President Obama didn’t draw the connection in his State of the Union address, but his plan to raise the minimum wage might help him with his plan to curb illegal immigration.
If companies pay more for low-skilled work, they’ll have an easier time finding native-born workers and legal immigrants to fill the jobs. That will decrease the demand for illegal workers.
While Obama didn’t make that point, others have. Michael Dukakis, the Democratic presidential candidate in 1988, co-wrote a New York Times op-ed in 2006 headlined “Raise Wages, Not Walls.” “If we want to reduce illegal immigration,” they wrote, “it makes sense to reduce the abundance of extremely low-paying jobs that fuels it.”
Ron Unz, a former physicist and banker who ran for governor of California in 1994, says the only problem with Obama’s plan is that it doesn’t go far enough. He says the minimum wage should be at least $10 an hour, and possibly $12. Even if today’s illegal immigrants are put on a path to citizenship, “there will be large-scale incentives for more to come” unless the minimum wage is raised substantially, Unz says.
Free-market economists respond that raising the minimum wage is the wrong way to deal with illegal immigration. “There is an evil logic to the idea,” admits Bryan Caplan, a professor at George Mason University and blogger for EconLog.