Deena Flinchum, Joe Manchin, West Virginia’s senior senator and arguably the last of Appalachia’s pro-labor, pro-family Blue Dog Democrats, recently visited the southern border to see the surge of migrants firsthand. Over 172,000 illegal immigrants were apprehended in March alone, the highest total for March in over 20 years.
Although he agreed that the border surge is indeed a crisis, his disheartening takeaway was to propose amnesty as a solution.
Offering amnesty to people here illegally — no matter how sympathetic their stories might be — would only incentivize more unlawful border crossings. A continued influx of illegal immigrants would hurt the working-class folks that Senator Manchin claims to fight for.
After touring the border, Senator Manchin told reporters that Congress should pass an amnesty for people who “might have come here the wrong way but . . . came here for the right reason.” This line of thinking assumes that illegal immigration is a victimless crime. It is not.
A study published in the Journal of Economic Surveys found that “immigration can create winners and losers among the native-born workers.” Since immigrants tend to work in low-skill occupations, they directly compete with — and sometimes displace — lower-skilled Americans. That competition for a limited number of jobs also depresses wages, according to research from Harvard’s George Borjas.
Highly skilled, well-educated Americans generally benefit from an influx of low-skilled foreigners. It means cheaper housekeepers, landscapers, drywallers, and other manual laborers. It means cheaper meals out to eat, since restaurants can staff their kitchens with illegal — or newly legalized — immigrants who will accept minimum, and even below-minimum, wages without complaint.
Simply put, businesses can pay lower wages and be less diligent in enforcing health and safety regulations when there’s slack in the labor market. That’s good for the coastal elites in Washington, New York, and other metropolises.
But it’s bad for the long-suffering workers of Appalachia, who’ve historically lacked the same economic opportunities as their coastal peers. Fewer than a quarter of Appalachia residents 25 and older have bachelor’s degrees, much lower than the national average of roughly 32 percent.
Of the 420 counties covered by the Appalachian Regional Commission, 78 are currently classified as “distressed” — meaning they rank in the bottom 10 percent of counties nationally on metrics such as unemployment rates, per capita incomes, and poverty rates. Another 104 counties are “at-risk,” meaning they’re in the bottom 25 percent of counties nationally.
America’s less-skilled workers have already been hit hard by the pandemic. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that employment won’t return to its pre-pandemic level until 2024. Given this enduring weakness, it makes absolutely no sense to flood the labor market with millions of new workers during one of the worst economic crises in recent history.
Additionally, the increase in less-skilled workers will place even more burdens on the social services that have already been severely tested by the pandemic and the attendant economic downturn. Schools are struggling to reopen and serve students, many of whom live in poverty. Affordable housing is scarce. Governmental social services are proving inadequate to serve a population that is increasingly forced to turn to food banks, churches, and other service providers also under pressure to serve more clients.
Border Patrol agents recently encountered some migrants wearing “Biden Let Us In” t-shirts — a clear sign that illegal immigrants think they’ll get a free pass now that Donald Trump is out of office.
If politicians like Senator Manchin keep dangling the promise of amnesty, it’ll only entice more people to cross the border illegally.
Deena Flinchum is an IT worker who was employed by the AFL-CIO for 25 years before retiring. She is now a community volunteer in southwest Virginia.