Over at The Corner, Mark Krikorian suggested spending funds Bush earmarked for job training on “immigration enforcement” at work sites. The idea is to make cheap immigrant labor less available, and thereby to make domestic ex-convicts more attractive to employers.
But how about streamlining immigration procedures instead? If immigrants will work for lower wages than ex-convicts, artificially restricting the labor market to benefit ex-cons amounts to an indirect and inefficient subsidy. Krikorian ignores the costs to business, and hence consumers, of immigration restrictions that drive up labor costs.
He also ignores the possibility that employers prefer immigrants for many jobs at a given wage level. In that case the better course of action might be to eliminate, or at least lower, minimum wage rates that price less-productive and higher-risk workers out of jobs.
It’s obvious that most immigrants come to this country because they want to work, but we shouldn’t forget that American employers want to hire them. It should be easier for hard-working immigrants to come here without first spending years jumping through bureaucratic hoops.
Prison reform is a separate issue. Ex-convicts may be made employable via training programs (as Bush proposes), by lowering the minimum wage, or even by directly subsidizing employers who hire them. Attempting to increase demand for ex-con labor by driving illegal immigrants — many of whom are illegal mainly because it’s prohibitively difficult and time consuming to become legal — out of the labor market, is a poor alternative.