Immigration Reform Bill Hurts Kern County’s Unemployed; 2014 Prospects Dim

Published on December 9th, 2013

By Joe Guzzardi
December 09, 2013

This week, immigration reform advocates will begin an 11-day sit-in at U.S. Rep. Kevin McCarthy’s Bakersfield office. The Kern Coalition for Citizens plans to remain until December 13, the last day on the congressional calendar. McCarthy is the Majority Whip and the third-highest ranking House Republican. On December 12, Bakersfield’s protestors will begin a fast similar to the one on Washington’s National Mall that drew visits from President Obama, the First Lady and several Cabinet members.

The Bakersfield demonstration hopes to pressure Rep. McCarthy to pass comprehensive immigration reform and is the third since August. But the protestations won’t succeed, at least this year, because 1) the numbers of congressional business days is down to a small handful, 2) House leadership including Speaker Boehner and McCarthy have insisted that they will not move on a “comprehensive” bill and 3) the House has no bill to act on. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid hasn’t sent S. 744, the upper chamber’s bill, to Boehner because it contains provisions that would raise taxes, something only the House can do.

What may happen with immigration reform in 2014 is a source of intense Capitol Hill speculation. Boehner has hired a special aide who, in 2006 and 2007, helped write two immigration bills that ultimately failed. Some of the House’s most committed members pledge that they will bring smaller, piecemeal bills forward next year. Rumors abound that Boehner, who has repeatedly said that he “wants to get something done,” will wait until after primary season to introduce a series of bills. That strategy, Boehner hopes, will protect incumbents against Tea Party primary challenges.

But history shows that in an election year incumbents are loath to mention immigration, let alone act on it. More important, and what’s lost amidst the political theater surrounding illegal immigrants fasting and chaining themselves to the White House fence, is that any legislation, piecemeal or otherwise, that grants amnesty, work permits and social security cards to 11-20 million illegal immigrants is, as McCarthy and his House colleagues know, intensely unpopular back home. Little wonder voters are unhappy. According to the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, from 2006 to 2013, Kern County unemployment averaged 11.5 percent. 

With 20 million Americans unemployed or underemployed, adding millions more to the labor pool would make their job searches tougher and would also further depress the already stagnant wages earned by the employed. Although the U.S. already has the world’s most generous immigration policy, the Senate bill would double legal immigration within the next two decades and add 20 million more low and high-skilled workers. Every year about 900,000 legal, work authorized immigrants arrive. Last year, the U.S. also admitted 700, 000 guest workers on so called temporary visas. The visas may technically be temporary but many who hold them overstay and never return home.

Even without more immigration, job creation barely keeps up with population growth. Many newly created jobs are part-time or in the low-paying hospitality and service sectors. The ratio of available jobs to people willing to work including new immigrants should be but isn’t part of the congressional immigration reform debate. 

In January, when the Senate Gang of Eight originally convened, advocates considered comprehensive immigration reform a slam dunk. When they looked into the crystal ball, they projected that President Obama would have signed a new law no later than August. They were wrong. Just as the pro-immigration lobby learned in 2006 and 2007, bills may look like a shoo-in on paper. But valid grassroots resistance to adding millions more workers in a dismal economy is hard for Congress to ignore and bodes poorly for reform’s short-term prospects. 

Joe Guzzardi is a Californians for Population Stabilization Senior Writing Fellow whose columns have been syndicated since 1987. Contact him at [email protected]

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