Resisting Gastarbeiters in America

Mathew Yglesias in the American Prospect Online:

Immigration is that rarest thing in politics — a controversial issue that’s not just “controversial” but actually difficult. People who think immigrants are “stealing their jobs” are mistaken, but politicians who say immigrants do jobs “Americans won’t do” are lying. There’s no job Americans won’t do – it’s just a question of how much Americans want to be paid to do the job. Research indicates that large flows of low-skilled immigrants from Mexico have a small, but quite real, downward pull on the wages of poorly educated people including, of course, many people who’ve already immigrated from Mexico and most of their descendants. On the other hand, immigration has a mildly positive effect on the rest of us, and a hugely positive effect on the immigrants themselves, who tend to be much poorer than even the poorest Americans.

Legitimate progressive priorities thus come into conflict and, at the end of the day, leave me entirely uncertain as to what the right number of immigrants to allow ought to be.

One aspect of the current debate, however, is easy — we don’t need any sort of “guest-worker” program.

The details of these proposals vary quite a bit and, as ever, the details are important. But all varieties of the concept share some factors in common.