Every day, 180,000 unemployed South Carolinians look for work in one of the toughest labor markets in state history, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Meanwhile, another 350,000 can only find a part-time job or they remain classified as "discouraged workers," those individuals looking for full-time work but who haven't looked for a new job in the previous four weeks.
Few people realize just how perilous things are in South Carolina right now. In February, our state's labor participation rate, or the number of working-age people who are employed or looking for a job, hit the lowest level ever recorded, 58.6 percent. That's a full five points below the national rate, which is at a 34-year low. However, young and blue-collar workers who are struggling have no idea what is about to hit them if Congress passes Lindsey Graham's immigration reform bill.
So far, most South Carolinians don't seem to be connecting their inability to find full-time work with the hotly debated reform bill. They may have heard that if the bill passes, illegal immigrants will have to go to the end of the line, pay a fine, and wait their turn for citizenship, and that's true. But what Americans aren't being told is that while these future citizens are waiting in line, they'll be able to compete directly with everyone else for jobs. When this immigration reform bill passes, they'll immediately be eligible for work permits in fields where businesses are presently reluctant to hire undocumented workers.
Worse yet, the rush of new workers into the wider labor market would happen just as thousands of active duty military return home from Afghanistan in 2014, when the war is scheduled to end. According to the Army Times, the unemployment rate for post-9/11 veterans is already 10.8 percent.
Now some people say that undocumented workers only take the agricultural jobs that Americans don't want. But according to the Pew Hispanic Trust, most illegal immigrants work service, construction, and manufacturing jobs, industries that are still dominated by American workers. Only five percent of illegal immigrants work in agriculture.
Worse yet, the total number of green cards that the immigration reform bill is set to issue isn't 11 million, or enough to legalize all of today's undocumented workers. It's closer to 33 million over the next 10 years. That's because the bill would allow undocumented immigrants to bring their extended families into the country and offer visas to even more low-skilled workers.
All of this will happen at a time when the demand for blue-collar workers continues to decrease nationally. What's missing from this debate is a scintilla of concern for the struggling American workers in this state and country who will pay a dear price as a result of the immigration bill. The winners in this epic struggle for employment will find a job, while the losers will have to go on the welfare rolls out of necessity — at a cost of $40 billion annually for Obamacare and Medicaid alone, according to the U.S. House Budget Committee.
You'd hope that in exchange for all of this, the immigration reform bill would at least secure the borders and stop the next wave of illegal immigration, but the bill doesn't guarantee that. It gives the Department of Homeland Security five years to secure the border. If Homeland Security fails to do so, which it is virtually guaranteed to do given its history, a committee will then take over. If it fails, illegal immigrants still get citizenship and border enforcement never happens.
The immigration reform bill does have at least one good point. It requires all employers to use E-Verify, which would virtually eliminate employment fraud by illegal workers and their employers. It would also effectively prevent future waves of illegal immigration more than any border fence or border patrol would. If there are no jobs, they won't come, and the undocumented workers who are already here and can't find jobs will deport themselves. If business sectors genuinely need workers, we can bring them in legally on a visa system. How hard is that?
Sen. Lindsey Graham owes us a face-to-face explanation as to why he thinks this proposal is a good idea. We don't need anymore phone-in town halls from Graham where his staff chooses who gets to ask him a question. If the reform bill is truly good for South Carolina and the nation, Sen. Graham needs to tell us exactly where we're going to find 30 million new jobs when we can't seem to find any jobs for the 12 million Americans out of work today.