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Mass Immigration and the National Interest.

Mass Immigration and the National Interest. By Vernon M. Briggs, Jr. New York, M.E. Sharpe, Inc., 1992. 275 pp. $49.95, cloth; $19.95, paper.

Our immigrant heritage began in an era vastly different from our own: the unpopulated frontier is no more, factories are closing, unskilled jobs are fading away. Yet the number of often low-skilled immigrants who are now coming to the United States are breaking historical records. How many should we admit? Should Federal immigration policy unite families or favor those with special skills?

To answer these questions, Vernon M. Briggs, Jr., in Mass Immigration and the National Interest, draws on Federal immigration legislation, its political genesis and outcomes, as well as a brief appraisal of research, and a projection of a mismatch in future U.S. labor needs. This is not his first foray into immigration issues, nor is it the first time he has demonstrated concern for low skilled U.S. workers. Briggs presents a cogent analysis of how we got where we are, and argues that labor force needs should govern U.S. immigration policy.

By the 1920's, three successive waves of mass immigration had created "the world's first multi-racial, -religious and -ethnic society." The third wave swamped the rural labor force, putting U.S. workers at risk. Because of the Great Depression, it is impossible to know if the numerical restrictions of the National Origins Act of 1924 would have improved U.S. working conditions. Nevertheless, the law's admissions guidelines, which proscribed immigrants not of West European origin, ultimately clashed with American ideals.

Congress attempted to change ethnic and racial selectivity with the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952. Restrictions on Asian immigration were eliminated, but quotas prescribed by the law continued to favor immigrants from European nations, and the level of immigration remained low.

Amendments to the 1952 law, enacted in 1965 and incorporating the values of President Lyndon B. Johnson's Great Society programs, abolished selectively applied origin-based admissions. Ironically, Congress expected that because most U.S. residents who sponsored immigrants were of European extraction, family-based admissions would continue to favor immigrants from Europe. Instead, family reunification led to multiplier effects and launched a fourth wave of mass immigration dominated by Hispanics and Asians.

Briggs argues that several reasons help explain this unanticipated outcome: legislation was drawn up hastily by the congressional judiciary committees, and attorneys adopt ad hoc principles replete with Byzantine legal codes to regulate immigrant admissions. For example, politics guide refugee law, leaving in limbo immigrants who are not fleeing communist regimes. Gamesmanship underlies the unsuccessful effort by the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 to curb the employment of unauthorized workers. Special interests successfully bartered for amnesty for illegal residents, yet the law lacks teeth to deter the average employer from hiring unauthorized workers. In addition, the Immigration Act of 1990 gave a nod toward skills-based admissions, but in reality expanded the principal of "nepotistic" family relations as the cornerstone of legal admission.

As a result, the number of immigrants-admitted legally and illegally with no regard to their skills--will continue to mount. Briggs is concerned because low-skilled workers are losing ground as the service economy demands more educated employees. Large numbers of immigrants, particularly those who are admitted solely because of family ties, will compete with the increasingly marginalized low-skilled work force. Our concern might be alleviated by most Contemporary research that finds little adverse effect of immigration on U.S. workers. However, Briggs contends that the ahistorical method of econometric research cannot address what would have happened if, for example, black Americans did not have to compete for jobs with the influx of immigrants to the cities.

Briggs concludes by calling for adoption of a policy that admits immigrants on economic principles. For example, this would require policymakers to reduce the number of immigrants and to target those with skills that are considered to be in the national interest. Unfortunately, such policy synchronization is difficult to achieve. We also might ask what would happen if immigrants did not benefit from the support of family networks many of us take for granted.

To accomplish this complicated task, Briggs would transfer responsibility from the Immigration and Naturalization Service to an agency that is responsible for human resource development and labor law. The obvious choice is the U.S. Department of Labor, which had this responsibility before Worid War II.

This book provides a valuable overview of the political and economic history of immigration, and sharpens the terms of the debate for those who are already familiar with the subject. In depth consideration of economic research and workable policy choices will require further reading.

In contrast, Immigration Act of 1990: An Employer's Handbook by Monte B. Lake guides the employer through the arcane legal code by which immigrant work permits are obtained. Two-thirds of the book contain relevant sections from the Federal Register, and provide examples of the appropriate paperwork. Of more general interest is Lake's discussion of changes in the Act and its pilot programs, including brief evaluations of how these programs function, and their levels of success.

--B. Lindsay Lowell

Immigration Policy and Research

Bureau of International Labor Affairs

U.S. Department of Labor
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Author:Lowell, B. Lindsay
Publication:Monthly Labor Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jun 1, 1993
Previous Article:Employer and occupational tenure: 1991 update.
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