What's the plan here? How does this make anything better at all?
It tightens the unskilled labor market. I mean, we can argue all day and I'm not exactly going to argue against the racism angle, because duh, but there are a significant swath of Americans whose opinions in the abstract of Mexican or C. American people qua people is flexible, but see their presence as part of the national blue-collar job decline. This is, frankly, an argument that is not wholly without merit, because although you can find economic analyses that show the value of illegal labor (illegal, frequently, on both sides of the equation: both in that the person performing the labor isn't allowed to provide it, and the person buying the labor frequently isn't paying legally-mandated rates for it) to the US economy, much of that value seems to accrue to people far above the economic level where the labor market slackness hurts.
To use an oft-cited example: most people who are legally eligible to work in the US wouldn't be interested in picking strawberries for sub-minimum wage, but in the absence of people who were, the wages would increase—given the equally unpleasant jobs people do for $15/hr, I suspect you'd start getting takers in an idealized labor market somewhere around there. This would, of course, increase the price for strawberries at the supermarket, but since the cost of picking is only about 6% of the retail price
, a 300% or even 500% increase in wages would probably only translate to a buck or so at retail.
Paying extra for strawberries probably seems like a pretty good tradeoff if you are, or think you are, potentially one of the beneficiaries of a tighter market for unskilled labor. If the knock-on effect of the tightening is even a small raise in your hourly wage, it's going to outweigh the heightened cost of produce (and also, I rather strongly suspect that the demographics of fresh produce consumption do not favor people at the low end of the labor market, although it'd be nice if some of our enormous farm subsidies went to fixing that).
You can go through a basically-identical analysis for a lot of the goods that are produced in large part with sub-minimum-wage labor. And even when you get into the above-minimum-wage industries that have large numbers of undocumented workers, e.g. residential home construction, it's not clear why someone not in the market for a new house really ought to care if the costs suddenly increased.
Like much in the economy, the de facto
immigration policy currently in force (which is basically: unlimited immigration but only to unskilled or low-skilled jobs, and for shit rates and with no worker protection) seems suspiciously well-tuned to keep the costs of things that the people who run the economy care about—produce, wine grapes, new houses, privately-paid care workers and health aides, restaurant food, etc.—inexpensive, while strong labor-market protections abound at the higher end. It's... certainly very convenient. (The one exception would be the H1B program and its use to effectively inject liquidity into the STEM labor pool, but even there—and it's a pretty touchy subject in places—the minimum salary is $60k, so it can't depress wages too
Now, taking all that on premise, the reasonable
solution (effect per dollar of enforcement) would be to go after employers who hire, or cause to be hired through intermediaries, people who are not eligible to legally work in the US. I absolutely, without any doubt at all, guarantee you that you could make more of a dent in illegal labor-force participation with a handful of accountants and special prosecutors, armed with some minimal changes to existing law to eliminate the biggest loopholes that allow shady arms-length-but-not-really arrangements between farms and "staffing companies" and similar. No ICE gestapo or secret desert prisons required. The people who are here illegally in the US just for jobs would leave, and the people who have actual community ties here would presumably stay, and with that difference made clear, I suspect there would be increased public support for a path to citizenship in order to allow those people who remained, and thus do have legitimate community ties, to legally work and participate with full protections in the labor market. It's reasonable, it wouldn't require a lot of creepy new laws, and because we live in a shitty universe it'll probably never, ever happen.
The difference between what we are seeing implemented, and what a reasonable solution looks like, is where you can tell that something else
is going on. And it's in that difference that I think you can make a convincing argument to people of various political stripes (well, not the hardcore racists, of course). If the Trump Administration was really
interested in going after illegal workers, they'd just need to enforce the laws on employers, and everything else would sort itself out. That they are not
doing that is how you know the wool is being pulled over their own supporters'
eyes, and something else is going on.
That is an argument that I have found is very tractive when talking to people, such as my family in Appalachia, who are not intrinsically anti-immigrant but are very directly affected by the market for low-skilled labor. Others who are discussing this with a varied or potentially pro-Trump audience may want to consider approaching it from a similar perspective and framing.