Americans are rethinking an immigration policy carried over from last century that has worn out its welcome and contributed to a disturbing loss of opportunities for the middle class over the past six decades.
While the illegal immigrant crisis is an obvious and glaring issue that needs to be solved as soon as the next Administration is in place, conservatives are reevaluating immigration policy as a whole and beginning to see cracks in the cheap labor movement that resulted from the 1965 Immigration Act.
For years, the only politically acceptable stances on the right were to tentatively criticize illegal immigration, pretend to fight against “amnesty,” and laugh over Trump’s wall while applauding any form of immigration that was “legal.” The argument went that we are a nation of immigrants and that as long as it is legal, immigration is unquestionably a net positive.
However, this is more a symbolic argument than a practical one. The history of the U.S. is – obviously – one of immigration, but policies must change to adapt to modern realities, and the cheap labor movement has put millions of Americans out of work.
It has been over sixty years since Congress attempted to encourage a broader group of immigrants to enter the country and provide a cheap labor source for corporations through its 1965 Immigration Act, and the middle-class has largely paid the price.
Cheap foreign labor directly competes with job-seeking Americans, and those at the highest risk of displacement are working class individuals without a college education who already face an uphill battle in the modern economy. According to the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), the share of working-age men born in the U.S. who are in the labor force was lower in 2000 than in 1960 and in all states except for one, that number fell further from 2000 to 2023.
CIS reports that U.S. born men have been taken out of the labor force in nearly every state. In 1960, forty-four out of fifty states had healthy labor participation rates above 85%, but that number has declined to just five states in 2023.
The number of U.S.-born men without jobs has increased by 13.8 million individuals from 1960 to 2023, and the number of immigrant men in the labor force has risen by nearly the exact same number, 13.7 million.
We have a growing population of Americans who have been displaced due to cheap foreign labor, causing a host of ramifications we have barely begun to understand. However, we do know that risks for drug addiction, suicide, and crime rise with an increasing population of unemployed.
It isn’t only the working class who are being displaced either. White collar jobs are also being snapped up through the visa system, leaving Americans with dwindling options for advancement.
Americans for Limited Government has long recognized the threat of cheap foreign labor and was instrumental in reminding Trump White House staffers that the president ran against outsourcing white-collar jobs through certain visas. That fight was a success, but the GOP must be reminded at every turn that their obligation is to their constituents.
There is strong consensus on the right that illegal immigration is an issue that needs to be solved in the next administration, with 60% of Republicans citing illegal immigration as a top issue according to recent research by American Compass. However, conservative critique of the modern immigration system goes beyond the Biden border crisis.
Going directly to the core of the legal immigration issue, 85% of Republicans say it is a good thing that the U.S. has a tight labor market, because it will incentivize companies to raise wages for Americans, as opposed to importing cheap labor from other countries. Only fifteen percent of Republicans say we have a labor shortage that should be solved by increasing legal immigration to fill those jobs.
While majorities of Republicans agree a tight labor market forcing companies to raise wages is a good thing, there are small deviations by economic class. Just ten percent of the working class say we should import new workers through immigration, while 22% of the upper classes hold this view.
Beyond the GOP, immigration is a growing concern as well. This year Gallup polling showed the share of Americans who say immigration is a “good thing” is at its lowest point since 2014.
Americans’ desire to curb immigration is also on the rise, with the share of Americans saying they want immigration decreased (41%), far exceeding the share who want immigration increased (26%).
Gallup also showed Americans have net negative views on how immigration is impacting crime (-42), taxes (-26), job opportunities (-8), and the economy (-1).
The data showed a wide partisan gap when evaluating the impact immigration has on job opportunities, with Republicans and Independents broadly agreeing it has a net negative impact. Republicans say immigration has a net negative impact on jobs by 50 points and Independents say so by eight points. Democrats believe immigration has a net positive impact on jobs by fifteen points.
For years the country has been gaslit that if something is ‘legal’ we should accept it’s in our best interest, as if Congress is incapable of passing laws that line their own pockets at the expense of the rest of us.
Cheap foreign labor is a direct assault on the middle-class achieving the American Dream, and until that is no longer the case immigration policy needs to put citizens first. The immigration policy of the 1960’s no longer serves the average American, and a huge coalition of voters from across the political spectrum are beginning to wake up to that fact, and demand their representatives wake up as well.
Congress and the slew of GOP presidential contenders should be on their toes because the weak, half-hearted platitudes from the 2000’s on immigration policy are no longer acceptable.
Bill Wilson is the former president of Americans for Limited Government.