NOTRE DAME, IN - As President Obama renews an effort to pass immigration reform, Allert Brown-Gort, associate director of the University of Notre Dame’s Institute for Latino Studies, says immigration has become a bad word.
“It doesn’t mean what it used to mean,” Brown-Gort says. "It no longer conjures images of Ellis Island. Now, even when we are talking about immigration in general, the default is we start talking about undocumented immigration, a threat to the nation, security, people taking jobs that Americans want. The reality is pretty far from that. Only slightly over a quarter of immigrants in the United States are undocumented, and at the moment we have zero net migration with Mexico.”
Brown-Gort says it’s unfortunate that immigration has become a “political football.” He says the costs are easy to identify but the benefits are very diffuse, so for politicians there is little credit for doing the right thing and a great deal of potential gain by demagoguing the topic.
“It has particularly become an issue within the Republican Party,” Brown-Gort says, “and I think if we juxtapose that with the growth of the immigrant community, especially with the children of immigrants, we’re going to see that it’s going to have some long-term effects on the Republican Party."
As far as a solution, Brown-Gort says we need to consider the economic reality of immigration and turn to the Department of Labor to enforce current labor laws.
“People are convinced that undocumented immigrants are here because they will work for employers who want to exploit them,” Brown-Gort says. “There is some of that, undoubtedly. A way to alleviate that is to empower the Department of Labor to enforce labor laws vigorously for everybody. If employers are staying in business by hiring and exploiting immigrants, then they will no longer be able to do that. The American-born workers are then free to either take or not take the jobs and if they aren’t showing up, the Department of Labor can step in once again with an understanding about what the shorter term labor needs are in this country and be able to work with Homeland Security to offer the necessary number of visas.”
Brown-Gort says most guest worker programs empower employers, which can lead to exploitation. If workers hold the rights to the visas, they can be free to seek employment in places that won’t exploit them. Also, he says, such a system would protect America’s lowest-paid workers, many of whom are in direct competition with immigrants.
Brown-Gort is a citizen of both the United States and Mexico, an expert on immigration policy, civil service reform and the political views of Mexican nationals in the United States. He has served as an advisor to the U.S. Senate on Hispanic issues.