Posted on July 15, 2004

Ralph Nader’s Immigration Platform


for President website

Immigration presents challenges and

opportunities for the United States. According the U.S. Census Bureau

the United States is undergoing an unprecedented wave of immigration.

According to the Census, during the 1990s, an average of more than

1.3 million immigrants—legal and illegal—settled in the

United States each year. In less than 50 years, the U.S. Census

Bureau projects that immigration will cause the population of the

United States to increase from its present 288 million to more than

400 million.

According to the US Census Bureau,

the foreign-born population of the United States is currently 33.1

million. This is unparalleled in American history. It is more than

triple the 9.6 million in 1970 and more than double the 14.1 million

in 1980. Of this total, the Census Bureau estimates 8-9 million

are illegal immigrants. The 57 percent increase from 19.8 million

in 1990 to 31.1 million in 2000, is also without precedent in our

history, both numerically and proportionately. Even during the great

wave of immigration from 1900 to 1910, the foreign-born population

grew by only 3.2 million (or 31 percent), from 10.3 million to 13.5

million. However, as a percentage of the U.S. population immigrants

are half of the well over 20% of the U.S. population that immigrants

constituted in 1912—the actual highpoint of immigrant presence

in the U.S. The Census Bureau estimates are conservative, other

estimates indicate a considerably higher number of illegal immigrants.

The Immigration and Nationality Act

allows approximately 800,000 people to settle here each year as

permanent residents including about 480,000 who are admitted to

reunite with their spouses, children, parents and/or siblings; about

140,000 who are admitted to fill jobs for which the U.S. Department

of Labor has determined no American workers are available; about

110,000 refugees who have proven their claims of political or religious

persecution in their lands; and about 55,000 who are admitted

under a “diversity” lottery, begun in 1990, that mainly

benefits young European and African immigrants.

Immigration has major implications

for the United States creating costs and benefits for our country.

We need a more vigorous debate on immigration policies and how it

intersects with other policy choices we make. Immigration issues

relate to our foreign policy—particularly U.S. support for

dictators and oligarchs or trade policy which re-enforces low paid

labor and blocks the power of trade unions. It also relates to our

domestic policies—low wages for many U.S. workers, rising poverty,

providing social and health services, housing and security. Immigration

links to all these issues.

As long as our foreign policy supports

dictators and oligarchs south of our borders, there are going to

be desperate, oppressed people moving north over our border where

employers like Tysons Foods illegally employ them at very low wages

but even these low wage jobs are many times what would be made in

Mexico. Since 1985, U.S. spending on border enforcement has increased

by a factor of six, the number of U.S. border patrol agents doubled

and hours spent patrolling the borders tripled. The U.S. Border

Patrol has a budget well in excess of $1 billion annually. But even

with all of this expansion illegal immigration continues to expand.

While the gap in wages between the

United States and poor countries is vast, serious students of immigration

point out that only a tiny percentage of people from any nation

ever choose to emigrate from their s: it is rarely the poorest

who do so since they lack the necessary resources and contacts.

Immigration is a process caused not by attraction of higher wages

alone—since much of India, Mexico and China would have emptied

into the United States were this the case and they clearly have

not—but primarily caused by the inability of people to continue

to live decently in their countries. In the days of the great

Ellis Island immigrations from Europe, this was due in large part

to the privatization of common lands throughout the Continent and

the flood of cheap American grain driving farmers out of business.

(While economics was a major factor other issues included religious

and political oppression.) In our day this is primarily the result

of the policies of NAFTA, the WTO, the Structural Adjustment Programs

of the IMF and World Bank and the predatory policies of multinational


Part of the problem involves NAFTA.

For example, the flood of cheap corn and other commodities into

Mexico has dispossessed over a million Mexican farmers, and with

their families, they either go to the urban slums or, in their desperation,

head north.

The United States should not be in

the business of Brain Draining skilled talent, especially from developing

countries. We are importing the best engineers, scientists, software

people, doctors, entrepreneurs who should be in their countries,

building their own countries. The long term solution to immigration

is reducing the rich poor divide between the United States and other

nations by peacefully supporting democratic movements.

In addition to this being a long-standing

brain drain of developing countries, often it undermines employment

in the U.S. We have got many unemployed software people here. Regarding

manual labor, the Wall Street Journal editors are for near open-borders

policy in large part because they want a cheap wage policy. Bringing

in cheap labor to the United States reduces wages here—immigration

increases the supply of U.S. labor, reduces wages and makes jobs

more scarce especially for people at the bottom of the labor market—immigrants

are 60 percent more likely to be employed in low-skilled occupations

than are native-born workers. When the average American wage exceeds

the average Mexican wage by more than a factor of ten, even the

most menial American job can be a strong reason to emigrate. In

addition to driving down wages, immigration adds to the expansion

of poverty in the U.S. The gap between the immigrant and native

poverty rates is widening—with poverty among immigrants tripling

between 1979 and 1997. If there were a living wage than many of

the 15 million unemployed, underemployed and those who have given

up looking for employment would be willing to take the jobs that

are now often only taken by immigrants. There are two ways to deal

with these issues. First, raise the minimum wage to the purchasing

power level of 1968 $8 per hour and then, in another two years,

raise it to $10 an hour. Since 1968 the U.S. economy has doubled

in production per capita. We need to ensure a living wage in the

United States for full-time workers and their families. Currently,

47 million full-time workers work for less than a living wage.

Second, we need to enforce the law

against employers. It is hard to blame desperately poor people who

want to feed their families and are willing to work hard to do so.

You have to start with Washington and Wall Street. Enforcement is

nearly non-existent—so much so that it has become a conscious

policy to ignore both the labor and immigration laws by successive

Republican and Democratic Administrations, including not enforcing

laws against cruel sweatshops in the United States from New York

City to Los Angeles. Such is the power of employers.

Immigrant workers, even if they are

undocumented, should be given all the fair-labor standards and all

the rights and benefits of American workers. In addition they should

be be allowed to get a drivers license in order to reduce hazards

on the highway and allow them to function in our culture, e.g. get

to work, get their children to school. If this country doesn’t

like that, maybe it will do something about the immigration laws.

But we cannot treat undocumented immigrants as subjects for inhumanity.

Regarding amnesty, this is very difficult

issue because it gives a green light to cross the border illegally.

Many are concerned with the issue of amnesty because then the question

is how do you prevent the next wave and the next? I like the idea

of giving workers and children equal rights—they are working,

they are having their taxes withheld, they are performing a valuable

service for their employers and customers even though they are illegally

here it is humane. There is no alternative except allowing crueler

exploitation, poverty, disease and their consequences for the general

public. If that produces enough outrage to raise the immigration

issue to a high level of visibility for public debate, that would

be a good thing.

There is no evidence that an amnesty

for those already present and working constitutes an attraction

to would-be immigrants outside the country: again, even from Mexico

the immigrants constitute a relatively small percentage of the poor

population of that country. We must leave aside the fiction that

everyone in the world seeks to live in the United States: people

love their s and leave them, at great risk, only as acts of

desperation when their previous way of making a living has become

impossible. We in the United States have a special responsibility

to those who have come here since it so often been our own government

and corporations that have ruined the livelihoods and s of immigrant

workers, and to those in foreign lands that they will not have to

make the same choice themselves. Changing these policies is the

best way to limit further immigration to levels that are in the

interests of both the U.S. and poor nations, and an amnesty for

those who are already here is the least we can do as reparations

to those whose lives our government has directly or indirectly wrecked.

Indeed, in decisions spanning over

a century, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that the Constitution

applies to every person within U.S. borders, including “aliens

whose presence in this country is unlawful.” On the other hand,

the Court has said that the federal government has the power to

decide who to let into the country and under what circumstances.

But once here, even undocumented immigrants have the right to freedom

of speech and religion, the right to be treated fairly, the right

to privacy, and some of the other fundamental rights U.S. citizens


Regarding deportation, the U.S. Supreme

Court has ruled that the INS may not deport someone without a hearing

that satisfies due process. According to the ACLU, most people facing

deportation are entitled to:

    —a hearing before an immigration judge and review,

    in most cases, by a federal court;

    —representation by a lawyer (but not at government


    —reasonable notice of charges, and of a hearing’s

    time and place;

    —a reasonable opportunity to examine the evidence

    and the government’s witnesses;

    —competent interpretation for non-English speaking

    immigrants, and

    —clear and convincing proof that the government’s

    grounds for deportation are valid.

We have to control our immigration

and our borders. We have to limit the number of people who come

into this country illegally and see if a Canadian type temporary

permit system can work for seasonal jobs. Regarding “Limited

Duration Admissions,” the 1997 report of the U.S. Commission

on Immigration Reform said:

Persons come to the United States

for limited duration stays for several principal purposes: representation

of a foreign government or other foreign entities; work; study;

and short-term visits for commercial or personal purposes, such

as tourism and family visits. These individuals are statutorily

referred to as “nonimmigrants.” In this report, however,

we refer to “limited duration admissions [LDAs],” a term

that better captures the nature of their admission: When the original

admission expires, the alien must either leave the country or meet

the criteria for a new LDA or permanent residence.

For the most part LDAs help enhance

our scientific, cultural, educational, and economic strength. However,

the admission of LDAs is not without costs and, as explained below,

certain reforms are needed to make the system even more advantageous

for the United States than it now is.

The Commission believes LDA policy

should rest on the following principles:

    —Clear goals and priorities;

    —Systematic and comprehensible organization of LDA


    —Timeliness, efficiency, and flexibility in its


    —Compliance with the conditions for entry and exit

    (and effective mechanisms to monitor and enforce this compliance);

    —Credible and realistic policies governing transition

    from LDA to permanent immigration status;

    —Protection of U.S. workers from unfair competition

    and of foreign workers from exploitation and abuse; and

    —Appropriate attention to LDA provisions in trade

    negotiations to ensure future immigration reforms are not unknowingly


Immigration is a challenging issue

that must be addressed in a more cohesive way than has been suggested

by President Bush. We need to address economic justice in the United

States and the world and recognize the basic human rights of all