Sunday, April 28, 2013

Are Immigrants taking American Jobs?

Immigration is a hot topic bracketed by views from the right and left that aren't predictable based on party affiliation.... maybe because the Hispanic vote has taken on such a high priority for the 2014 elections? From the Ag perspective, getting a sufficient supply of legal farm help has continued to be an increasingly difficult task forcing many farmers to use whatever help they can find. While the Wine Business is not as dire given the higher wage paid, you're foolish to think the current debate wont have any real impact here given the breadth of the discussion.

Some of the questions raised: Is it really fair to give a free pass to people who have ignored the laws of the State and are here illegally? Should you deport families whose children are born in the US and are citizens? Is it fair to taxpayers to be forced to educate illegal immigrants when our education system is in such a poor state? Is it fair to have Americans pay for illegal immigrant's medical expenses when they go to an emergency room? Are they taking jobs from Americans? You might think the jobs are low wage, but what about the high-paid jobs that are being filled by immigrants under the H1-B Visa program? Wouldn't Americans want those jobs? Under the Bill, estimates are that we will be granting up to 1.1 million illegal farm workers some measure of a legal status. Does that make sense?

Illegal Immigrants

Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) authored a section in the proposed Immigration Bill that addresses the farmworker shortage specifically. She said she wanted to find a way to "create a professional class of skilled agricultural laborers." Under Feinstein’s proposal, undocumented workers who work at least 100 days over two years would be given an agricultural “Blue-Card.” Blue-Card holders would then need to work for an additional 500 days over five years, or 450 days over three years to get permanent residency. Getting that “Green-card” permanent status is not slam dunk under this plan. I'm a little confused how we are going to document, undocumented workers on the number of days they worked so we can qualify them but I'm sure someone here will let me know how that's going to work.

Low birth rates are a negative for any economy so in the US, we need immigrants to be a part of the system. In my thinking, there's not much difference between what our ancestors did in leaving their native lands to seek greater opportunity, versus what immigrant farm workers are doing today. In what is a uniquely American tradition they bring new cultures and ideas that renew the DNA of our Country's soul. At the same time, immigrants have always filled the unskilled and disagreeable jobs native born citizens would never take. Those immigrants have always started at the bottom of the job market, then hope their kids have a better future.

The truth is immigrants have always added to the economic vitality of our economy. Case in point: In every U.S. census from 1880 onward, immigrants accounted for a greater percentage of small business owners than natives. You are probably aware that small business creates more jobs than big business. Silicon Valley Bank is dominant in the Technology space and issues original content and reports on a variety of topics. In the SVB's Startup Outlook Report just released, I caught a really interesting stat: Over 50% of the present technology startups had as a founder, an immigrant. Those businesses aren't food trucks. Those technology businesses create high-value work for Americans. That's a job creation fact that is worth considering.

Of course there is another tradition that has always accompanied migrations to the US; some measure of distrust, and fear that immigrants are taking "our jobs." You find that negative tradition repeated in the immigration histories of the Irish, Italians, Chinese, Vietnamese .... name your ancestor. Its another American tradition and its an ugly one as depicted in the historical political cartoon at left.

Building fences isn't the solution for this issue. We need farmworkers and a better process to allow them into the system. While we also need immediate improvements to the H1-B Visa program, the fact we aren't developing graduates with skills needed for those jobs is something that also has to be addressed. The atrocious state of our domestic education system is something we can control. Mark Zuckerberg addressed that in an op-ed piece in the Washington Post recently. The two situations - importing skilled labor and a failing education system are related.

Highly Skilled Immigrant Labor

The US now ranks below at least 20 other countries in achievement levels for our K-12 students measured by the International PISA test. It doesn't matter what discipline you examine: Language Arts, Mathematics, or Science. Plainly, we aren't helping our kids compete in a world labor market that includes immigrants. And if we want to create jobs, we need those immigrants who are creating more than half the new tech start ups. So limiting immigration of highly-skilled people isn't a solution as is often proposed. What would the US look like without allowing Einstein to immigrate? The solution is to find a way so our own schools can fix the deficit in qualified talent so we don't even need the H1-B law, and thus move our idea-based economy into the next Century providing opportunity for our own citizens.

The US used to have a lot of advantages that made up for the deficiency in talent and declining level of education. In the day, the majority of Americans could still get good manufacturing jobs and trade jobs without being excellent students. The problem now is jobs are increasingly global and knowledge based and manufacturing has relocated to other countries. When you can hire workers in China, Korea, Canada or Poland (all ahead of us in PISA) who can provide first and second line customer support to high tech companies, who can write software for game developers, who can read X-rays for US doctors, who can complete US tax returns for US corporations, who can design and build products for US technology companies, Americans are no longer guaranteed a job because of their relatively poor academic preparation.


One Solution for Helping Education

In talking last week to Rick Jones and Chuck McMinn, they described one encouraging initiative that is demonstrating a real chance of succeeding and expanding throughout the US; NapaLearns.  The Foundation started with diagnosis of the issue - comparing attitudes about learning between successful countries and the US. The results? The citizens of almost every other country ahead of us internationally view education as an investment in their future.  In the US, we have come to view education as an an expense and just like all our other governmental expenses it is one that needs to be controlled and minimized. In most of these other countries future teachers are recruited out of the top 10% of their graduating classes and have to pass a medical boards type of test to become teachers. In the US, the average teacher graduates in the bottom 1/3rd of their class. In most other countries teachers are viewed and paid as professionals like doctors or scientists. Not so in the US where we do not view or pay teachers nearly as well.

NapaLearns is focusing on how people learn and develop the skills needed in real life. They aren't bound to traditional teaching methods of memorizing facts and figures as has been the case for the past 200 years in education. By focusing on "doing" instead of memorizing, they find kids actually retain more. They also are developing critical problem solving skills using team-based platforms and mirroring the way companies solve complex real world problems. Implicit in that is evolved training and support for teachers as the most critical professional resource we have. Last, the learning process for each student is individualized to help them learn in their own style and on their own path. It is done so with up to date digital tools which include iPads for every student (that can't make textbook resellers too happy.) The Foundation has successfully beta-tested the approach and that is now ready for prime time and will be rolling this program out to several School Districts within the Napa Valley this next school year.

Are Immigrants Taking American Jobs?

Pulling it back to the title of the piece - Are Immigrant's taking US Jobs? The answer is no, but no for different reasons. With farmworkers, its a long proven fact current US natives wont do the kind of field work immigrants will willingly accept. The possibility that Senator Feinstein proposes in the Immigration Bill  - making it easier for immigrants to be less transient and have a path to citizenship will be good for the economy. As it relates to the high-paid jobs being filled with the H1-B visa program, the answer is no simply because we are no longer able to educate our children so they can compete with educated immigrants. Just building a wall or limiting immigrants wont solve that problem.
Sorry for the long post. I hope you held in there to read it. Take a look at the site if you are interested in helping there or seeing how your kids might benefit from the program.
What do you think?
  • Are immigrants taking our jobs?
  • Is it good policy to reward illegal immigrants with citizenship?
  • What will the legalization of 1.1M undocumented aliens do to the economy?
  • Are you siding with the proposed legislation and the path to citizenship?
  • Can we change the laws, limit the H1-B visas, and protect American jobs for our children?
  • Are the boarders less-safe by allowing undocumented workers to remain in the US?

Please sign in, offer your view on this large topic, and participate in the debate and discussion.


  1. appreciate your article and the details included. you covered the issue when usually immigration articles are written only involving one portion of the issue.

    1. Thanks Anon 9:31. That one took a fair amount of time to write to try and get the right presentation. Thanks for reading to the end and commenting.

  2. Well written. I have always tried explaining to people how education is an investment in our own economy and how if our citizens are well educated the increase in taxes that they would bring in over their lifetime from their income would more than make up for the initial investment in schools. Thank you so much too for talking so plainly and openly about the necessary role of immigrants in our society. Sometimes I wonder if people ever truly think through their "build a wall" plans to address illegal immigration. Not only would it never work, but America just wouldn't be the land of opportunity anymore and wouldn't have the magnetic effect of bringing in the brightest and hardest working people. Why on Earth would we ever consider doing that?

    1. We are falling behind in educating the next generation and it's initiatives like NapaLearns that can perhaps give legs to a new approach that will breed success on success.
      Building physical walls for defense went out with the advent of the cannon in the 1300s. Building physical walls to keep people out/in has a more recent successful example in the former Soviet Union. While there is a wall between the US and Mexico, it’s largely useless keeping people movement from taking place. What we do have is an immigration policy that creates a Wall of Administration so that we encourage illegals to come into the country and keep out a portion of those trying to come across legally by working within the system.
      As it relates to farmworkers, labor has a market like anything else. If we created a perfect system that was simple to negotiate and workers earned a fair wage defined by their own family standards, they will come. They will come with or without the wall. The wall itself between Mexico and the US isn't doing much of anything useful as far as I can tell, but maybe someone else has another view.

  3. "As it relates to the high-paid jobs being filled with the H1-B visa program, the answer is no simply because we are no longer able to educate our children so they can compete with educated immigrants. ", actually I believe it's because High Tech companies are unwilling to hire and give a crash coarse retraining to our existing Engineers in this country already. Besides when a High Tech comapnay can get tax credits and even pay less to a H1-B employees why bother with laid off Engineers.

    Further with High Tech being so lay off and sell off happy you really think college kids see it as job security?

    1. Anon 10:46 - As I understand the situation in the Tech Business, because of the shortage in specific technical fields - the companies have and are still doing presicely what you suggest but the success rate is quite low. We are taking about very specialized skills. Remember too that companies are looking for experience, so training won't necessarily solve the shortage in experience. While it would be nice to have the high-paying jobs stay in the US if the addition of someone under an H1-B visa adds to the success of a tech product, that will add jobs to the economy.

      No - college kids don't see job security. Take it from a dad with a graduated son looking for work. recognize however that today there is no "employment for life" employeers or employees. We used to see resumes with 4-6 jobs in a decade and presume that person couldn't hold work. Not, its nowmal to see people with that kind of job rotation. So - both employeer and employee are part of the solution there.

  4. There is another aspect to the supply farm labor in coming decades. The rural parts of states in Mexico that have provided immigrant labor in the past (e.g. Oaxaca, Michoacan) are largely depopulated now. The birth rate per woman in Mexico has gone from ~7 in 1960 to a little more than 2--about replacement level. In spite of what we read of drug cartels in Mexico, the economy is growing and providing jobs that are better-paying than ever before. So regardless of their legal status, it is not clear to me that there is another cohort of Mexican citizens yearning to become farm workers here in the American West. Demographers at the Pew Research center believe there were fewer people born in Mexico living in the US in 2011 than in 2007.

    1. Thanks PG. I didn't know that fact about declinging birth rates.

  5. As far as agricultural shortage, mechanization can replace the farm worker. The technology currently exists to plant, cultivate and harvest crops, however the UFW has prevented many technologies from leaving the barn.
    Great insight into education! We cannot just invest money into a system that is broken. We need to select teachers from the top of the class, pay them as such and allow them to teach!

    1. Anon 12:52. Mechanization can help, as can crop science and genetics. I will ask the same question Pinotgraves asks below: Which technologies are the UFW keepng from being more implimented?

  6. Anonymous--
    Can you give us an example one of these technologies that can't leave the barn? Inquiring minds want to know....

  7. I will call myself AnonymousABC to differentiate myself from the people who have posted previously with the same name.

    My point is that 'do gooders' like the author of this piece, who claim that illegals do not take jobs from Americans, are not only wrong, but are helping to "kill the goose that laid the golden egg" for all of us LEGAL immigrants who struggled to come in 'the right way' despite the hurdles, the hardships and, many times, the unreasonable demands the Immigration Dept imposed upon us while following the letter of the law.

    Those demands and hurdles, we found out when we finally crossed the border, were worth the effort. This was a country where the laws and the government worked for the people; where opportunity abounded, and where the acceptance and generosity of the American people were something we had never experienced in our own country. On the contrary, what we happily left, were corrupt and uncaring oligarchs who worked hand in hand with an equally corrupt and uncaring government to stanch the aspirations of the common citizen in every possible way, not the least of which were injustice, oppression, and outright thievery of the wealth of the country for their own use.

    For a long time, the US was 'The City on the Hill', the hope of all who yearned to be free to pursue their dreams unhindered. This was a country of laws, not a country of 'political caciques', of a few rich individuals who milked the system for their sole advantage; powerful men who owned the resources, and whose children alone were meant to inherit whatever wealth and the power their parents had accumulated!

    The seeds of America's destruction were sown before my time, during the end of the war when 'the evil empire' planted its agents within the American government, who burrowed deeply into every agency and government bureau, then patiently waited for the blossoming of the evil it had sown. For a time they lay dormant, with only a few instances of discomfort, which came during the McCarthy era, and much later on, during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Then came the late 60's and 70's, with all the anti-American rabble rousers, hippies, communists disguised as liberal democrats, and bleeding-heart progressives who turned out to be the tools and the useful idiots the communist international would serve itself from in order to destroy the law and order which previously prevailed in this country. (continues....)

  8. From AnonymusABC -- (continued...)

    The culmination of their plan was fully realized in 2008, with the election of an inept, inexperienced, totally incompetent moron whose only qualities were having 'the right color, and the right type of 'charm'.

    Now, going back to the subject matter at hand, which is "Are Immigrants American jobs?" The answer is: in may fields, absolutely YES!

    Starting by agricultural jobs. The common argument is that immigrants do the jobs Americans won't do.
    Given the fact that the government now is attempting to create a 'dependent' rather than a 'working class' by keeping people unemployed with enormously generous benefits and entitlements, why exactly would Americans bother to do field work, when they can be assured of more or less the same income by staying home, claiming disability and collecting unemployment checks?

    Do immigrants take jobs away from Americans in the building, packing, manufacturing and even some mechanical industries? Absolutely YES!
    With the border completely broken, a lack of vigilance of businesses that hire illegals for much less than they would pay an American native, and politicians and unions attempting to keep the situation unchanged for their own purposes, there is absolute evidence that construction and factory jobs are going to non-Americans.

    Do immigrants take jobs away from Americans in the high tech business? Absolutely YES!
    American unions and left wing politicians have decimated, corrupted and dumbed-down the education system, aided by the entertainment industry that keeps American children and young adults distracted, glued to one machine or another, and pacified with its inane, vapid and shallow TV, movies and music while foreign countries educate their children properly in science, humanities, philosophy and work-ethic. They are now the innovators and the technicians who create the next IT thing.

    To wrap up my argument, I and many of the immigrants who love this country more than you could possibly imagine, are now witnessing its destruction, engineered sadly by traitorous Americans, and aided by the entitlement addicted people who refuse to see the reality of the economic, moral and political havoc, the beyond-left-of-center government presently occupying Washington is wreaking upon its own apathetic people.This country now resembles almost completely the one we left!

    America, we now despair for your future and ours!

  9. Anon ABC - thanks for calling me a do-gooder. That is a rare compliment for me. Your initial perspective in the first 3 paragraphs are are consistent with many. Essentially its I am here and make the rest of them follow the law. Fair and valid point.

    To your last 2 paragraphs, while its been a country of laws, we still need immigration reform because the labrynth of laws created by competing interests is now so daunting, legal immigration becomes only for the wealthy. Is that the right policy? Some think so. Since you are decrying the wealthy as opressing the working class, I can only presume that you don't want to have immigration only support the wealthy and we should allow penniless immigrants to come to the shores. Maybe you were one such person. If so, you would struggle greatly to find a path to citizenchip under the conflicting laws we presently have. And by the way .... both sides of the isle believe that.

    The seeds of American destruction comments are a little dramatic. While I will agree its not the 50's which I see as the pinacle of American success and life, most people if given a choice between 5 countries would still have the USA on the top of their list.

    Will we survive? I'm not certain. Economically there are seeds of destruction in any civilzation if left to root. The couple I worry about is the abandonment of faith and what that does for generosity and culture, and the entitlements that have to be addressed and a way found to foster growth again. The debt that we are taking on is not manageable, and I worry that we will abandon the notion that we are our brothers keepers and life is a team sport. We win together better than separately. Thankfully, our anemic population growth rate is being bolsterd by immigrants and that gives us the opportunity to see continued growth and prosperity for us all. We aren't out of the woods and who knows? You might be right and we will all go down the crapper. I hope not.

    I have to go back to doing good now, but I do honestly and sincerely appreciate you weighing in with your view.


Please sign into the community to post. Common-sense guidelines apply: Disagree with author but offer your own thoughts. Disagree with other posters but please attack the post versus the person.

Flaming, spamming, off-topic posts, advertising and offensive posts that would not be suitable for work will probably be deleted. Drunken posts will be forwarded to your mother.