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Protecting native U.S. workers must be a central goal of immigration reform. Although the economic research is mixed on the direct effects of immigrant labor on the wages and working conditions of native U.S. workers, effective reform must create mechanisms that ensure that immigrant workers are not being used to distort the labor market to the detriment of native U.S. workers. To do so we must afford all workers meaningful labor protections and create carefully calibrated mechanisms to determine the flow of future immigrant workers into the United States.
In light of the likely U.S. demographic and labor market dynamics in the foreseeable future, it is all but certain that our economy, across the board, will continue to require immigrant workers. Reform efforts must replace a continuation of undocumented immigration with legal mechanisms to bring immigrants into the country to meet legitimate labor demands. To ensure that legal immigration serves to expand overall U.S. economic growth and dynamism by complimenting the existing native workforce, mechanisms to authorize the entry of additional workers into the country, at all education and skill levels, must be calibrated to meet actual unmet labor market demands.
Replacing informal immigration with regulated immigration is necessary but not sufficient for protecting native U.S. workers and future immigrant workers. To protect all workers, effective comprehensive immigration reform must provide immigrant workers with the ability to freely change jobs, at least among employers who have complied with mechanisms established to ensure that immigrant workers are not being used to displace willing and available native U.S. workers.
To ensure that the labor protections afforded to immigrant workers are sufficiently robust to protect all workers, future workers must be given, over time, an opportunity to become full, permanent, contributing members of our society.
Doing so will also protect against the creation of an immigrant worker underclass that has proven so volatile in other industrialized countries and will create additional incentives for immigrant workers and their families to jumpstart the assimilation process and make their contribution to the collective American identity.
For more on the Center’s policies on immigration, please see: