News Analysis

The Senate “Grand Bargain” immigration bill ensures that immigration will be a major legislative issue this year.

President Bush, with Wall Street backing, is pushing hard for a policy that would legalize undocumented workers but keep them in a subservient status for more than a decade. His proposals would also relegate future “lower-skilled status workers” to perpetual servitude.

He’s using the righteous demand of legalization as a lever to move through what his administration and finance capital wanted all along. And finance capital wants it done this year, well before Bush leaves office.

The Wall Street Journal is supporting the passage of just such a business-friendly bill. Former Federal Reserve Bank chair Alan Greenspan and current chair Ben Bernanke have called for a flexible policy of increasing immigration for a higher labor force growth rate to increase investment and productivity, and lower unit labor costs and entitlement spending.

In January 2000, Greenspan concluded immigration was a key to the economic growth of the nineties. Bush made it a policy and was negotiating a temporary worker program with then Mexican President Fox until Sept. 11, 2001.

In November 2003, the Dallas Federal Reserve concluded in its paper “U.S. Immigrant and Economic Growth: Putting Policy on Hold” that the 9/11 adjustments had “put potentially beneficial reforms such as a guest worker program” on hold. A few weeks later, on Jan. 7, 2004, Bush called for a large new temporary worker program.

The paper argued that immigration was economically beneficial “by providing workers when and where they are needed,” adding, “Immigration raises the speed limit of the economy by keeping wage and price pressures at bay.”

Another way of putting it is, “keep it coming and keep it cheap.”

Assessing Wall Street’s and the Fed’s role in the crafting of immigration policy is important because of their more macroeconomic view. The Bush policy of keep-it-coming-keep-it-cheap is that of the financial sector whose goal is to produce high returns for investors.

A major signal from the financial sector to push hard for a bill was sent May 17 by Greenspan. That morning, a few hours before the Grand Bargain was announced, Greenspan told a group of Georgia industrialists that “the lack of enough skilled workers to build up U.S. infrastructure” could be solved with the “stroke of a pen,” referring to the passage of an immigration bill.

Georgia is the state with the strongest anti-immigrant legislation. No May Day immigrant rights marches were held there this year. Greenspan’s unstated message was that cheap immigrant labor policy was key to getting bonds for major capital projects.

The immigrant rights movement is fighting hard for legalization policies that could improve the status of the undocumented, who face increased raids, police brutality, state and local repressive policies, and falling living standards. There are differences over how possible this is and what tactics to follow. These differences are amplified by Bush’s two key leverages — the veto and the ability to terrorize immigrants and employers with raids.

Those fighting for legalization should not be intimidated by the far-right-wing rhetoric against legalization, although it is intense, nor be led to believe this is the last shot for legalization. The American people, in a growing majority, support this demand. But Bush has been adept at using such pressures to move the legislative negotiations to the benefit of financal corporations and to the detriment to immigrant and all other workers.

Winning victories or even holding the line with Bush in office on any issue requires maximum unity and broad coalition building. In the Senate, where the Bush right-wing leverage is strongest, the legislation is likely to be unacceptable. The Grand Bargain projects a subservient status for future immigrants, which will undermine democracy in every way. In the House, labor and community leverage is stronger but not dominant. Momentum must be built there to fight on every aspect of the bill.