Immigration and baseball, it doesn't compute
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Immigration and baseball, it doesn't compute

October 27, 2011, 2:37 pm
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Nelson Cruz, Rafael Furcal and Albert Pujols are not worried about minimum wages or overtime pay
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I came across an article in FORBES this week titled; America's Pastime Should Be Baseball, Not Complaints about Immigrants. It seems the author is a baseball fan who, like the rest of us mortals, was impressed with the skills of some of the players. The author was particularly impressed with the exploits of Nelson Cruz of the Rangers who hit 6 homers in 6 games leading up to the World Series. He writes:

“The number of foreign-born players in the major leagues has more than doubled since 1990,   Still, it is noteworthy one never hears complaints about ‘immigrants taking away jobs’ from Americans in the major leagues… Baseball players consider the competition for roster spots to be fair, a meritocracy. Increased competition from foreign-born players has not resulted in lower salaries for native ballplayers….  Since 1990 average major league player salaries more than quadrupled (in nominal dollars) from $578,930 to $2.87 million in 2006, while the proportion of foreign-born players in the league increased from 10 percent to 23 percent, according to a 2006 analysis by the National Foundation for American Policy. A sustained or increased quality of play, to which foreign-born players have contributed, may have helped increase revenues, as major league ballpark attendance rose from 55 million to 75 million between 1990 and 2005.The next time someone complains about immigrants taking jobs’ from Americans, tell them to try playing major league baseball, where, unlike the rest of the economy, the number of jobs are fixed and limited, yet no one ever complains about immigrants.”

The author’s point is that we should view foreign born workers the same way major league baseball does.  But the trouble with the argument is that major league baseball, with a highly skilled and specialized labor force of only 750 players, who earn millions, is light years removed from 12 million illegal immigrants who, we generally agree, are underpaid. There is no meritocracy among the millions of unemployed, unskilled immigrants competing for low paying jobs to eke out a living. Nelson Cruz has a special skill so much in demand that there are employers salivating at the thought that he may soon be a free agent whom they can offer even more millions just to lure him away from his present employer, the Texas Rangers.

True, baseball salaries have increased at the same time the number of foreign players has more than doubled.  But one does not need a degree in economics to figure out that were we to double the number of foreign workers now competing for jobs in the marketplace, the result would be disastrous. There is no oversupply of super-skilled foreign ball players. The reason no one complains is because the number of jobs is “fixed and limited” as the writer says. He misperceives the fact that 750 total workers in an economy as large as ours is truly a drop in the ocean.  It cannot be compared to the millions of unskilled laborers competing for scarce jobs where there exists oversupply of labor. Unemployment stands today at over 9%. There is zero unemployment among American baseball players with comparable skills

 Labor issues breed feelings of resentment because American citizens feel that jobs are being taken away from fellow Americans by immigrants who are willing to work for a lot less.  It is not hard to figure out that all of the laws that have been enacted are of no serious concern to the highly paid athlete. Does anyone think that Nelson Cruz, Albert Pujols and Raphael Furcal are worried about minimum wage, the number of hours in a work week, and overtime pay? 

The law makes special provision for the category of “workers with extraordinary abilities” These athletes must conform to an additional set of requirements in order to be eligible for these category designations. “Aside from the extraordinary abilities, the athlete must be a temporary worker only visiting for the sole purposes of performing. In addition, he must be uniquely qualified for the position, and he must have a foreign home that he does not intend on abandoning".

Basically, what the government wants to know is that he will return to his country once he has finished playing ball. Athletes are uniquely qualified workers in the sense that they possess a talent that is better than any American competing for ths same job. This is proven by the foreign player’s ability to make the team over all other players trying out for a position. Sports are now part of big business, but to argue that it can provide a model to solve the political and social ills of our brokrn immigration system is absurd. The question we must ask is whether there are not sufficient U.S. workers able, willing, qualified and available to accept the job in which area of intended employment. No American player has outhit Nelson Cruz in the playoffs. There is your answer. Mr. Anderson. The next time you argue that foreign workers do not take jobs from American, please leave foreign baseball players out of it.


Author: Reynold Mason
Reynold N. Mason teaches law courses at Zenover Educational Institute In Atlanta, Georgia. He has been a judge on New York City Civil Court and, a Justice on New York State Supreme Court. Mason has been an adjunct professor of law at Medgar Evers College and Monroe College in New York. He has authored several legal opinions published in New York Miscellaneous Reports and New York Official Reports as well as the New York Law Journal. He lives in Atlanta.
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