WASHINGTON — If you want to alleviate worries about the economic impact of immigration reform, increase the minimum wage.
If you want to reassure communities that bear the highest costs from large-scale immigration, revisit a proposal from 2006 by a senator named Hillary Clinton to help state and local governments cover some of the expense of providing health care and education to undocumented workers.
What do these suggestions have in common? They address legitimate concerns while issuing a challenge to Republicans who believe they can block reform and still win future elections — as long as they expand their support among the white working class.
The catch for the GOP is that it doesn’t seem eager to do anything concrete to earn the loyalty of such voters, many of whom stayed home in 2012 rather than vote for Mitt Romney.
Battling for a higher minimum wage would test the Republicans’ newfound love for the salt of the earth. Are they willing to embrace an idea endorsed by 7 in 10 Americans? Or do they retreat to Romney’s rhetoric privileging “job creators” over workers?
Raising the minimum wage would also respond to a claim being put forward by opponents of immigration reform. “The last thing low-skilled native and immigrant workers already here should have to deal with is wage-depressing competition from newly arriving workers,” wrote William Kristol and Rich Lowry in a joint editorial this week signaling an enhanced level of opposition on the right to the Senate immigration bill.
It’s heartwarming to know that the editors of the Weekly Standard and National Review are now worried about depressed wages. In truth, granting immigrants who are here illegally basic labor rights would have a positive effect on wages for all workers. But if Kristol and Lowry are really worried about low-paid workers, let their next literary collaboration be an endorsement of a $9 or $10 hourly minimum wage.
Clinton’s 2006 proposal likewise has the virtue of giving a substantive reply to questions regularly voiced by immigration foes.