Note to Ocasio-Cortez: If You Want Higher Wages, Forget Open Borders and Mass Migration

Much of the American Left in the Trump era must realize this, as an immigration policy analyst lays out here

Image Credit: Scott Eisen/Getty Images & Shutterstock

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) has repeatedly complained about high prices and low minimum wages.

The freshman representative from New York tweeted not long ago: “Croissants at LaGuardia are going for SEVEN DOLLARS A PIECE. Yet some people think getting a whole hour of personal, dedicated human labor for $15 is too expensive??”

People rightly criticized AOC for failing to grasp the connection between legislating higher minimum wages and rising prices.

Nor did she seem to realize that the minimum wage for the airport’s employees already is $13.60 an hour — and that it will rise by another $2 in September.

It is clear, of course, that apart from labor costs, a captive customer also accounts for the exorbitant airport prices. However, AOC wants to legislate minimum wage increases across the board.

But AOC’s critics largely failed to point out the contradiction between the congresswoman’s call for raising wages and her advocacy of mass migration, open borders, and abolishing ICE. (This contradiction characterizes much of the American Left during the Trump era.)

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Pointing out that relatively low wages are a problem and impede upward mobility is legitimate. The Pew Research Center, in August 2018, noted that “for most U.S. workers, real wages have barely budged in decades.”

Related: Illegal Immigration at Border Is a ‘Category 5 Crisis’

However, one must address why real wages haven’t increased. And unchecked mass migration is undoubtedly a contributor to wage stagnation.

Since the passage of the Immigration Act of 1965, which opened the floodgates of mass migration, the real hourly wages of Americans have only grown by approximately $2 (in 2018 dollars). Coincidence? (Other factors — such as globalization, automation, outsourcing, and tax and trade policies — also play a big role, but mass immigration undoubtedly exacerbates the problem.) No wonder that 43 percent of Americans polled by Gallup in 2018 felt “underpaid.”

More recently, thanks to a roaring economy, wages have been growing somewhat faster. However, massive immigration, which counteracts the effects of a tightening labor market, threatens to undermine these wage gains. Given the constant supply of cheap foreign labor, employers have few incentives to raise wages in an attempt to compete for employees. This is basic economics.

AOC and other leftists are apparently unable to comprehend that their agenda — as much immigration as possible, both legal and illegal — is directly at odds with their stated concern for the earnings and living standards of low-skilled and working-class Americans. In the context of the U.S. labor market, mass immigration and open borders are essentially a race to the bottom.

Why? Because in a world of more than 7.5 billion people, there is always “more where that came from.” And legislating higher minimum wages in a loose labor market is more likely to drive up inflation, spur the underground economy, and hasten the automation that is already replacing humans in fast-food restaurants and other businesses.

Not that long ago, at least some on the Left, and many labor activists, understood this reality. Cesar Chavez strongly opposed both legal and illegal cheap foreign labor precisely because it depressed the wages and undermined the bargaining power of American workers (many of whom were of Hispanic descent).

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), back in 2007, asked, “I don’t know why we need millions of people to be coming into the country who will work for lower wages than American workers and drives wages down even lower than they are right now.”

The self-proclaimed champions of the poor and the working class on the Left have to decide what is more important to them: mass immigration or increasing wages.

Even as recently as 2015, Sanders called open borders a “Koch brothers proposal,” and argued that “what rightwing people in this country would love is an open-border policy. Bring in all kinds of people, work for $2 or $3 an hour, that would be great for them. I don’t believe in that. I think we have to raise wages in this country. I think we have to do everything we can to create millions of jobs.”

So the self-proclaimed champions of the poor and the working class on the Left have to decide what is more important to them: mass immigration or increasing wages. If the former, which certainly seems to be the case, then they should be honest enough to say so to those entry-level and low-wage voters they are attempting to court with promises of higher wages.

The problem is simple: We can’t eat our croissant and have it, too. If we want wages to continue rising, we need to further tighten the labor market. This will not occur if unchecked waves of immigrants — both legal and illegal — continue to drive down wages.

Pawel Styrna is an immigrant and works as an immigration policy analyst at the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR).

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