Federal lawmakers are currently considering a number of options to reform U.S. immigration laws. Some of those opposed to increased pathways for lawful immigration argue that an influx of foreign workers could hurt Americans by adding more competition for low-wage jobs.
Others, however, think the opposite might happen. They believe immigration reform would actually create a more level playing field for low wage workers.
Typically, undocumented immigrants have been willing to tolerate unsafe conditions and low wages because they are fearful about what might happen if they report their employers to authorities. This provides no incentive for employers to change conditions and makes it hard for legal workers to compete for jobs. Giving workers better access to legal status would likely improve conditions across the board.
Further, since the current proposals also come with an increase in border security and employment status verification programs, their proponents say that overall undocumented immigration will probably fall. Over time, this will put domestic and foreign workers on a more level footing.
Reform advocates say that all of this will likely lead to faster economic growth and a corresponding reduction in the federal deficit. This could bring even more benefits to low wage workers. For example, the federal government may have more money to spend on Social Security, Head Start and other social services programs.
Given the current climate in Washington, it will likely be some time before any meaningful immigration reform is enacted. In the meantime, it is important for immigrants in the United States (or seeking to move here) to stay informed about changes in the law.
Source: Washington Post, "Five ways immigration reform will help low-wage workers," Ezra Klein, April 22, 2013