As I wrote just after the election, the world has changed in dealing with immigration enforcement. Donald Trump is serious about it. No President has been since Dwight Eisenhower in the 1950’s. All presidents since then have said they were in favor of securing the borders, but none actually were. Both parties are culpable, but in the last 30 years the Republicans much more so. The Democrats used to be the party of the working people and were genuinely concerned that cheap labor from Mexico would depress wages and the the power of organized labor. In the 1970’s they considered removing illegal immigrants from the protections of the National Labor Relations Act. That bill was co-sponsored by former Vice President Walter Mondale and Sen. Ted Kennedy. Unfortunately, it did not pass. Then in 1984 the Supreme Court ruled that the word “employee” in the Act includes illegal immigrants. So now that the Republicans are in charge of both legislative branches, they should do what Mondale and Kennedy tried to do 40 years ago. This would put organized labor in a dilemma. Do they represent the interests of legal workers of illegal workers? Right now they have it both ways. Under the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the Act they must treat illegal workers as members of their bargaining units and cannot do anything contrary to their interests. They also welcome their union dues at a time when their membership is declining.
The Republicans have been awful on workers’ rights for decades. They have given amnesty after amnesty to illegal immigrants since 1986 (to Mexicans, Guatemalans, El Salvadorans, Haitans, etc.) They are addicted to cheap labor. It is a huge gift to employers. It has made many billionaires in agriculture, fast food, cleaning companies and other industries. It has harmed far more people than it has helped, legal American workers, lawful competitors, crime victims, taxpayers generally who foot the bill for all the services illegal workers use. All Republican presidents since Nixon have betrayed the country in this way, and among the congressional leadership of the party border enforcement is a joke.
This brings us to the day of reckoning which has arrived with Trump’s election. The key person on immigration will be the director of Homeland Security and independent federal agency not accountable to anyone but Congress. Every director has been a feckless shill for cheap labor since the position was created in 2002. Trump is considering Kris Kobach, the Secretary of State of Kansas, for the job. He is the best suited person by virtue of his total dedication to enforcement manifested in the many bills h has written over the last 10 years to empower the states to do the job DHS refuses to do, his sheer intellect (Harvard and Yale educated), and his refusal to be bought off by big business. He would institute seriously workplace enforcement of the immigration laws, which make it illegal to hire aliens, but are largely ignored with impunity. He would rewrite the regulation governing the entire I-9 hiring process which gives employers too many ways to look the other way, and he would be a great advocate for enforcement on TV.
Yes, Trump has chosen Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama to be Attorney General. Theoretically, he will have tremendous power over who is prosecuted. But the actual day-to-day enforcement of the immigration law belongs to the DHS. Trump is also considering more “business friendly” candidates for the position. That means they would continue the status quo. We will soon find out how serious Trump is about immigration. Advocates of enforcement should make their voices heard now.