Most of the time the public doesn’t care enough to pay attention. As a result most legislation is negotiated between the various interests and beltway elites are accustomed to having their own way.
The elites are so used to this, they’ve forgotten how to behave when the public does care. With the public engaged, it’s not enough to strike a deal between Beltway interest groups – you have to forge a public consensus.
That was possible on immigration, ‘amnesty’ notwithstanding. But it rested on the majority of the public believing that immigration reform would not impact their wages and living standard.
But that message was undercut by a public orgy of corporate greed for cheap labor provisions slaked by the willingness of many Democrats to feed it.
Feeding Legitimate Fears
Large numbers of Americans believe this will mark the first generation in US history where children do not surpass their parents. They are increasingly afraid of a future characterized by rising prices, jobs sent overseas and a life-after-layoff consisting of flipping burgers.
Perhaps they are wrong to believe that immigrants exacerbate the problem. But how could they be expected to think otherwise when they see Congress’ protestations contradicted by their backroom deals.The more leadership gave in to the corporate desire for cheap labor, the more they fueled the fears and rage that drove public opposition.
Remember: the public was paying attention.
They knew that this bill included an entirely new category of temporary guest workers that served no purpose except to provide cheaper labor. Every time the bill’s proponents fought for easier standards and higher caps for the temporary guest workers (as many as 540,000 a year at one point), they undermined their own credibility that this was about something other than cheap labor.
The public knew that piled on top of the temporary guest worker program were multiple other categories of cheap labor – H(1)b visas to replace homegrown American tech workers and H(2)a visas for seasonal low wage workers, among others. (At the time the bill was killed the number of seasonal low wage workers permitted to enter the country each year was unlimited!)
Jobs No One Else Would Work – For Those Wages
Democrats only made things worse by repeating the claim that these were workers for jobs no one else wanted -- like those dangerous jobs in the meatpacking industry. Oh, wait a second! Those used to employ homegrown workers in union jobs paying upwards of $20 an hour. Then the meatpackers busted the union and cut the wages to single digits. THEN only immigrants would work them.
For the corporate Dems, the ones who support free trade, this was just business as usual. Send jobs overseas? Bring in cheap labor to work them here? Same difference.
A Devil’s Bargain
For others it was part of a calculation – they decided that the only way to pass the bill was give in to the business demand for cheap labor in return for their support for legalization of undocumented immigrants.
But it was a Devil’s Bargain. It created a bill only Mary Shelley could love -- nowhere this side of Frankenstein is there another example of such incompatible parts sewn together in a single body.
The role of the Doctor who thought he could do anything he pleased was being played by an arrogant Congress. The townspeople were played by a large swath of the American public, more frightened than anything else. As usual, torches and pitchforks trumped insider ‘genius.’
Next Time: Stick to Principles
The next time the Democrats try to pass an immigration bill, they would be better off constructing one consistent with their principles and fighting it out on the merits, Corporate America be damned.