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ToddKnotts_01

Sen. Joe Manchin is arguably the second-most powerful man in Washington, trailing only President Biden. As the most centrist Democrat in an evenly divided Senate, our senior senator has de facto veto power over nearly every important bill.

He’ll play a pivotal role in passing parts of President Biden’s agenda, like delivering more aid to struggling families here in West Virginia and across the nation.

But just as important, he’ll have a chance to reject the administration’s more radical ideas, like a mass amnesty for undocumented immigrants. Giving work permits to millions of foreigner workers will depress wages for working class Americans who’ve been hit hardest by the pandemic-induced recession.

The immigration proposal that Biden recently sent to Congress would give amnesty and work permits to 11 million undocumented immigrants. And it would offer hundreds of thousands of additional work visas to foreign nationals each year.

This massive influx of foreign workers into the labor force would harm blue collar West Virginians. Just 26% of Mountain State residents have a bachelor’s degree or higher, the third-lowest share in the nation, ahead of only Arkansas and Nevada. Undocumented workers mainly compete for jobs against Americans without college degrees.

West Virginians rightly take pride in our blue collar culture. Our state helped launch the labor movement and played a vital role in meeting energy demands that powered this country to be a superpower and example of progress worldwide.

Today, working class industries like agriculture, auto parts manufacturing, and of course energy — both coal and natural gas — continue to drive our economy forward.

Expanding immigration would drive down wages for folks in these sectors. It’s simple supply and demand. When more workers compete for a limited pool of jobs, corporations can offer lower wages. Harvard economist George Borjas estimates that illegal immigration decreases the wages of citizens by $118 billion a year.

In effect, undocumented workers function as scabs, undercutting American workers’ bargaining power.

Already, many hard-working West Virginians are struggling to get by. West Virginia has the second-lowest median household income in the nation, at $48,850, leading only Mississippi. With the economy still weakened by the pandemic, and the state unemployment rate hovering over 6%, now is the worst time imaginable to push through a huge amnesty.

Historically, many Democrats recognized the harm caused by illegal labor.

Coretta Scott King, the widow of Martin Luther King Jr., wrote a letter to Sen. Orin Hatch in 1991 urging him to keep tough fines on employers who hired undocumented workers.

Democrat Barbara Jordan, one of the first Black women to serve in Congress, led a Commission on Immigration Reform in the mid-1990s. Her commission supported strong border protections and deportations of illegal workers.

And President Bill Clinton, who twice won West Virginia, once said that all Americans should be “disturbed by the large numbers of illegal aliens entering our country. The jobs they hold might otherwise be held by citizens or legal immigrants.”

President Biden’s proposals will help working class folks get back on their feet — but only if moderate senators like Joe Manchin vote against amnesty and other unwise immigration expansions that’d hurt American workers.

Todd Knotts is the training coordinator for Plumbers & Steamfitters Local 565 in Parkersburg.

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