Immigration Reform Proponents Must Consider Results From 100 Years Ago


The effect on the congressional immigration debate after House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s surprising primary loss should not be about whether to have reform, but whether that reform should be about increasing foreign labor or reducing it.

Cantor represented the unanimous views of the leadership of both parties, which have only differed in how and how much to increase lifetime immigrants, guest workers and legalizations of unlawful foreign visitors.

By stressing the opposite option — reductions in legal immigration — during his campaign against Cantor, victorious economics professor Dave Brat has suddenly given hope to the many members of Congress whose immigration policy vision for wage-earning Americans has been blocked by their parties’ leaders. Echoing themes articulated tirelessly by Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., Brat argues for dramatic cuts in future visas for immigrant and other foreign labor, The purpose is to allow the labor supply to tighten, raise wages and make it more likely that employers will recruit from the neglected American populations in today’s economy.

This is a prescription that has worked well in the past. Perhaps the most stunning example was 100 years ago, when the outbreak of World War I abruptly stopped a three-decades-old massive importation of immigrant labor into the United States.

Northern manufacturers responded by aggressively recruiting, training and employing the still-living freed slaves and their descendants. Since the 1880s, manufacturers had virtually ignored this source of workers, preferring to send ships to Europe to bring in immigrants to expand their factories. But 1914 began a domestic people movement from plantations to cities that has been celebrated in literature and art as “The Great Migration.” It was the start of a decades-long mass movement of black Americans into the non-agrarian economy of the nation and the building of a large black middle class. But it happened only after easy access to foreign labor was removed. Continue reading

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