Yet Another About-Face For Walker on Immigration

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (photo credit: Gage Skidmore via Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0)
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (photo credit: Gage Skidmore via Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0)

I noted here recently that most of the GOP candidates appeared to be converging around a similar stance on immigration, one which focused on securing the border and then providing a path to legal status for the undocumented.  Based on some recent comments, however, Scott Walker would seem to be bucking this trend, and not in a good way.

Walker appeared on Glenn Beck’s radio show on Monday, where he was asked about his views on immigration.  He argued for the need to secure the border and to enforce the law by requiring American employers to use an “effective E-Verify system,” both proposals which are necessary and reasonable and put him well within the consensus among conservatives.  But it was when he began addressing legal immigration that his comments began to take a different turn:

And then, in terms of legal immigration, what we need to approach that going forward is saying we will make adjustments.  The next President and the next Congress need to make decisions about a legal immigration system that’s based on, first and foremost, protecting American workers and American wages.  Because that—the more I’ve talked to folks—I’ve talked to Senator Sessions and others out there.  But it is a fundamentally lost issue by many in elected positions today: what is this doing not only to American workers looking for jobs but what is it doing to the wages?  And we need to have that be at the forefront of our discussion going forward.

While Gov. Walker does not explicitly call for a restriction in legal immigration here, his protectionist rhetoric and reference to Sen. Sessions would seem to imply such a stance.  A statement later released by Walker’s Our American Revival PAC does little to dispel this notion.

Although a restrictionist approach may sound reasonable, in fact, it is unhelpful for two major reasons.  Economically, much research has shown that immigration does much to help the economy and the middle class by stimulating market growth, leading to greater job creation and subsequent wage growth.  Take, for example, a recent Niskanen Center study from David Bier:

From 1948 to 1980, the labor force expanded rapidly, increasing 76 percent, and real median income skyrocketed for wage and salary workers, rising over 80 percent for both men and women.

From 1981 to 2013, real median income growth slowed to a meager 8 percent for men and 55 percent for women. Was greater labor competition to blame? No. In fact, the labor force grew at half the earlier rate, increasing just 43 percent. Relative to the size of the workforce, many fewer workers were competing for jobs during this period.

[…]

If you’re searching for an explanation for lower labor force growth, focus on American parents, not foreign workers. The baby boom explains almost all of the difference in the labor force growth prior to 1980. The birth rate plummeted from 123 births per 1,000 women to 67 births from 1957 to 1987, before leveling off.

The consensus among economists is unambiguous: New foreign workers are not a threat to domestic wages. Immigrants complement U.S. workers, which increases demand for the skills that natives possess. Adding more construction workers, for example, increases demand for civil engineers, which raises their wages.

More workers also benefit Americans by lowering the prices of goods and services. By leaving more money in the pockets of consumers, Americans can buy more elsewhere in the economy, which creates demand for jobs in those areas. The market adapts to the new workers, and the result is higher wages for everyone.

Beyond the economics, however, supporting immigration is also a positive politically.  Latinos are a growing constituency in this country, and while they are certainly not single-issue voters, polling has shown that immigration is an important issue.  Pitching an immigration plan that focuses on the negative but not the positive role of immigrants in America is unlikely to win them over.  Not to mention that polling has also shown significant support for immigration reform among Republican voters as well.

While they do not help him, Walker’s comments this week need not cripple his potential campaign before it starts.  Walker has shown ambiguity on the issue of immigration up to this point, and he could still do much to clarify his stance by suggesting how, for example, improvements to our immigration system, such as a dynamic guest worker program, could bolster our economy and help reduce the labor demand driving illegal immigration.  Joining the restrictionist camp, on the other hand, would almost certainly doom his campaign before it even begins.

Paul Dupont is a legislative assistant for American Principles in Action.