To give credit where it is due, a group of House Republicans sent a letter to President Obama explaining that the Senate immigration bill the president supports would sharply increase low-skill immigration and put downward pressure on the wages of low-skill Americans and low-skill noncitizen residents. The latter population is often overlooked in this discussion but they shouldn’t be, as many in this group (and their children) will become our fellow citizens. The House Republicans rightly point out that the proposed increase in low-skill immigration will increase the labor market competition facing a group that already has an unemployment rate of over 10% in order to reduce the labor costs of employers. I hear the president is ever so concerned about income inequality.
The House GOP letter is good as far as it goes, but you can’t base an appeal to workers below the earnings median just on immigration policy. To be something more than a fillip, a more populist immigration policy needs to be connected to a wider agenda that would increase the take-home pay and allay the health insurance-related anxieties of lower-earning workers.
The House GOP letter is especially encouraging because it comes as Senator Marco Rubio has taken such a public interest in the issues of income mobility and increasing the returns to work at the lower end of the income distribution. Perhaps Rubio might consider that shifting future immigration to a system based on skills and language proficiency would be a better policy fit than the Gang of Eight deal that he helped negotiate. Such an immigration policy would also be popular.