Commentary

Minimum Wage: Ron Unz’s Proposal Aims to Stop Illegal Immigration

Stranger things have happened in politics, but this ranks right up there: Conservative activist and Silicon Valley entrepreneur Ron Unz is sponsoring a ballot initiative to raise California’s minimum wage to $10 per hour in 2015 and $12 in 2016.

This has fueled a debate over how such a law would impact employment, with most economists agreeing that it would increase unemployment by raising the cost of employing the least skilled. Unz’s response? He agrees. In fact, Unz is counting on a minimum-wage increase to kill millions of jobs.

Unz’s motives are despicable compared to those of his liberal opponents because he is right about his proposal’s economic impact.”

Unz laid out his motives for his so-called “Higher Wages for California Workers Act of 2014” proposition in the September 2011 issue of The American Conservative magazine, where he wrote, “[I]in today’s America a huge fraction of jobs at or near the minimum wage are held by immigrants, often illegal ones. Eliminating those jobs is a central goal of the plan, a feature not a bug.”

This month in an interview with the Washington, D.C. based Daily Caller, Unz repeated his reasoning: “A $12 minimum wage will force companies to lay off some workers, but most of those workers will be the low-skilled illegal immigrants.”

Unz continued, “…[p]rogressives and many Americans view illegal immigration as a victimless crime, but readily see wage-cheating as a drastic violation. That means progressives, journalists and unions will rise to defend defrauded $12 workers, instead of welcoming vibrant and Democratic-backing illegals.”

Unz explains multiple times that he wants a high minimum wage to deter immigration.

Stranger still, Unz’s motives have gone relatively unchallenged.

Some have expressed concern over his past sponsorship of Proposition 227, which outlawed bilingual education in California. “After what happened with Prop. 227 and a lot of the anti-immigrant sentiment that was around then, I think people are concerned,” said Nikki Fortunato Bas, executive director of the East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy.

In other interviews, Unz has cloaked his reasons in standard social justice jargon. When asked how his initiative would benefit low skilled immigrant workers, Unz said: “[W]e’re probably talking more than half of all the Latino workers in California would get a wage increase under this measure, which would be a tremendous boost to struggling working people.”

Never mind that this directly contradicts economic reality. If consistently applied, a high minimum would destroy many employment opportunities for low-skilled immigrants, turning off the jobs magnet that draws so many here. It would also destroy many sectors of the economy that employ those workers, but that is its intent.

Unz takes a “let’s burn down the village in order to save it” approach. If U.S.-born Americans are less likely to take certain jobs, Unz thinks that nobody should be able to have them. The proposal does not deserve a serious hearing.

There is another flaw in Unz’s plan. There are about 12 million unauthorized immigrants in the United States, 8 million of them working. They have adapted through getting paid under the table or buying fake documents. Why wouldn’t they simply move a little deeper into the black market?

Many of those who would be harmed by the increase would be teenagers, workers too honest to work in the black market and employers who don’t want to run afoul of labor law, groups that have little to do with the immigration Unz dislikes.

Gov. Jerry Brown has signed an increase in the minimum wage to $10 an hour by 2016. This should be a teaching moment. Unz’s motives are despicable compared to those of his liberal opponents because he is right about his proposal’s economic impact.

Alex Nowrasteh is a California native and the immigration policy analyst at the Cato Institute. He wrote this for this newspaper.