Immigration and Economics

Ted Rall, a fine cartoonist, and usually a pretty perceptive guy, can’t understand why immigration is the most important issue for Republican voters. Why not the economy? he wondered in a recent Facebook post. Here’s what Rall doesn’t understand: immigration is fundamentally about economics. Rall is not alone in his ignorance of these basic facts: Most people coming to or seeking to come to the United States are not persecuted. They’re not refugees. They’re economic migrants who want to make money. And the effect of their presence in the United States is substantially economic and harmful to the working class.

There is the popular desire for immigration – the humanitarian impulse and the need to virtue signal. Then there is the profit motive. This is the fundamental motive. Like the immigrant, the capitalist seeks to make money. He invites immigrant labor to the United States because it is cheaper, cheapens the labor of non-immigrants, and politically disorganizes the laboring masses.

Long ago, Karl Marx observed, “The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas, i.e. the class which is the ruling material force of society, is at the same time its ruling intellectual force. The class which has the means of material production at its disposal, has control at the same time over the means of mental production.” It is only by developing an alternative intellectual force that labor can fight back against the design of the capitalist class. A good rule of thumb is this: if capitalists insist on it, it is probably not in labor’s interest. That may not always be true. But it’s always worth looking into. 

Those in the working class who have been convinced that immigrants are refugees fleeing group persecution are unwittingly doing the bidding of forces that aim to undermine the living standards and the political power of the working class. When progressives, such as Jeremy Scahill (as he did on a recent and otherwise quite informative Intercept podcast about Donald Trump’s authoritarianism), claim that workers who oppose immigration are not actually victims – that fascism works because it is able to convince winners that they are really losers – they are denying the fact that nonimmigrants are in fact harmed by immigration. Nonimmigrants see lower wages, compromised social services, greater relative tax burden, and residential overcrowding and neighborhood disorder. Characterizing their pain as racism and xenophobia only drives them into the arms of those who purport to feel their pain. And those are not the arms of their salvation.

Published by

Andrew Austin

Andrew Austin is on the faculty of Democracy and Justice Studies and Sociology at the University of Wisconsin—Green Bay. He has published numerous articles, essays, and reviews in books, encyclopedia, journals, and newspapers.

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