Friday, March 2, 2007

DMI Releases New Report on Immigration Reform and the Middle Class

The Drum Major Institute (DMI), the nations leading progressive think tank, today released a new and updated report on immigration reform and the middle-class, "Principles for an Immigration Policy to Strengthen & Expand the American Middle Class: 2007 Edition". The report looks at the effects of immigration on the middle-class and makes suggestions as to how best to advance a progressive immigration agenda that reflects the best interests of America's current and aspiring middle class.

The report argues that any debate over immigration policy must be connected to a larger conversation about America's squeezed middle class and those striving to attain a middle-class standard of living. DMI argues that any proposed immigration policy should be examined to ensure that its basic principles help to strengthen and expand America's middle class by making sure it bolsters—not undermines—the critical contribution that immigrants make to our economy and strengthens the rights of immigrants in the workplace.

With that in mind, DMI provides a two-part litmus test by which to evaluate any immigration policy by its impact on the middle class. Additionally, the report also includes a new section devoted entirely to guest worker programs and how they threaten the livelihood of American workers by sustaining an underclass of exploitable workers. Lastly, DMI looks at all the legislation proposed thus far and puts them to the "middle-class" test.

DMI is excited to announce the release of our new and updated report two days after the Senate held its first hearings on immigration reform and just as Congress and advocates on all sides gear up for what has become a very divisive and not always educational debate. As elected officials, candidates for office and advocates are debating exactly how to best reform our immigration laws, we offer our report as a tool to encourage immigration reform that is progressive and has a positive impact on America's squeezed middle class. I know there are some who use xenophobia as a faux-populist economic policy but the truth is that there are many American workers who have legitimate concerns about the impact of immigration on their livelihoods. That is what our report addresses and is highlighted in DMI's immigration & the middle class talking points. DMI

  • The status quo on immigration policy is unacceptable for the middle class: current policy does not respond to the nation's economic needs. Proposals to more stringently enforce existing immigration laws ignore our economic reliance on immigrants. Meanwhile, the status quo includes an exploitation of undocumented workers that threatens the current and aspiring middle class.

  • The middle class benefits from immigrants' economic contributions as workers, entrepreneurs, taxpayers and consumers. Our economy is dynamic and the presence of immigrants contributes to its growth and the creation of new jobs that wouldn't exist if they were not here. It is not a zero-sum game.

  • Immigrants, including undocumented immigrants, pay taxes. The average immigrant pays $1,800 more in taxes than she receives in government benefits -- a lifetime tax contribution of $80,000 more than she and her immediate descendents receive in benefits. Undocumented immigrants alone are estimated to have contributed nearly $50 billion in federal taxes between 1996 and 2003. Immigrant tax contributions finance vital middle-class goods like public schools and Social Security.

  • Immigrants are crucial to the long-term viability of our Social Security system. Immigrants are younger and tend to have more children than the native-born. In this way, immigration slows the decline in the ratio of workers to retirees, helping to keep our Social Security program robust.

  • Because immigrants are so important to our economy, enforcement-only legislation harms the middle class. Trying to enforce immigration laws that are fundamentally at odds with the nation's economic reality is expensive and unworkable. Since the early 1990s, spending on border enforcement has tripled, yet the number of undocumented immigrants has also nearly tripled. We should fix immigration laws first and then work to enforce them.

  • It is not the presence of undocumented immigrants themselves that harms the middle class, but the fact that they can be so easily exploited in the workplace. The vulnerability of undocumented immigrants in the workplace puts downward pressure on wages and working conditions for all workers, making it harder to achieve and hold onto a middle-class standard of living. Many employers take advantage of immigrants' precarious status to cut costs for wages, benefits, and workplace safety. They may then be less willing to hire U.S.- born workers if they demand better wages and working conditions. U.S.-born workers are left to either accept the same poor conditions as immigrants living under the threat of deportation or be shut out of whole industries.

  • All workers will benefit from a strengthening of workplace rights for immigrants workers. Once empowered to exercise rights at work, undocumented workers' efforts to improve their own working conditions would benefit all workers by making jobs more desirable. This means more jobs that can support a middle-class standard of living.

  • Legalizing the undocumented immigrants who are in the U.S. now would maximize their economic contributions and prevent the exploitation that threatens the middle class. It is important that the legalization process not be so burdensome that many immigrants find it impossible to regularize their status and a large population of undocumented workers persists.

  • A guest worker program for future immigrants is not in the interests of the middle class because it makes the two-tiered labor market official. The temporary nature of guest workers means they will always be more vulnerable than the mainstream of American workers. Allowing the workers our economy needs to be here permanently would make them more secure, preventing the exploitation that undermines the middle class.

  • Congress should formulate immigration policy that will bolster the critical contribution that immigrants make to our economy as workers, entrepreneurs, taxpayers and consumers and that will strengthen the rights of immigrants in the workplace.

DMI talking points

Beyond data and research our report provides legislators, advocates and certainly the netroots with an important tool to analyze specific legislative proposals as they are introduced. Out of our analysis comes a two-part test that can be used to evaluate how legislation will impact middle-class Americans and those struggling to achieve a middle-class standard of living. In the legislative appendices we put our test to work by applying it to actual legislative proposals and we grade each bill by its impact on middle-class Americans.

Now you may not be a policy wonk. This policy paper was still meant for you! That's why we provide an online toolkit containing talking points, a discussion guide to facilitate conversations about immigration and the middle class and Spanish translations of the Executive Summary and the items above. If you are struggling over how to engage your apolitical roommate, your immigrant hating in-laws, your tone-deaf to framing activist friend or your union shop-steward about these issues-- these talking points are for you!

DMI's new immigration website is just a jumping off point for the debate. Join us for ongoing discussion on the DMIBlog - like our series of posts on every Presidential candidate's stance on immigration. Immigration reform policy could be a huge win for Americans AND for immigrants - or it could be a huge failure. The public's participation in that discussion and understanding of the issues will be key to a progressive success.


For more information see:
Executive Summary
DMI Immigration and the Middle Class Toolkit

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