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THE MUSINGS OF A TRADITIONAL SOUTHERN DEMOCRAT

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Location: Douglas, Coffee Co., The Other Georgia, United States

Sid in his law office where he sits when meeting with clients. Observant eyes will notice the statuette of one of Sid's favorite Democrats.

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

The next wave may come from Democrats: Some Democrats Worry Newcomers Will Crowd Job Market

From The Wall Street Journal:

Dexter Jackson, a chef at a barbecue restaurant in South Carolina, worries that unemployment is high and that Congress is about to make it worse. Easing immigration rules, he says, "takes jobs away from Americans."

In his skepticism about current proposals for overhauling immigration, Mr. Jackson, a 24-year-old living in Piedmont, S.C., joins many lawmakers in Congress. But unlike most of them, he is a Democrat who has voted for President Barack Obama.

Democrats wary of immigration are a minority within their own party, but it is a group that is largely made up of lower-earning people. Now, with immigration proposals facing a difficult path through the House, the voices of these Democrats, combined with similar concerns voice by Republicans, could add fuel to the arguments that allowing more guest workers into the U.S. and legalizing illegal immigrants would squeeze the wages and jobs of native-born workers.

"I'm still a liberal.…I just don't think they should pass immigration," said Rebecca Leach, a 36-year-old former licensed nurse assistant in Laconia, N.H., who has gone back to school so she can get a higher-paying job. Ms. Leach, a Democrat who voted for Mr. Obama, said she finds the idea of bringing more workers into the country "very frustrating," given her own challenges in earning a living.

"I have to struggle, and I've been in this country all of my life," said Ms. Leach, a single mother.

When a Wall Street Journal/NBC News survey asked in April whether immigration strengthens or weakens the country, 68% of all Democrats polled said it strengthened the country. But among Democrats with household income under $30,000 a year, 53% saw immigration as beneficial, with a large minority of 42% saying it weakened the country.

Republicans remain more apt to see immigration in a negative light and to oppose efforts to overhaul immigration laws. Among all Republicans, the Journal/NBC survey found, only 37% said immigration strengthens the U.S., with 52% saying it weakens the country.

Fears of immigrants' effect on the working class prompted some labor unions and Democratic lawmakers to oppose the last big push for an immigration shake-up, in 2007. Similar sentiments are being heard again, though they are more muted this time.

Now, labor unions are among the most important supporters of the Senate's plan to rewrite immigration laws, as they see newly legalized workers as potential members at a time of big declines in union enrollment. Democratic lawmakers increasingly see Latino voters, who tend to favor an overhaul of the laws, as a key constituency.

And this time, a Democratic president is backing the overhaul, whereas it was a Republican, George W. Bush, who put his weight behind the last push.

That leaves Republican lawmakers as the most vocal advocates for the argument that adding foreign workers will harm native-born workers.

"This bill is going to bring in huge amounts of new workers to take the few jobs being created,'' said Sen. Jeff Sessions (R., Ala.) on the Senate floor recently.

In interviews, some Democrats cite similar fears of competing with newly legalized immigrants or guest workers. "A citizen should get the job before an immigrant," said Max Morcha, who works for a concrete placement company in Olathe, Kan. "I've been doing this type of work for the last 20 some years, and I've seen it change from citizens that live here to a bunch of Spanish descent. It's a shame."

As a result of such sentiments, some lawmakers in both parties have tried to add worker-training provisions to immigration legislation, aiming to give native-born workers a better opportunity to take jobs that are open, particularly high-skill jobs.

Labor unions, a key component of the Democratic coalition, argue that legalizing immigrants will boost all workers, making it easier to enforce wage standards and labor-condition rules. Jeff Hauser, political media liaison for the AFL-CIO, said native-born workers already are competing with illegal workers. The overhaul, he said, means that "unscrupulous" employers who rely on illegal labor will have to return to fair hiring practices.

Similarly, Adriana Kugler, professor of public policy at Georgetown University and former chief economist at the Department of Labor, said immigration makes it easier for companies to hire in the U.S. for jobs that might have been sent abroad. "It's not that immigrants are taking jobs away from people who are here. What seems to be happening is that immigrants are taking jobs away that are otherwise being outsourced elsewhere," she said.

Ms. Kugler also rejected the fear that increased immigration would drive down wages, pointing to a clause in the bill that requires employers to hire immigrants at the prevailing wage.

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