Seth Moulton Says Immigration Is Good For Economy, Ignores Impact On Low-Skill Americans

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U.S. Representative Seth Moulton is a fan of immigration.

The Democrat from Salem hosted a virtual event on his Facebook page on Thursday afternoon praising immigration — making no distinction between legal and illegal immigration, not mentioning any potential downsides, and attacking President Donald Trump.

Moulton used the event as an opportunity to say that immigrants — legal and illegal — improve the country economically and socially. He also criticized Trump for opposing amnesty for illegal immigrants, for the federal government’s Mexico border family separation policy, and for raising the online naturalization application fee from $640 to $1,160.

“These policies affect all immigrants, but raising the cost on people who are already here, already eligible for citizenship, penalizes people who have done everything right,” Moulton said. “And placing the promise of our country and its shared principles out of reach for those who want to do their part, for people who want to live here legally and finally know the peace of mind that comes when the fear of deportation leaves.”

“All of this runs counter to what we know from our history:  that immigrants have always strengthened our country, and it fundamentally abandons our country’s creed that ‘out of many we are one’,” he continued. “It doesn’t matter if you’re picking fruit or a doctor, the promise of America is that in our country you will get a fair shake and the opportunity to advance if you work hard enough, the recognition that all this work matters, it contributes to making our country better and stronger.”

In his statement, Moulton equated those who pick fruit with doctors. However, from 2014 to 2016, a plurality of hired crop farm workers (48 percent) were not authorized to work in the United States, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Only 4 percent of them were legal immigrants with U.S. citizenship. 

Although Moulton says this kind of immigration is good for the economy, some observers ask:  is it good for workers? At least a few labor experts — left and right — disagree.

That includes Robert Reich, the secretary of labor under former President Bill Clinton. He once said, “Undoubtedly, access to lower-wage foreign workers has a depressing effect [on wages],” according to the Federation for American Immigration Reform.

Harvard labor economist George Borjas, a Cuban immigrant, also agrees.

He has written in The Atlantic:  “I have estimated that native workers lose about $133 billion a year as a result of this immigration, mainly because immigrants drive down wages. No wonder Americans are in a mean mood about immigration.”

Borjas has stated that a 10 percent increase in the labor force in a field depresses wages by about 3 to 4 percent. By that logic, a 50 percent increase would mean a 15 to 20 percent drop in wages.

Overall, he says that immigration boosts a country’s wealth by a small amount, but it’s not the workers who realize those gains.

“Immigration redistributes wealth from labor to capital,” Borjas wrote in 2011.

British labor economist Richard Layard, who has inspired policies adopted by the Labour Party, once wrote in a letter to the Financial Times:  “There is a huge amount of evidence that any increase in the number of unskilled workers lowers unskilled wages and increases the unskilled unemployment rate. If we are concerned about fairness, we ought not to ignore these facts. Employers gain from unskilled immigration. But the unskilled do not.”

And mass immigration’s impact on the working class is why the Communist Party of Britain (Marxist-Leninist) opposed it in 2007.

“We need to defend skill, defend the interests of our skilled British working class, and demand apprenticeships to develop skills,” the British Communists said in a written statement. “If we did all these things properly, would we need any immigration?

“But first we need to get to grips with the evidence and base our arguments on them,” the party continued. “At the moment there is too much claptrap coming from both ‘sides’:  unpleasant racists who hate all foreigners and so-called liberal thinkers who smother workers with their ‘caring’, masking only their cowardice to face up to reality.

“Meanwhile, in all this muddled thinking and refusal to discuss, the real sides of the argument are missed:  as always, it’s workers versus capitalists and as always we forget this at our peril,” the party concluded.

Moulton hosted the Facebook live video titled “Immigration and Citizenship Virtual Event” on Thursday, September 24. He offered his thoughts early in the presentation before stepping away for a vote in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Others on the panel included: American Immigration Lawyers Association New England Chapter chair Eliana Nader, Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition staff attorney Jessica Chicco, New American Association of Massachusetts executive director Natasha Soolkin, and Open Door Immigration Services executive director Sage Shaw.

Moulton, who represents Massachusetts’s Sixth Congressional District, which is north of Boston, is up for re-election this November. He is running against Republican John Paul Moran of Billerica.