mark Krikorian, what about you? I mean, those make - many people have made the argument that whether they agree with this or disagree with this, the prosecutorial authority or discretion does exist. I mean, the police don't arrest everybody they find with a marijuana cigarette or they find speeding, you know, over the speed limit. They have to make choices, if for no other reason, than to manage workflow.

KRIKORIAN: Sure. Obviously, every law enforcement involves deciding - prioritizing basically. But, see, the president has gone beyond - he's crossed a line, here. He's using that discretion as a pretext to set up a formal system to legalize up to 1.4 million people, according to the Pew Hispanic Center.

So this - see, discretion is you meet somebody and you say, well, OK. Give me the information I want in my investigation, and I'll forget about the joint you had in your pocket. That's discretion. Every cop has to have that. The president is saying: We're setting up a system where people will come in, apply, be according to certain criteria that were from a bill that Congress has rejected repeatedly. And the president is just saying: I'm going to implement, it anyway. This is a very - this is different in kind from that kind of case-by-case, ad-hoc discretion.

MARTIN: OK. Well, that being said, let's assume that this matter will be litigated. Members of Congress have already said that they're going to go to the courts on this question. So let's sort of set that question aside for now and talk about the substance of, you know, the argument that, you know, you're bringing more people into the economy at a time when particularly young people, young workers, are struggling, and this is just a bad idea and it's unfair. What about that? Which is the substance of this person from The Daily Caller was shouting. Mark Krikorian, what's your perspective on that?

KRIKORIAN: Well, there's clearly something to that. I mean, the supporters of this kind of idea of the Dream Act say well, look. They'll have better jobs and they'll be paying more in taxes and all that sort of thing. And there's something to that.

I mean, but the flip side is that at a time when we have something like 20 million Americans who are either unemployed or underemployed - and it's especially a problem among young workers, less-educated workers - that we are now adding, you know, what, maybe 800,000, maybe a million or more workers, legal workers who will now be able to compete for jobs normally into that labor market. And they're not farm workers. I mean, even though they're not all Einsteins, these are, generally speaking, they have to be people who finished high school. So this is going to have a serious effect both in the lower-skill and kind of the mid-level of the job market.

MARTIN: Yeah. Professor Swain, though, what about the argument that, number one, these workers are already here. They're already working doing something. And number two, that there was actually lower unemployment in the U.S. during the Clinton and Bush administrations, when we had higher levels of immigration, including illegal immigration? So how, then, does it follow that this is going to further depress employment?

SWAIN: Well, the people that have always had the high unemployment have been African-American men, especially those that have a high school education or less, and also legal Hispanics. And their unemployment rates, they have been high for some time. And if the people are working, they're displacing American workers. They should never have been allowed to work in the labor force. And what the president is doing now will make it more difficult for his most loyal supporters to find employment.

And I think it's being done purely for political purposes, and that it does a disservice to the rule of law and to the American dream and just all those other things that we stand for. And it will open up the floodgates for more people to come here undocumented.

MARTIN: We're speaking with professor of law at Vanderbilt University, Professor Carol Swain and Mark Krikorian of the Center for Immigration Studies. We're talking about their reaction to President Obama's recent announcement that his administration will stop deporting certain young people who meet certain requirements who came here illegally.

But Mark Krikorian, though, what about that? I mean, the argument is that - I know you and Professor Swain have consistently made the argument that your press for a more restrictionist immigration policy is that it depresses wages for people, particularly at the lower end of the scale, you know, among other issues. And, of course, we've talked about some of respect-the-law issues and other issues. But your main argument has been an economic one.


MARTIN: But what about the argument that, really, that this is not a - they're not typically replicas of Americans in terms of skill set, but that, really, they're concentrated at the low and high end of the skills spectrum, that they're really competing with other immigrants for these jobs?

KRIKORIAN: Well, yeah. That's actually, that's not correct, because look at the...

SWAIN: That's - I agree it's not.

KRIKORIAN: Yeah. There's - let's look - there's seven million - let's look - just illegal immigration. There's seven million immigrants in the workforce. There's more than that, but some of them don't work or they're housewives or they're kids or whatever - seven million illegals in the workforce.

There are three times that many working-age Americans with high school or less who aren't in the labor market at all. So the idea that somehow these are jobs no one will do, that no Americans will do, and that there's - or that there's no people to do them - in other words, there's just we need more warm bodies - is complete baloney.

When people make that argument, what they're really saying is that people I know - the parents of the kids that my children go to private school with - don't do these jobs. What they don't mean - what they really - what they're saying is I don't know the kinds of people, the kinds of Americans who would do these jobs. But there's plenty of people out there who would and do do these jobs when they are opened up.

MARTIN: Professor Swain, you agree with that? Mm-hmm.

SWAIN: In fact, my family is full of people that work those low-wage jobs. They clean homes. They work at McDonald's. They do any kind of work they can find. And so there are many, again, mostly African-Americans that do those jobs when they can find those jobs. And they are placed at a disadvantage, and the president has done them a horrible disservice. And the Congressional Black Caucus and the black leaders are not doing anything to represent blacks in America on some of the most critical and pressing issues, and this is one of them.

MARTIN: I just want to play, before I let you go, a short clip from a conversation we had yesterday with an activist named Gaby Pacheco, who's gotten a lot of attention. She's featured in a Time magazine cover story, for example, and for, you know, outing herself - one of the people who's outed herself as saying I am undocumented but I still deserve to stay here. I'm an American in every way but the papers. This is what she had to say.


GABY PACHECO: Just growing up in this country, I learned to also be competitive, and that's part of, you know, the values of our country. Right? Being competitive and just trying to work as hard as you can to be able to get the things that you have, and I think that I've earned a lot of the things that I've had, not because of the people that I know, but rather of the work that I've been doing.

MARTIN: Could I just get your reaction to that, Mark Krikorian?

KRIKORIAN: Well, you know, I actually am sympathetic to the idea of legalizing certain illegal immigrants who really have come here at very young ages, not 16, but you know, as infants and toddlers, spent their whole lives here. There's a compelling case to make there, but there's two points.

First of all, the president has no business doing this on his own unilaterally, and with regard to her comments, she - the sense is that she deserves it, that we owe her legal status, and that is both morally problematic from my perspective, and politically it doesn't work.

It's one thing to say, look, it's prudent. It would be the right thing to do to give me this status just because these are kids whose identities have been formed in the United States. There's something to that. But to say that, like this Time magazine cover with Vargas and...

MARTIN: Jose Antonio Vargas.

KRIKORIAN: Yeah. To say they're owed American citizenship really strikes me as a kind of in your face sort of entitlement mentality that's not going to be persuasive for Americans.

MARTIN: We'll talk again about this more. I understand it's a very rich topic and a very emotional topic and I do appreciate both of you being willing to come in and talk with us about this important story. We will continue to follow it.

Mark Krikorian is the executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies. He was here in Washington, D.C. with me. Carol Swain is a professor at Vanderbilt University Law School. She's author of the book, most recently, "Be the People: A Call to Reclaim America's Faith and Promise." She was with us from the campus at Vanderbilt.

Thank you both so much.

KRIKORIAN: Thank you.

SWAIN: Thank you.

MARTIN: And now for a brief historical note. From Amarillo, Texas to Buffalo, New York, many people are celebrating Juneteenth today. On this day in 1865 and two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation took effect, a Union army general arrived in Galveston, Texas with his regiment and told the slaves that they were free.

Juneteenth, therefore, is the oldest known celebration of the end of slavery and it's lent itself to a number of traditions, including many songs like this one.


JORDAN LOUIS: (Singing) I want to tell you a story from way back. Truck on down and dig me, Jack. In 1865, a hep cat started some jive. He said, come on, gait(ph) and jump with me at the Juneteenth Jamboree. The rhythm was swinging at the picnic grounds. Fried chicken floating all around. Everybody there was full of glee at the Juneteenth Jamboree.

MARTIN: That's a track called "Juneteenth Jamboree" by the 1940s jazz R&B band leader and singer Louis Jordan. Just ahead, we'll hear from congressman Keith Ellison as he joins other progressive Democrats in Washington for a conference called Take Back the American Dream. That's coming up on TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.