The A.F.L.-C.I.O.'s call for the government to grant amnesty to an estimated six million illegal immigrants currently living in the United States and to eliminate most sanctions on employers who hire them in the future was a surprising turnabout. Until now, organized labor has fought hard to keep illegal workers from taking jobs from higher-paid union workers.
The A.F.L.-C.I.O.'s proposal is attractive to many groups. Unions welcome the chance to go after a huge new pool of unorganized workers. Employers welcome the chance to hire cheap labor without fear of criminal liability. And illegal immigrants who have worked hard for years and raised families under harrowing circumstances would welcome access to medical care and other services denied to illegal aliens.
But the A.F.L.-C.I.O.'s proposal should be rejected. Amnesty would undermine the integrity of the country's immigration laws and would depress the wages of its lowest-paid native-born workers.
Back in 1986, Congress granted amnesty to an estimated three million illegal immigrants as part of a law that also promised to crack down on further illegal immigration by imposing sanctions on employers who knowingly violated the law. At that time, this page endorsed amnesty because it was tied to measures that promised to keep further rounds of illegal immigration in check. But 14 years later there are twice as many illegal workers, and employer sanctions are widely deemed a joke. Workers pretend to show employers proof of citizenship or work visas and employers pretend they do not know the proof is fake.
The primary problem with amnesties is that they beget more illegal immigration. Demographers trace the doubling of the number of Mexican immigrants since 1990 in part to the amnesty of the 1980's. Amnesties signal foreign workers that American citizenship can be had by sneaking across the border, or staying beyond the term of one's visa, and hiding out until Congress passes the next amnesty. The 1980's amnesty also attracted a large flow of illegal relatives of those workers who became newly legal. All that is unfair to those who play by the immigration rules and wait years to gain legal admission.
It is also unfair to unskilled workers already in the United States. Between about 1980 and 1995, the gap between the wages of high school dropouts and all other workers widened substantially. Prof. George Borjas of Harvard estimates that almost half of this trend can be traced to immigration of unskilled workers. Illegal immigration of unskilled workers induced by another amnesty would make matters worse. The better course of action is to honor America's proud tradition by continuing to welcome legal immigrants and find ways to punish employers who refuse to obey the law.
... Published: February 22, 2000
The unemployment rate in February 2000 was 4.1%, The unemployment rate today is 7.6%.