Ohio voters have a message for lawmakers: Put American workers first. In an August poll, Ohioans across the political spectrum supported cutting visa allotments in half by a three-to-one margin.
A new Senate bill, the Reforming American Immigration for Strong Employment (RAISE) Act, would implement those cuts. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, ought to support the bill. By reducing the supply of cheap foreign labor, it would accomplish his long-standing goals of “raising workers’ wages and benefits” and “encouraging more companies to invest in their workforces.”
Currently, foreign workers can gain permanent residency in the United States if they’ve been awarded one of 50,000 visas at random through the visa lottery. Or they can obtain a green card after being sponsored by an extended family member who already lives in the United States.
Once foreign workers are here, they can sponsor their own extended families as well. There is virtually no consideration for those immigrants’ skillsets, occupational experiences, or educational attainment — or their impact on American workers.
In other words, Americans don’t pick the next round of immigrants. The previous round of immigrants does.
The RAISE Act, introduced by Sens. Tom Cotton, R-Arkansas, and David Perdue, R-Georgia, would replace this scheme with a merit-based system that awards aspiring immigrants “points” for how much they’ll contribute to the American economy. It would also reduce the total number of green cards issued by half.
This act would be a much-needed lifeline for Ohio’s working class. Ohio had the third-highest number of job losses in the nation in July. And the latest employment data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics puts Ohio’s unemployment rate at 5 percent — higher than the national average.
When considering underemployed or discouraged workers who have abandoned their job search entirely, unemployment jumps to 9.5 percent. And this doesn’t include those who have fallen out of the workforce completely. We can’t turn our back on our fellow Americans simply because they are no longer considered “officially unemployed.”
This economic burden weighs heavily on Ohio’s working class. State unemployment levels for construction, sales and production-related jobs are far higher than the national average.
One reason for these employment woes is an oversaturated job market, fueled by years of high immigration policies. Roughly 42 million immigrants reside in the United States. More than 13 percent of the U.S. population was born abroad, close to the highest share ever.
Ohio is not immune to this trend. The share of Ohio residents who were born in foreign nations has nearly doubled since 1990.
These immigrant workers — many with little education — flock to manual labor and service jobs. Foreign-born workers are more than 60 percent more likely to work in construction and maintenance positions than native-born workers.
Foreign-born workers without a high school education have increased the low-skilled workforce by 25 percent within the last two decades.
An oversupply of labor limits job opportunities for Americans and depresses wages. Excess competition in the low-skilled workforce enables employers to offer basement wages to employees. Earnings for native-born high school dropouts have plummeted between $800 and $1,500 annually since 1996 due to competition from foreign laborers.
The RAISE Act would solve many of these economic woes. Halving visa allotments would reduce the supply of cheap foreign labor that currently plagues working-class Americans. Native-born workers — particularly those without a college degree — would have fewer competitors and therefore more opportunities to fill jobs that pay a living wage.
Wages would rise as a result. That’s what happened at Crider, a Georgia-based chicken processing plant. The plant lost three-quarters of its workforce 10 years ago because of an impromptu immigration raid. After its supply of cheap foreign labor disappeared, the company was forced to hire native-born workers — at considerably higher wages.
In other words, absent cheap foreign labor, employers naturally boost wages. Keep that in mind when you hear employers say they can’t attract Americans willing to work.
Ohioans overwhelmingly support reforms that give more leverage to American workers. Eight in ten Ohio voters favor rules that would force businesses to hire Americans and legal residents rather than import new immigrants. And 65 percent of Ohioans think employers should pay higher wages to attract American workers instead of relying on immigrant workers, even if the higher wages cause prices to rise.
Buckeyes have made their immigration and economic concerns loud and clear. And if Sen. Brown really is a champion for Ohio workers, he’ll support the RAISE Act and implore Congress to put American workers first. If he doesn’t, he could join thousands of Ohioans in the unemployment line.
Pav Sterry graduated from MIT and spent many years as an educator, including teaching mathematics at Columbus State Community College. Sterry also worked in state government. She was a long-time member of the Humanist Community of Central Ohio until leaving the organization due to its support for amnesty for illegal immigrants. Her opinion does not necessarily represent the views of AIM Media.