Dr. Victoria M. DeFrancesco Soto

Dr. Victoria M. DeFrancesco Soto

About

Victoria is Assistant Dean at the LBJ School of Public Affairs and a contributor to MSNBC and Telemundo. Her areas of expertise in the domestic policy landscape include immigration, Latinos, women and childcare, and economic equity. more→

Research

Victoria brings an interdisciplinary lens to understanding policy development and its intersection with institutional and political contexts. Underlying her academic work is the applicability of rigorous research to on-the-ground policy realities.

Dr. Victoria M. DeFrancesco Soto
Dr. Victoria M. DeFrancesco Soto

Recent Media

Rick Santorum, the descendant of Italian immigrants chose to kick off his presidential campaign in Somerset county Pennsylvania where his immigrant grandfather toiled in the coal mines.  Santorum’s canned stump speech recounts his grandfather’s journey out of Italy in search of a better life for his children emphasizing the sacrifice and work ethnic of his immigrant family.  The GOP candidate’s boastful immigrant narrative fits squarely into his campaign message; yet, without missing a beat the second-generation immigrant declares his staunch opposition to immigration.

In Rick Santorum’s world there are two types of immigrants – the good ones and the bad ones.  His family falls into the first category, present-day Latino immigrants into the latter.  There are no good immigrants or bad immigrants, however there is good immigration policy that provides legal channels of entry to low-skilled workers and bad immigration policy that overlooks macro-economic factors; Santorum’s policies fall into the latter category. He chooses to ignore the basic parallel between his immigrant ancestors that came in the early 1900s and those that come today, the demand for immigrants in the United States is the same.

The son and grandson of immigrants fails to understand the demand side of labor economics and the current discrepancy between U.S. labor demand and supply.  Only a fraction of the native-born U.S. labor pool is low-skilled.  In 1960, half of the adult population had not completed high school; the latest census figures show that figuring dropping to 13%.  At the same time, employment in the low-skilled sectors of food processing, construction, agriculture, cleaning, and maintenance have grown in the last decade.[1]  Current immigration laws only exacerbate this labor market discrepancy by facilitating green cards and visas to high-skilled immigrants, but denying them to low-skilled workers.

The line of attack Rick Santorum and many in his party currently use against today’s Latino immigrants is unchanged to those used against his ancestors, that they take American jobs.  Their argument is that because of immigrants, employers suppress their wages and hence non-immigrants do not want to fill vacant those jobs.  However, this argument glosses over the parallel growth of US educational attainment and low-skilled jobs.  What has happened in the U.S. labor market is a polarization between high and low-skilled employment.  Both ends of the spectrum have grown while the mid-level skill jobs have declined as a result of off-shoring and technological automation.  Put simply, the unauthorized Mexican immigrant picking tomatoes is not to blame for the lack of employment opportunities for the recent college graduate in the U. S.

Santorum unlike other GOP candidates was anti-immigration reform even before it was fashionable.  In 2006 he opposed immigration reform legislation supported by Republican President George W. Bush and co-sponsored by Senator John McCain.  Instead, Santorum chose to actively support the Secure Fence Act of 2006.  Rick Santorum’s choice for addressing immigration was singly focused on building more physical barriers, a strategy that ignores the demand-side of immigration and does not help the American worker.  In fact, an enforcement-only approach hurts American taxpayers because such a strategy is expensive relative to the gains from eliminating illegal entry.  Unauthorized immigration has a small positive net effect on the US economy in terms of GDP growth, while present levels of border enforcement are in the 15 billion range.

At the turn of the last century Southern and Eastern European immigrants came to work in the poorest paying and most undesirable jobs; today Latino immigrants do the same.  Throughout the course of this nation’s history, immigrants have come because there is a magnet that brings them here – jobs, more specifically, low-skilled jobs that the native born U.S. labor force can not supply.  At the turn of the 20th Century the low-skill, low-wage jobs were in the coalmines, stockyards and factories; today they are in chicken processing plants, tomato fields, construction sites, and kitchens.  Low-skilled jobs still pay poorly but, but for immigrants they continue to provide an opportunity to make a better life, as Rick Santorum’s grandfather could surely attest to.

Rick Santorum is a hypocrite.  While championing his immigrant past he vilifies today’s low-skilled immigrants.  He thinks he can get away with championing his immigrant past while vilifying today’s immigrants by classifying his forefathers as good (legal) immigrants and Latinos as bad (illegal) immigrants.  This dichotomy is economically ignorant; the real dichotomy is between good immigration policy and bad immigration policy with Santorum falling into the second category.  He refuses to address immigration except through enforcement strategies.  By consequence he refuses to provide a realistic and economically effective plan to confront immigration and the larger issue of economic growth in this country.



[1] “The Polarization of Job Opportunities in the US Labor Market.”  2010.  Center for American Progress and The Hamilton Project.