The left splits over immigration by Michelle Goldberg Originally Published April 20, 2006
One way for liberals to transcend the ideological impasse over immigration is to take on the larger problem of the upward distribution of wealth in America. As things stand now, American high school dropouts and illegal immigrants are essentially fighting over scraps at the bottom of the American pay barrel. But by cooperating in a reinvigorated labor movement, some progressives say, both Americans and immigrants can elevate the pay scale and receive a decent wage. Nathan Newman, policy director at the Progressive Legislative Action Network, points out that right now, the poorest fifth of Americans earn a mere 3.5 percent of the national income. Rather than accepting the status quo and then fighting over their small shares, Newman argues, American and immigrant workers need to join together. Turning that 3.5 percent into 7 percent, he says, would have a far more salutary effect on wages than any crackdown on immigrants. "The reason most workers, civil rights leaders, et cetera, are supporting the idea of immigrant rights is that they know the best way to keep [labor policies] the same is to allow conservatives and others to pit different groups of workers against each other," Newman says. As he sees it, support for the immigration movement isn't a betrayal of America's working class; rather, it's the key to a class-based political realignment. The movement that brought hundreds of thousands of people into the streets this month has "the makings of new political alliances that are far more stable and far more likely to create broader social change," he says. "Which is again why you see many black civil rights leaders supporting these marches. This is the alliance they want. They think it's an alliance that can deal with these much broader issues." The broader issues are about economic justice in a country where the gulf between rich and poor seems to widen by the day. "If people are worried about wage standards in the U.S., let's deal with that," Newman says. "Let's really deal with the issue of what's happening with the enforcement of our labor laws, with the complete collapse of the minimum-wage rate. Those are far more significant issues for most workers than the ones everyone is wringing their hands over."