AFL-CIO wrong to fight against effort to repeal drivers cards for illegal immigrants

Last week the group Protect Oregon Driver Licenses presented tens of thousands of voters’ signatures to the Secretary of State’s office. What those signatures will do is assure a place on next year’s ballot for a referendum measure to repeal the recently passed state law granting “driver cards” to illegal immigrants.

Among the referendum’s objectives is to deny illegal immigrants a means by which they can take and keep jobs from working-class Oregonians. But one of the referendum’s chief foes is those Oregonians’ reputed champion — the state branch of the AFL-CIO. In a recent soapbox, branch president Tom Chamberlain pledged his federation to “fight against” the referendum.

To understand the irony of this, let’s examine how illegal immigrants impact Oregon workers.Oct. 16 guest opinion

In August, as reported by the Oregon Employment Department, more than 150,000 Oregonians were unemployed. A reason for that is that, according to this year’s estimate of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, some 120,000 illegal immigrants hold Oregon jobs.

These jobs are largely in fields like food services, construction and building maintenance/groundskeeping — fields in which, the Pew Hispanic Center reports, illegal immigrants recently have comprised 12 percent, 17 percent and 19 percent of the workforces, respectively. Though labor-intensive, they are jobs that can and do provide valuable work experience, decent livings and upward mobility to young, minority and many other Oregonians. Why, then, does the AFL-CIO want to protect driving privileges for illegal immigrants — privileges that would better enable them to take these jobs from our own people?

Many working Oregonians are parents of teenagers. For years, Oregon teens routinely held part-time and summer employment — positions that gave them the entry-level work experience that Reese Lord of the WorkSystems teen-placement program has called “the foundation for a family-wage job.”

But “in the past 10 years,” reported the Portland Tribune in July, “summer youth employment dropped from 46 percent to 7 percent.”

A large part of the reason? Over that same period, FAIR and other sources estimate, Oregon’s illegal-immigrant population roughly doubled — and, writes the Center for Immigration Studies’ Steven A. Camarota, “immigrants and teenagers often do the same kind of work.” By fighting to protect illegal-immigrant driver cards, the AFL-CIO will harm Oregon teens’ chances to find work in their own state.

Last, consider illegal-immigrant jobholders’ impact on the wages of low-skilled, low-income Americans — an impact that has been recognized and documented for decades. In a seminal 2004 study, Harvard professor George Borjas estimated that “between 1980 and 2000, immigration reduced the average annual earnings of ... natives without a high-school education ... by 7.4 percent” — and that half or more of that reduction was due to competition with illegal immigrants.

More recently, write FAIR’s Eric A. Ruark and Matthew Graham, even the liberal Center for American Progress has admitted that “reducing the illegal-alien population in the United States by one-third would raise the income of unskilled workers by $400 a year.”

Driver cards would enable illegal immigrants to reach jobs in our state more easily — and to continue their depressive impact on Oregonians’ wages.

In fighting the referendum effort to repeal driver cards, the AFL-CIO betrays its responsibility to the working-class Oregonians it purports to represent — and to add insult to injury, does so with union members’ dues money.

AFL-CIO members and other Oregonians should contact Mr. Chamberlain and voice their displeasure — and tell him that next year, they will vote to repeal driver cards for illegal immigrants.

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