Benjamin Powell, Ph.D., is the director of the Center
on Entrepreneurial Innovation at the Independent Institute,
an Oakland, California–based policy think tank.
ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS perform valuable roles in the U.S. economy.
Instead of being criminalized, illegal immigrants should be granted
amnesty and more legal channels should be opened so that future
immigrants can migrate legally.
Illegal immigrants compose approximately 5 percent of America’s
labor force, and they are vitally important to a variety of industries. Approximately 24 percent
of all farm workers, 17 percent of cleaning workers and 27 percent of butchery workers are
illegal immigrants. The construction and textile industries are also heavily dependent on illegal immigrant labor. Reforms that risk losing these workers would cause a major disruption
in the U.S. economy.
If migrants are deported, American workers won’t automatically fill these jobs. Instead, many
jobs will disappear because native-born workers refuse to take these low-wage jobs. It happened
in Arizona in 2004, when increased border enforcement made it more difficult to attract migrant
workers. The farmers suffered losses of nearly $1 billion and left approximately two-thirds of the
fall lettuce crop in the ground to rot instead of hiring American workers at higher wages.
The number of jobs in the American economy is not fixed. When more migrants come we
create more jobs. The massive entry of women into America’s workforce over the last 60 years
did not decrease employment opportunities or wages for men. Instead, more jobs were created
and America’s economy has grown. The same is true when immigration increases the labor force.
Immigrants increase America’s productivity by performing jobs that wouldn’t otherwise exist
and by freeing up American labor to move into more productive jobs. The result is increased
output and lower prices for American citizens. Even by conservative estimates, U.S. citizens benefit by more than $20 billion per year because of current levels of legal and illegal immigration.
Most tax, crime and social-services problems associated with immigrants stem from the illegal status of many of them. Criminalizing them and closing the border will not solve these problems. Legalizing current migrants and stemming the flow of illegal immigration by opening up
more channels for legal migration would solve many problems and allow U.S. citizens to reap
greater benefits from immigration. C
Opinions expressed are those of the
individuals or organizations represented
and are presented to foster discussion.
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from experts in the field:
PRESIDENT BUSH’S announcement that National Guard troops will
be sent to patrol the border is but a baby step toward the type of
comprehensive immigration enforcement strategy that the American
public is demanding.
Dan Stein is president of FAIR (Federation for American Immigration
Reform, www.fairus.org), a national, nonprofit organization.
With American public opinion running overwhelmingly against
President Bush’s proposal to grant amnesty for 11 million or more
illegal aliens and create a massive new guest worker program, the
White House is clearly attempting to establish some measure of credibility for its promise
that it will enforce immigration laws.
A real strategy to control illegal immigration to the United States, and to convince
illegal aliens who are living here to leave, must have many more components to it. There
needs to be a real effort to enforce laws against employers who hire illegal aliens, an end to
nonessential services and benefits for illegal aliens and better coordination with state and
local law-enforcement agencies.
Immigration enforcement with demonstrable results must be a prerequisite to any
other policy changes. After years of government doing absolutely nothing to deal with this
problem, the American public needs to see a real strategy implemented that results in illegal aliens getting discouraged and returning to their homelands in significant numbers.
Enforcement cannot be tied to amnesty for illegal aliens and a new guest worker program to satisfy the cheap-labor lobby. Amnesty is forever; immigration enforcement has
been sporadic to nonexistent for too long for anyone to have confidence that the administration will carry through over the long haul.
If President Bush is serious about dealing with the illegal-immigration crisis, he will get
behind the House of Representatives’ enforcement bill, commit his administration to carrying out laws against illegal immigration and drop his call for granting amnesty to millions
of illegal aliens. If he does that, polls show that he will have the support of the American
people behind him. If all he is planning to do is send a few weekend soldiers down to the
border for a few months, the American public will see it for what it is: an elaborate and
expensive photo op. C