U.S. Congress has delayed discussion of a new immigration bill for
two weeks. Now is a useful time to put into a broader context what
the congressional debate on foreign workers has covered and covered up,
with help from the mainstream press.
Firms battle it out in the marketplace for
profits, revenues and sales. That fight pulls people into the
marketplace to compete against each other for jobs.
In brief, these overlapping processes are the backdrop for U.S.
immigration legislation. Crucially, the occupations that get the least
political protection from market competition are those on the lower
rungs of the wage scale.
These jobs are held by the politically powerless. Individuals so
employed lack the cash and organization to sway elected officials to
craft protectionist labor legislation.
At the other end of the spectrum are high-paying occupations. They have
the means to hire lobbyists and purchase political power.
Consider high-salaried U.S. doctors, those in general practice and
specialists. They earn double and more the annual income of their
counterparts in Europe.
U.S. doctors’ high pay is due in part to the limited number of immigrant
doctors allowed to practice medicine stateside. This policy of labor
protection from global competition raises the salaries of these U.S.
This employment situation is largely ignored by corporate media in
coverage of trade policy, which typically focuses on the shift of U.S.
factory jobs abroad. In the meantime, U.S. doctors’ via their American
Medical Association lobby Washington lawmakers.
Congress responds with legislation to protect their AMA constituents
from job competition. The policy increases the cost of doctors’ services
in the U.S.
Consequently, the cost of national health care in the U.S. skyrockets,
outpacing the overall inflation rate. U.S. health care costs twice what
it costs in Canada.
In that nation, the government funds health care for citizens. Moreover,
Canadians live longer than U.S. citizens, according to data from the
Organization for Economic Development and Cooperation.
In contrast to a policy that restricts the ability of foreign doctors to
practice in the U.S. at a lower cost than is now the case for the
nation’s consumers, misnamed “free-trade” pacts such as the NAFTA put
low- and middle-income American workers into job competition with
foreign workers. Publicly, this accord is based on a theory of free and
voluntary exchange of labor buyers and sellers.
U.S. politicians represent powerful interests that profit from such
trade agreements that expand the pool of workers employed at a reduced
cost of labor services. This is a predictable outcome of adding
potential workers to the competitive global market for labor.
Firms depend on this process. It allows them to produce at a lower cost
in the fiercely competitive marketplace, undercutting current and future
Currently, the public debate on U.S. immigration law sidesteps how
Washington policies shape job competition for different occupations.
Labor protectionism for U.S. doctors is an underreported example.
Seth Sandronsky is a member of
Sacramento Area Peace Action and a co-editor of Because People Matter,
Sacramento's progressive paper. He can be reached at