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Posted on Jul 6, 2011
Josh Scheer: And then another question here is that you know obviously through tax revenue and other ways, immigrants bring in billions of dollars to our economy and also obviously businesses use them because they’re cheap labor. Business has obviously a big lobbying pull, and what is their influence, you know, where is their influence been on immigration laws? Why have they not been supportive, or more supportive, of comprehensive reform?
Marshall Fitz: It’s very interesting. I think for the most part, the businesses at the more local level have traditionally checked out of this debate. They understood that it’s an emotional subject; they haven’t wanted to kind of inflame their own constituencies and their own clients, frankly. So they’ve not wanted to engage as directly as we would have liked them to because we understand how much it’s in their self-interest to get this immigration policy right. At the national level, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and … other kinds of national associations have been very involved in the past but they haven’t necessarily put their money where their mouth is. They’ve lobbied on these issues but they haven’t really gone all out and all in either, even though to some of the industries, getting immigration policy right and for the future is of critical importance. What we see, though, and this is pretty interesting and a really new and recent development, is that as these state initiatives have started to spread as businesses have started to understand more concretely what the costs are going to be to them, they have weighed in and weighed in forcefully in opposition to these state initiatives. I can’t think of really any business organizations or association that has supported these state-based initiatives. Arizona, which of course was the first and you know, what has now become a series of states that have passed these types of measures, they tried to pass an even more restrictive legislation this year, and frankly, it was the fact that 60 CEOs in the state of Arizona signed a letter to the Senate president, Russell Pearce, who’s the architect of the anti-immigrant legislation there, and said look, enough’s enough. We, our companies and our employees have already suffered enough from the anti-immigrant legislation that was passed last year; it’s time for us to move forward and think about what makes smart fiscal sense for our state and for our businesses.
Josh Scheer: We’re speaking with Marshall Fitz, director of immigration policy for the Center for American Progress. Yeah, it’s interesting because also you see a lot of Republicans in Republican states kind of push this immigration you know, we gotta get rid of them, we gotta get rid of tem, we gotta get rid of them, but at the same time business always comes first, so it’s an interesting kind of dynamic. You want to get rid of immigrants, but businesses, of course, they like immigrants because it’s cheaper labor, in a globalized world, the perfect globalized world, you’d want immigrants coming in and sharing their ideas and working for cheap wages so it’s an interesting dynamic.
Marshall Fitz: Absolutely.
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Marshall Fitz: I think that the lie has been put to that argument by what’s happened in Georgia. The Georgia governor, who I think was, even though he’s been no fan to the immigrant rights movement over the years during this, Nathan Deal, during his time in Congress, and now as governor, I think he was a little bit concerned about signing the legislation to pass there because there was such strong opposition from the agro-business industry and many of the growers really understood the kind of core bottom line perspective: What this is going to mean. But he went ahead and signed the legislation and lo and behold, what we’ve seen is that just about every agricultural subset in this state is suffering labor shortages right now. Mostly it’s because in the general migration pattern of a lot of these farmworkers, they’re not coming into the state now because they think it’s a toxic place to be and they’re concerned for their well-being and their safety, and understandable so. The downside though, for the state, is that they’ve already lost hundreds of millions of dollars in crops that are not going to get picked, that are not going to be addressed. The agricultural demands are not going to be met with the necessary supply of labor in the state of Georgia. The governor actually tried to send a lot of probationers who had recently been on release from prison and were looking for employment, into the Georgia fields, and you know there’s been a lot of reporting on how few of them lasted. Many of them last just a few hours and said oh my God, I’m not taking this job, this is incredibly hard work. So we’ve seen it play out at the ground level in Georgia that this argument that, oh Americans want these jobs, Americans will take these jobs … is just not true.
Josh Scheer: Yeah, and obviously not a lot of Americans want to work in a sweatshop even if they just make minimum wage, but now we can obviously get into E-Verify for, you know, an hour here, and I know your group has written extensively on it but just briefly, basically the Public Policy Institute of California did a report on Arizona’s experiences under E-Verify and found that it basically shifted unauthorized immigrants from Arizona from the formal economy, where they pay taxes into the system, to the informal economy, where they do not.
Marshall Fitz: That’s exactly right.
Josh Scheer: And they also suffer many other forms of abuse. So this E-Verify is very costly too. Can you explain that briefly?
Marshall Fitz: Sure, so E-Verify is the electronic verification program that some members of Congress are promoting a piece of legislation on that would require every single employer to run every single new hire through a federal database before they were authorized to work. Now that’s basically asking the federal government whether or not they can employ someone; that is what you would call a massive new regulation at a time where, interestingly enough, many of the same people who are pushing this legislation are calling for massive deregulation of the federal government. So it seems that the anti-immigrant sentiment has trumped in this particular instance. But what would happen, as you said, it’s not going to drive undocumented immigrants from the country, despite the incredible great recession that we’re still kind of experiencing. What we’ve found is that immigrants are not going home. Some may leave a state deemed sufficiently hostile like Arizona, but they’re just going to another state and they are working there, and it’s to the loss of a state like Arizona. What we found is that if you actually legalized the workers, the undocumented workforce in Arizona, rather than try to drive them underground or out of the state, you would realize literally one and a half trillion dollars and then an increase in America’s gross domestic product. But in Arizona, specifically, you would see an increase in thousands of jobs, you would also see an increase in millions and millions of dollars of tax revenue, so the cost to the state of implementing these initiatives, these E-Verify initiatives and driving the workers out of the state, is massive and the benefit of driving them out, which the authors of these initiatives hold up as reduced fiscal burden from education and health care for these workers and their families, is really de minimis, and so if state legislators [were] looking at the ledger and doing the cost-benefit calculus that we would expect of our elected officials, they would understand with that question that these initiatives are far too costly and that there is a better way.
Josh Scheer: The DREAM Act, I want to get to it quickly, I know there is a lot more that goes into it. It failed the Senate by a few votes that year. The bill by Dick Durbin and Orrin Hatch, this is, basically, if you do some kind of military service, children who have come here complete some college or military service will become on their path to citizenship. It failed by a few votes. … Now the big question to this, and this is the one that I, the real problem that I think with the way DREAM Act is now, because a lot of states have adopted this thing where they get tuition and so people are getting educated through GMAC, but is then you have all these undocumented students. They get a college degree, but then they cannot get a job. So now you have perfectly educated, capable people doing jobs like waitressing, dishwashing or working under the table, earning less than they’re supposed to, and then being taken advantage of. And sometimes it seems like it’s kind of a waste. You have all these educated students, they can’t become citizens, they can’t be even on the path to citizenship, and yet they’re being taken advantage of by the system. What is the future of the DREAM Act? Is it something that we will see in our lifetime? I mean the Senate only failed by a few votes.
Marshall Fitz: It’s utterly counterproductive, the types of initiatives we have vis-à-vis these kids in this country. States are doing what they are doing, what they can, in terms of providing in state tuition and really trying to tell and urge the federal government to step up and pass the DREAM Act so that these kids are productive and able to realize their full potential. The DREAM Act has a lot of support in the Senate; it passed the House in December. I think that the real problem is that in this House of Representatives with Lamar Smith, with Holman, with the Republican leadership that seems to kowtow to anti-immigrant wing of its party. It’s virtually impossible to see how it would pass in this Congress. We’re very hopeful that in the near future, though, there will be enough momentum to force the legislatures and their colleagues to step up instead of step back and to deliver for these kids.
Josh Scheer: Well, thank you, Marshall, for joining us on Truthdig Radio, and again keep up the good work and I know this won’t be the last time we speak about immigration because this is an issue that is not going away tomorrow or the next day. So keep up the good work and thanks for joining us.
Marshall Fitz: Thanks so much for having me.
Josh Scheer: Have a great day.
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