Navarrette (Unwittingly) Hits the Nail on the Head

One of my readers pointed me to a recent column by Ruben Navarrette.  My reader, whom I’ll refer to as M, was irritated by a particular passage in the column, but to me the entire piece requires comment.

Navarrette’s theme here is that those who would like to tighten immigration policy, known to both sides as restrictionists, have changed their tactics, from race baiting to class warfare.  M, as an immigrant and person of color himself, must have found that “race baiting” characterization of restrictionists quite offensive.  Polls have shown over the years that many immigrants tend to agree that immigration policy needs some tightening, and native African-Americans have been particularly concerned.

The passage cited by M was this one:

[Center for Immigration Studies analyst] Vaughan made a pitch for fairness and told the story of U.S. hotel workers who had been fired after many years on the job and replaced with immigrants who were willing to work for lower wages.

Steam came out of my ears. I countered that jobs in the U.S. are not reserved for Americans but rather are open to anyone who comes here legally and competes for them. I said no one promised the American workers that they were entitled to a life free of competition and suggested those threatened by undocumented workers with limited skills need to go back to school and get more skills.

There is a lot in that passage.

First, the restrictionists have been pointing out for years that the American underclass is victimized by low-skilled immigration.  The case of LA hotel owners breaking up the mainly-black janitors union and hiring cheaper Latino immigrants in their place has been cited by the restrictionists for a good 20 years.  (This may or may not be what Vaughn is referring to.)  A 1992 article in the Atlantic Monthly, “Black and Brown in LA,” was also prominently mentioned by the restrictionist side at the time.  Navarrette’s claim that the restrictionists have suddenly discovered the impact on America’s poor as a reason for reducing the size of the yearly immigration flow is clearly false, and I suspect that Navarrette knows that.

After Hurricane Katrina, a number of locals, mainly African-American, were hired for the cleanup and rebuilding.  But after a few days, they were told, “We don’t need you anymore.  The Mexicans have arrived,” a statement that speaks volumes.  Ironically, the “LA” in black and brown in LA was now Louisiana.  Keep this in mind in reading Navarrette’s statement, “those threatened by undocumented workers with limited skills need to go back to school and get more skills” — he seems to be addressing his comments to African-Americans!

Though arguably Navarrette has a point, the really salient point is that HE is the one doing the race-baiting.

As to his complaint that restrictionists are couching the immigration debate in terms of misdeeds by Big Business, that’s not new either, and I suspect that privately Navarrette does not disagree. It’s true for high-skilled immigration too, of course, even more so.  Former Senator Alan Simpson, praised here by Navarrette, used to complain about the tech industry’s total intransigence in making the H-1B program more fair to American workers.  One remark of his, made in 1996 to the San Jose Mercury News, describes the situation most succinctly:  “`I was working with the business community…to address their concerns, [but] each time we resolved one, they became more creative, more novel.”  In the end, the industry blocked reform of H-1B altogether.

So why, then, have I titled this blog post as indicating that Navarrette actually got to the core of the immigration issue?  The fact is that I strongly agree with his statement, “…jobs in the U.S. are not reserved for Americans but rather are open to anyone who comes here legally and competes for them.”  Some of you have noticed that in writing about the impact of H-1B on Americans, I always define that latter group to consist of U.S. citizens and permanent residents.   An immigrant with a newly-minted green card has just as much right to a job opening as naturalized citizens and natives.

But that is the crux of the matter.  Our immigration policy should be designed so that a given occupation, whether blue or white collar, is not overwhelmed by the external influx.  Immigration keeps us from getting stagnant and complacent, but at a certain point it becomes harmful, both to the Americans and the newcomers alike.  H-1B, as I’ve said, is more than anything a tool to avoid hiring over-35 workers, and there are many older immigrant engineers in Silicon Valley who have trouble finding engineering work, just like the natives.

I used to be a fan of Navarrette’s, since before he started writing newspaper columns.  I bought and enjoyed his memoir of his journey from a poor Central Valley family to the rarified atmosphere of Harvard, published just after he graduated.  But then he turned into a hateful ideologue, a shameful waste of talent.


22 thoughts on “Navarrette (Unwittingly) Hits the Nail on the Head

  1. I agree with your assessment of columnist Ruben Navarrette. I witnessed the shift you discuss while he was a columnist for the Dallas Morning News.


  2. Outrageously, both left and right have colluded to victimize African-Americans once again; shortly after African-Americans gained admission to union hiring halls in the 1970’s, business discovered it could destroy both unions and labor standards through massive immigration and off-shoring.


  3. No one promised any worker security and wealth.

    However, we certainly _should_ expect elected officials to pursue policies that create stronger communities, shared prosperity, opportunity and fairness, and investment in the future.

    We should oppose policies that lower living standards and divide us and weaken social cohesion.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. “entitled to a life free of competition”
    That’s a red herring.
    If my chosen profession is the same a buggy whip maker, that’s my problem. If my skills aren’t current, that’s my problem.
    But as long as there exist nations and borders there will be immigration policies, and a nation ought to set its immigration policy with the interest of its own people at least in mind. (Of course it’s a balancing decision — if there is a humanitarian crisis, the policy might allow more immigration to save lives of non-Americans to the acceptable detriment of American’s livelihoods.) Too much restriction, of trade or immigration, is not in the country’s best interest either.
    In particular, especially if we believe the claims that high tech is the future, our immigration policy should not disfavor STEM careers, which is the obvious medium-term result of H1-B and similar programs. Skewing immigration to favor specific occupations obviously increases competition for wages in that line of work.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Interesting stuff.

    The entire line of argument that “restrictionism = racism” is totally offensive. I am not a racist in any sense. I work comfortably with Chinese, Indians, persons of Hispanic and Asian extraction, and so forth. I also believe that we must find a way to control our borders, and the word Mexican does come in, because the majority are Mexican. The words Canadian, Irish, German, Russian, Cuban, Guatamalan, Brazilian also come in, but these come in less frequently due to the relative frequency of persons of these national origins are less common as illegals.

    In fact, the very charge of “racism” is itself racist. The charge of racism is being made because persons of the open-borders orientation assume that I and other restrictionists are thinking “brown”. I am not thinking “brown”, I am thinking “criminal” of one sort or another. Thus, it is a racist assumption.

    Liked by 1 person

    • As a lifelong minority activist, I have always been sensitive to possibly unhealthy attitudes among some toward other races, gender, religions and so on. But having said that, I must add that the word “racist” may be the most abused and ill-defined words in the English language

      Liked by 1 person

  6. And Navarette quickly slides to include UNDOCUMENTED as if they were legal:

    >I said no one promised the American workers that they were entitled to a life free of competition and
    >suggested those threatened by undocumented workers with limited skills need to go back to school and
    >get more skills.

    I guess steam comes out of his ears when his brains stops working.

    Liked by 1 person

      • >To Navarrette, those undocumented workers ARE legal, or should be.

        No doubt. Yet he starts out explicitly talking about “legal” and then slides to “undocumented”, why use the adjectives if they have no meaning? Answer is exactly as you say, he’s trying to slide in the argument that there should be no immigration restrictions at all.


  7. I’ve long felt that the policies of our government are hammering the middle class from the top and the bottom.

    A few months back I attended a movie and talk by Robert Reich, Berkeley professor and former Clinton staffer, at the Mondavi Center at UC Davis. Reich went on and on about declining wages for low-income workers, and how we needed more government programs to lift wages.

    I addressed Dr. Reich, and two huge issues he ignores: massive illegal immigration and “multi-partner fertility”. I noted that basic supply and demand will reveal that when we bring in 30 to 45 million illegal immigrants (the 12 million figure is a joke), sure, wages will stifle. That’s common sense. I also invoked your janitor observations, Dr. Matloff, noting that African Americans had their wages decline and lost benefits.

    Reich claimed that immigrants only lower wages “temporarily”, for “a short period of time”, and by only 10-15%, in very specific job categories. (He gave no source.) Given the setting, no follow up question was allowed. I have family members who worked in construction, have friends who work in construction, and I’ve seen this go on for 35 years. His figures are bogus or half-baked. If a union carpenter makes $38 an hour in Northern California; a General Contractor will charge you $95 an hour for a carpenter and worker’s comp and overhead; and you can hire an illegal immigrant for $15 an hour, that’s not a 15% difference!

    My point regarding changing “family formation” led Dr. Reich to ask me a follow up question, I wasn’t sure how much of it was for clarification, and how much of it was “gotcha”. Part of my reply was that if a young high school dropout chooses to have 3 children by 3 different men, she and they will have a tough life, but I don’t think that is a direct commentary on our economic system. I also was clear to point out that the men involved are part of the problem, and have responsibilities to fulfill. Long term, men and women not marrying may be affected by these various factors as the erosion of the middle class may make these men feel they are unable to provide for their girlfriend and / or children, so they don’t commit.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I wonder what Reich meant by “temporary,” given that there is a new influx of immigrants each year. Presumably he (or the research he’s thinking of) meant that once large-scale immigration replaces native workers in a given occupation, it won’t get any worse, because the (high) percentage of immigrants in that occupation has stabilized.

      I’m surprised that Reich, whose sympathy for the poor is genuine, does not realize that even a 10-15% reduction in wages is devastating to low-skilled workers. And much worse, the biggest problem is that the victims here won’t be getting wages at all, because they were displaced.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. (Emphasis is mine)

    Ruben wrote:
    ‘… I countered that jobs in the U.S. are not reserved for Americans but rather are open to anyone who comes here “legally” and competes for them. I said no one promised the American workers that they were entitled to a life free of competition and suggested those threatened by “undocumented workers” with limited skills need to go back to school and get more skills…”

    Norm –

    Cognitive Dissonance, according to Merriam-Webster:
    “…psychological conflict resulting from simultaneously held incongruous beliefs and attitudes…”

    I’d like to see how Ruben can reconcile the above statement, since “undocumented workers” are NOT here “legally”. He obviously has deep inner conflicts, IMHO.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That was indeed a magician-like redirection from legals to illegals.
      On the STEM / H1-B side, legal, documented aliens are still a problem.
      Both problems are similar: illegals are here because policy is to not enforce existing statutes; guest workers are here because of policy decisions enacted in law. It’s good if laws are respected by the government, but that’s orthogonal to whether the border policy as practiced is ideal.


    • Ruben perpetuates the idea that only unskilled uneducated illegal aliens are here. Fact is, many illegal aliens were skilled or educated enough to get non immigrant visas, such as student visas, to study here. They, as well as “Dreamers” may well compete directly with Americans for middle and higher income jobs. However, while many of us do not compete directly with low wage illegal aliens for jobs, we’re the ones who pay the taxes that subsidize illegal aliens and provide the welfare and social services for the Americans they displace or whose wages they drive down.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. I get very annoyed when I hear about this argument to “go back to school and get more schooling” crap. When you are displaced from a job by unfair competition from illegals, it is not a simple matter to “go back to school”. You lose your income. Your income is how you pay for school. Thus, when you lose your job to an unfair competition due to an illegal, you usually cannot afford to go to school.

    But let’s continue this dumb game, and say that you will go back to school. How long will you need to go to school? How much debt will you accrue to get into a position to get a new job? What profession should you select? As many have found, picking even what sounds like a good and sound profession (IT was the chosen profession of several years ago) may be subject to its own waves of illegal substitution. Plus, when you go back to school, you must usually go to the start of the line, and take a low-paying starting job. If you are middle-aged, this is a huge difficulty.

    Our society is designed to have a competitive situation for jobs. What it was not designed for is to have UNLIMITED competition of all sorts of outside players, who are not legal, and for whom no planning could be made by a rational actor. In the 1980s, many went into IT, as it was a good area, the work was fun, and there were a lot of jobs. Congress totally changed the situation for these persons unpredictably by vastly increasing the H-1B (and L-1 and F-1 and O-1 and B-1 and J-1) in the 1990s. This took them out of the labor market, just when they were getting to the point in the career when higher paying opportunities should have come along.

    It’s a fundamentally stupid argument, and falls apart upon analysis, but is thrown out by the open-borders wacks all the time.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. “those threatened by undocumented workers with limited skills need to go back to school and get more skills” — he seems to be addressing his comments to African-Americans!”
    ————–I always tell people who make a comment such as this that they should be telling illegal aliens the same thing, since they’re the ones who can’t successfully compete for good paying jobs in their own countries. If they could, well, they wouldn’t be here, would they?


  11. I don’t mind being called a ‘restrictionist’ since I want to limit population, carbon dioxide, etc. But I do note that most everyone seems to get a positive title in these pc times, like ‘pro-choice’ and ‘pro-life.’ ‘Restrictionist’ sounds like someone with an eye on your windpipe, but I guess we ‘anti-immigration’ meanies are beyond the pale.

    Liked by 1 person

    • This is a real problem. Slogan or not, it is true that the U.S. is a “nation of immigrants.” Past era of restrictionism, e.g. the 1920s, have been discredited, mostly for good reason. Yet there is, sadly, no recognition among the expansionists that times have changed.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. His theory assumes a permanent underclass of maintenance wage workers supported by tax payer based social services. It is the very definition of class ignorance.
    If a workers goal, in his words, is to move up the ladder by education, who will do the jobs “that nobody wants to do”. This is the different than what built the all-inclusive middle-class prior to the “New Global Deal”. Then it was wage pressure by organized labor and middle class bias towards blue-collar “professions”.
    Since we gave away manufacturing and everything that was considered a good paying job, the education industry is one of the few things that is still a workable profit model in a service-class population.
    We continue to tell people to improve by education but I fear that has more to do with keeping the industry going than giving people a way to move up.
    We are educating people for jobs that don’t exist and most likely can be filled by already educated ‘guest workers’ if they are actually created.
    Its a rat chasing a mouse that is starving to death.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. “both left and right have colluded to victimize African-Americans once again”

    Yes, both right and left have reported how political bosses and union bosses and business executives and others have striven to abuse blacks by initiating force and fraud to manipulate supply and demand and mobility in job markets. My cousin reported it back when he was ambassador to Cuba after the Civil War (on encountering one such schemer during the journey down the Ohio and Mississippi). Chudacoff & Smith report it from the left in their _Evolution of American Urban Society_. Economists Walter E. Williams and Thomas Sowell have reported it.

    “No one promised any worker security and wealth.”

    Actually, they have, repeatedly. When recruiting indentured servants, they promised it. It was/is promised to school-children, to applicants to law schools, to applicants to STEM programs in universities, even to apprentice printing press operators and brick-masons. Keep your nose clean, follow the rules (which vary with the job and they often failed/fail to impart explicitly and fully), do the work, and you’ll be assured a good job throughout your life and wherever in the USA you want to go. And what David Chesler said, too.

    “Open to anyone who comes here legally” leaves open the huge loop-hole of what is legal and what should be legal, which is the subject of the debate. Measures like H-1B are sold as one thing and carried out as something completely different. The “best and brightest” are generally neither. “Difficulty recruiting” becomes making less and less effort to recruit. Often, such magic terms are mentioned in passing, but intentionally unenforceable. But RN doesn’t want any restrictions at all.

    “it is true that the U.S. is a ‘nation of immigrants'”

    Nope. Never. That’s just propaganda. Immigrants, here and in the UK and Europe, have always been a small minority: 2%=16% of the population. A nation of descendants of immigrants, yes.

    The restrictions of the 1920s and 1930s were proven to be good and reasonable. The frontiers were already well gone by 1890. Instead of tapering down on immigration, they opened up with a bigger flood than ever through about 1915. In the 1600s and 1700s and even the very early 1800s we were much more upwardly mobile. Indentured servants could become pillars of the community within just a few years after the end of their indenture. Why? Because we were not yet over-populated nor, in most places, over-crowded. By 1890 that was no longer true; the over-population was beginning to set in.


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