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March 12, 2014
Rubio's misplaced NBA argument for more foreign workers
Posted by Laura
Marco Rubio, once the darling of the Tea Party movement, has run into choppy waters among conservative voters ever since he championed the Senate’s immigration reform bill. In recent months he has pivoted to foreign policy, and somewhat soft-pedaled on immigration, but he tried out a new argument for expanding legal immigration in an interview with Bloomberg this week:

So, when I talk about a global competition, we're not just in global competition for investment. We're in global competition for talent. So, think about it this way. If the number one pick in the NBA Draft next year is from another country, there is no way in the world that person's going to have an immigration problem. We've never deported a 7-foot-2 center. We've never deported the best point guard in America. We've never done that. If we wouldn't do that in sports, why would we do that to our economy?

It's an absurd comparison. First, there are a limited number of 7' 2" people on earth who are capable of playing in the NBA, so there is no reason to believe that a 7' 2" center from overseas -- assuming that such a person exists -- can easily be replaced by an American worker. There is also no reason to believe that such a player will have a negative impact on the wages of Americans. But if I run a construction company, and I hire 50 illegal guys to work for me, there is no reason to believe that those 50 guys represent unique skills that can't be replicated by legal workers, and there are strong reasons to believe that I am suppressing wage rates in my town.

Plus, Rubio might not be aware of the P-1A visa for “internationally recognized athletes,” which covers prospective NBA players from foreign countries. Such athletes (“temporary workers”) must leave the country after their employment or other engagement is complete, are limited to a 10-year window for such engagement. It is not an open-ended invitation to stay in America. 

Rubio’s argument also proves too much. If we took his example seriously, there would literally be no restrictions on any foreigner -- from any country -- who had a job offer in the United States. That would undermine the whole notion of national borders. I realize that Rubio doesn't believe in national border -- or national sovereignty -- unless he's trying to get the U.S. government to go to war or punish Cuba. But most Americans still disagree with him.

I can't believe that Rubio and his consultants sat around, cooked up this argument, and thought anyone would take it seriously. This just isn't good politics. To beat Hillary, and to win Senate reelection for that matter, one must possess the critical ability to predict how other people are going to react to arguments on a contentious issue such as immigration.  

03/12/14 9:31 AM
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