Opinions by Washington Post, NYT’s Nicholas Kristoff

I am excerpting two opinion pieces from this weekend: the Washington Post’s editorial 4/8/06, ‘Nirvana,’ Lost Thanks largely to Democrats, the Senate missed an opportunity, and Nicholas Kristoff’s column today 4/9/06 in the New York Times, “Compassion that hurts.”
The editorial says that the compromised bill was working in the right direction and that Democrats killed it. I have a problem with an unstated premise of the editorial, that the compromise bill would not be savaged on the floor of the Senate. More likely, no bill will come out of conference with the enforcement-focused House of Representatives. Sure, Democrats at the time would very much like to run in November with a partisan pro-Hispanic position and no legislation enacted with a Republican majority in Congress.
Kristoff essentially repeats arguments made and cited before by me, that massive immigration by poorly educated Hispanics are to the detriment of America’s poorly educated. (To find the several entries, search for Borjas and Camarota.)
The Washington Post’s editorial (link not available):

The Senate could have left town yesterday with a workable, if imperfect, immigration bill that would have let millions of people living here illegally come out of the shadows. It had before it a deal that could have attracted 70 votes; it had the backing of the White House and the support of Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), despite his previous, enforcement-only stance.

But after two weeks of slogging toward compromise, the deal blew up over a procedural standoff on whether to move forward with voting for amendments. “It’s not gone forward because there’s a political advantage for Democrats not to have an immigration bill,” said Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter (R-Pa.). “The Democratic leadership played politics with the prospect of 10 million immigrants getting on a path to citizenship,” said Frank Sharry, executive director of the National Immigration Forum, a pro-immigration group. “It seems that Democratic leaders wanted an issue, not a bill.”

Too bad, because, as Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) described the measure, “compared with the status quo, it’s nirvana.” The compromise was a slightly tweaked version of a bill produced by the Senate Judiciary Committee and modeled on the proposal by Mr. McCain and Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.). As retooled by Sens. Mel Martinez (R-Fla.) and Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.), the bill still would have entitled almost all of the nation’s 11 million or more illegal immigrants to legal status and, ultimately, citizenship. Moreover, it would have reduced incentives for future illegal immigration by creating a significant supply of legal guest worker permits — a new program that would, as well, give foreign workers the chance to become permanent residents and ultimately citizens

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Nicolas Kristoff’s column of today:

I used to favor a program to allow in guest workers, thinking it would be good for them and also great for America by providing a source of low-cost labor — just as it was good for America to admit our own ancestors. But I’ve changed my mind on a guest worker program, because of growing evidence that low-wage immigration hurts America’s own poor.

Kristoff cites studies by George Borjas and Lawrence Katz and by Steven Camarota. I have posted on these studies before.

I can’t write about this issue without thinking of Elmer, a neighbor when I was growing up. He’s a high school dropout now in his 50’s, but when I met him in 1971, he was earning $26 an hour in a union job. He’s very hard-working, but for the last decade he’s been reduced to janitorial jobs paying not much over minimum wage. People like Elmer haven’t been heard from in the immigration debate, but they have the most at stake. {He is now working at close to minimum wages.]

The 1986 immigration amnesty ended up bringing in waves of unskilled workers. They care for our children and mow our lawns. But as they raise living standards for many of us, they lower the living standards of Americans [with poor education.]

Children are hit particularly hard, because they are disproportionately likely to be poor. Nearly half of American children depend on a worker with a high school education or less. The broader problem is that our immigration program is structured so as to bring in cheap laborers more than brilliant minds. At last count, only 16 percent of admissions for permanent residence went to those with employment qualifications, while the great majority went to applicants on the basis of family ties.

When I lived in China, American diplomats complained that under the law they had to deny visas to brilliant physicists while granting immigrant visas to elementary-school dropouts who had a relative in Chicago.

So let’s go ahead and regularize longtime illegals, rather than leaving them forever in the shadows. But instead of bringing in a new flood of guest workers, let’s recast our generosity more toward biologists and computer programmers…That’s the immigration flow to expand….An influx of hundreds of thousands more unskilled laborers would impoverish them further — and to me, that does not feel like compassion.

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