Why is the American Legion spending money to lobby for harsher treatment of illegal immigrants?

It seems as if no matter what time of day it is, whenever I turn on my local ESPN AM radio station, I hear an ad from the American Legion chiding us about the dangers illegal immigration poses to our economy and society.  The stern announcer imbues each word with ominous notes of fear, as he lists the supposed ills caused by undocumented immigrants.  The call to action, issued with an authoritarian sense of urgency, sends us online to an American Legion report which details its plan for curtailing illegal immigration. 

There is a back story to the report touted by the radio ad.  The report originally appeared in 2004 containing a number of truly scurrilous assertions about immigrants and immigration, such as “non-citizens make up 30% of the American prison population” and “more Americans are killed by undocumented aliens than die in the Iraq War.”  Several people noted these factual misstatements, in particular Sonia Scherr of the Southern Poverty Law Center. 

Thankfully, the American Legion has sanitized the version of the report mentioned in the ad and currently available online.  The result, of course, is that its case against undocumented immigrants is now very weak, built mostly on unbacked assertions, old statistics and irrelevant tidbits of information. 

The economic assertions in the American Legion report are nothing more than myths and falsehoods.  Take it’s claim that our economy suffers from illegal immigration. A few months back, the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco released a study that uses advanced statistical analysis to measure the short and long-term impact of immigration, both undocumented and legal, on jobs, wages, productivity and business investment in the United States over the past few decades.  The results of this extensive quantitative analysis support the contention that immigrants are good for the economy:

  • Immigration has no impact on the employment of U.S.-born workers.  In other words, immigrants do not take jobs away from “real Americans.”
  • When immigration increases, the wages of the average U.S. worker increases a little; in fact the study estimates that the gain in wages from additional immigration between 1990 and 2007 was about 20-25% of the total real increase in average annual income per worker.
  • The productivity of the entire economy also improves as a result of increased immigration.

In reading the sanitized American Legion report, my view of the American Legion shifted a little.  I have always thought of the group as similar to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, an organization that has been hijacked by its right-wing to support causes that either don’t matter to its members or are not in the best interests of a majority of its members. 

But right there on the first of more than 20 pages of harsh recommendations to stem the flow of undocumented aliens into the country and make life miserable for those undocumented aliens now in the country, right there in the first bullet of Step One, the American Legion inserts a shill for jobs for its members: “Hire and train a sufficient number of U.S. Border Patrol agents to meet assigned objectives.  It is the American Legion position that employment preference be afforded former members of the U.S. Armed Forces.”    How’s that for tying a political agenda to an economic one!

My own view of immigration and undocumented immigrants is diametrically opposed to that of the American Legion.  I would propose amnesty for current undocumenteds (and their families) who hold jobs and pay taxes into our system and I would increase opportunities for legal immigration at all levels, especially from Mexico.  Additionally, I would tax foreign imports from countries that do not hew to our labor rates and environmental standards.  My assumption is that these countries would much rather give the money to their workers and their companies than to the U.S. government, and so gradually wage rates from exporting countries would equalize at our higher level and there would be less incentive for the workers to immigrate to the U.S.  As with most of my views, the net effect would be to transfer money down the economic ladder, from the wealthy and very wealthy to the middle and working classes of several countries, including our own.

Apart from the difference of opinion I have with the organization, I dislike the American Legion’s manipulative use of fear tactics in the ads.  Fear is a great motivator, but to instill it in a population without reason is a frequent tool of demagogues and authoritarian regimes.

The American Legion evidently has the money to mount a full-fledged national radio advertising campaign to express uninformed opinions about immigration.  I’m thinking that it would serve its members better if that money went to further enlightening the public and Congress on post-traumatic stress disorder, the need for job training programs for vets and the challenges facing caregivers of disabled vets.    

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