How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

Activist Ron Unz proposes a new minimum wage hike - with the aim of deterring illegal immigration

A proposed California ballot initiative calling for another minimum wage hike isn’t coming from Democrats this time. It’s being proposed by conservative entrepreneur and political activist Ron Unz, who sees it as a way of deterring illegal immigration.
 
The proposal calls for increasing the California minimum wage to $10 an hour in March of next year, then to $12 an hour in March of 2016. Tuesday, the California Secretary of State gave the go-ahead for Unz to begin gathering signatures in order to place the initiative on the November ballot.
 
A new wage law signed last fall by Governor Jerry Brown will already raise California's wage minimum to $9 on July 1, then to $10 in January 2016. But unlike that Democratic-sponsored measure, the thinking behind Unz’s proposal is this:
 
“We have 11 or 12 million illegal immigrants in the United States," Unz said in a telephone interview. "Business lobbyists correctly say that they take the jobs that Americans won’t take. But the reason Americans won’t take those jobs are that the wages are too low.”
 
Unz said there would be other benefits: That a higher minimum could pull some working-class families out poverty, for example.  He said it could also wind up benefiting some workers who are already in the U.S. illegally - but that the goal would be to deter newcomers.
 
Unz is no stranger to immigration politics: In 1998, he sponsored Proposition 227, an initiative to end bilingual education as it was being taught then in California public schools. He also ran for governor as a Republican in the 1994 primary.
 
UCLA Labor Center director Kent Wong said that in spite of its end goal, Unz's minimum wage proposal could win support on both sides of the political aisle. But whether it would have its desired effect of deterring illegal immigration is another matter.
 
“The reality is that we have many sectors of the underground economy which are dominated by immigrants, and by undocumented immigrants, and many of those don’t even pay the minimum wage today," Wong said. "So it is very hard to conceive of how raising the minimum wage from 10 to 12 would measurably change that scenario.”
 
Unz has 150 days to collect signatures from close to 505,000 registered voters for the initiative to qualify for the November ballot.

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