High Unemployment Reframes Immigration Debate

New America Media, News Analysis, Marcelo Ballvé Posted: Dec 04, 2009

In the wake of President Obama's "jobs summit," the debate about how illegal immigration impacts unemployment has risen in volume. For Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, the summit was fatally flawed because it did not directly address illegal immigration.

"Notably absent from the president’s jobs summit is any discussion of how to take back the 8 million jobs currently occupied by illegal immigrants and make them available to out-of-work U.S. citizens and legal immigrants," he wrote on Politico.com.

Rep. Smith, a fifth-generation Texan and a known Capitol Hill immigration hardliner, asked: “How can the administration justify giving millions of jobs to illegal immigrants when the economy is struggling with a 10 percent unemployment rate?”

He's right about the numbers. An estimated 5 percent of the U.S. labor force is made up of undocumented immigrants, meaning they hold 8 million jobs (that number's generally not disputed). But what's not so clear is how many of those positions are truly jobs Americans would compete for, at the wages offered, even with high unemployment.

Several studies suggest that among Americans and legal residents, it's mainly those lacking a high school diploma who are competing directly with undocumented immigrants for jobs (and by most estimates, that's less than one out of every 10 U.S. workers).

A 2006 study by Giovanni Peri, a professor of economics at the University of California, Davis, concluded that immigration actually benefits more educated U.S. workers by boosting overall productivity, resulting in wage increases for degree-holders.

A widely cited 2008 study by the Perryman Group for Americans for Immigration Reform, a business-led coalition, went even further. Deporting undocumented workers en masse -- the study calls the workers an "essential resource" -- would have the net result of erasing thousands of jobs permanently in many states, not to mention being a prohibitively expensive exercise.

Of course, that's cold comfort to millions of U.S. workers who lack a high school diploma and feel they are being undercut by undocumented foreign workers.

A study released this month by Gordon H. Hanson, of the University of California, San Diego and the National Bureau of Economic Research, cites an estimate that American high school dropouts lost 9 percent of their income over one recent 20-year period, due to illegal immigration.

But Hanson, who prepared his study for the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute, also states that despite the controversy it generates, illegal immigration has no significant impact on the overall U.S. economy.

Hanson’s study doesn't gauge the effect of innovation (for example, new techniques undocumented immigrants may have introduced in construction). But it does account for most other relevant factors such as undocumented immigrants' contribution to GDP and tax revenue (a majority have payroll taxes deducted), as well as public monies they drain, mainly via public schooling and emergency room visits.

In the end, writes Hanson, "it's a wash."

In this Hanson coincides with Marcelo Suárez-Orozco, co-director of the immigration studies program at New York University, who said late last year, as the economy crumbled, that despite the evidence that proponents and critics of immigration pile on either side of the issue, the impact on the economy isn't as dramatic as either side would like to think.

For Hanson, the key question is how to create an immigration system that creates incentives against illegal immigration, channels foreign workers onto legal entry paths, and provides the U.S. labor market with all the unskilled labor it needs (particularly during an upswing), but with enough flexibility to decrease influxes when the labor market contracts, as it has in the last couple of years.

His answer is a visa program for unskilled foreign workers far larger and less restrictive than it is now.

The current visa regime allows in only a ludicrously low number of temporary unskilled workers, 150,000 at any given time by Hanson's count, a number dwarfed by the 8 million immigrants who are working here illegally.

The basic formula is to turn illegal immigrants into legal immigrants.

That might be accomplished through temporary worker programs that could be taxed, higher visa quotas, or a path to earned citizenship for the 12 million undocumented immigrants living in the country, or a combination of these tactics.

The conservative Heritage Foundation opposes giving citizenship to anyone who entered the country illegally, arguing that “amnesty” creates an incentive for future illegal immigration. However, Heritage still endorses providing “legal avenues that meet the needs of employers and immigrants.”

Congress last tried to pass immigration reform in 2007, at a time when unemployment levels were far lower than they are now. The legislation, which included higher quotas for foreign workers and a path to citizenship for the undocumented, foundered against many conservatives’ cries that it represented an immigration amnesty.

Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., who has been drafting a sweeping immigration overhaul, has said that he is including language in the current bill that would limit visas for industries that have high unemployment, so American workers don't have to compete with foreigners. Immigrant labor would make it into niches of the economy where it's needed.

“We believe that every American should always have first crack at every job,” Gutierrez was quoted as saying in the Washington, D.C., political newspaper The Hill. “Having said that, where the opportunities exist, we need to sustain our economy. And so we need workers. Even in this very unstable economic situation we find ourselves in, there are still crabs that need to be picked, there are still onions going un-harvested. It’s just true.”

It may be true, but selling this complex vision to a job-hungry nation will be a challenge for Gutierrez and the Obama administration, which, with an eye on the Latino vote, promised action on immigration reform in 2010.

Related Articles:

States May Shed Another 1 Million Jobs

Report: Immigrants Are Pillars of the U.S. Economy

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User Comments

Eddy on Dec 22, 2009 at 11:25:44 said:

Its pretty much stupid how all of you americans(which i love) think that illegal immigrants are unuseful when so much people depend on illegals. The thing I want to happen is to just have alot of the illegals legalized but have to either have graduated school or in school or taking care of kids who are in school. and have proof of being in the united states for a number of years (5 yrs min) no past criminals should be allowed to be legalized unless it is something extremely minor.and after this process has occurred than no longer can illegals be let stand on United State grounds. Reinforce Border Patrol..Employ more Patrol Guards..take necessary action for border crossers.

June McWilliam on Dec 06, 2009 at 09:17:57 said:

In this article, where are they getting their statistics? I'd like to see the data, which I feel is, for the most part, erroneous. It is very easy to manipulate the facts (which pro-immigration reform groups tend to do).
Rep. Wilson's remark "You lie!", can be broadened to "They lie!".

jerseycityjoan on Dec 05, 2009 at 10:24:18 said:

"A study released this month by Gordon H. Hanson, of the University of California, San Diego and the National Bureau of Economic Research, cites an estimate that American high school dropouts lost 9 percent of their income over one recent 20-year period, due to illegal immigration."

So we have let the weakest of us -- high school dropouts -- carry a heavy burden for 20 years.

It's about time we did something to stop that.

In view of this, what else matters? That the rich paid less for their household help and factory workers is a meaningless statistic.

Give the jobs back to Americans. They will do almost everything, at the right wage. They have in the past and the recession is showing they will again.

StJakk on Dec 05, 2009 at 09:30:12 said:

The real threat is not about jobs or taxes or race.Those are small
and insignificant matters at best.The point that seems
to be evading so many of us is that MILLIONS of foreigners
are here distracting our Government. The REAL threats they
present are ECONOMIK and POLITIKAL power.Like a cheap whore seducing a
drunk sailor these illegal foreign nationals and those who
represent them are enticing OUR elected officials with dreams
of huge hispanic voting blocks and large,very large contributions
from businesses (both large and small) who benefit from an
illiterate and fearful work force.................... Three yrs. ago the capitol
switch board was SHUT DOWN by call after call after call DEMANDING
that at a time of war our southern border needed to be sealed..
..and yet it remains open. Poll after poll shows CITIZENS want the
illegal foreign national threat OUT of the USA by staggering numbers
..60%,70%,80%..yet congress is telling us WE might have to pay for
THEIR health care..When the government stops listening to its CITIZENS
TYRANNY has taken root. Jobs?...Taxes?...not a big deal....a deaf
government suppressing the will of free people?..The death of American
Liberty?....TYRANNY!!!That is why I want ALL Illegal Foreign Nationals
off US soil

StJakk on Dec 05, 2009 at 09:26:58 said:

People can say that these folks are here living productive
and otherwise law abiding lives all day long. But it won\'t
change the FACT that every time an anti-illegal immigrant
measure is PASSED during a lawful,local election some activist
group,in the name of \"immigrant rights\" will file an injunction
to dely,stall or even reverse the implimentation of the legal election
results.In otherwords the voice of WE THE PEOPLE is being
squelched and silenced by lawyers representing \"otherwise
law abiding\" illegal foreign nationals. OUR SACRED,PRECIOUS
and the folks WE ELECTED to represent US are telling US to
sit down,shut up and stop being \'racist\' and hindering the
profitable progress of a very few unscrupulous businessmen
and campaign contributors.That is what upsets me the
most...see you at the polls in 2010.......

StJakk on Dec 05, 2009 at 09:25:30 said:

Does the fact that an overwhelming majority of Americans
say they want illegal immigration stopped, while their
legislators and bureaucrats - local, state, and federal -
refuse to do so mean democracy is broken?
Does powerful special interest that encourages this illegal
activity, like the Chamber of Commerce, hold sway over lawmakers
who would otherwise cater to the supposed will of the people?
The answer to this lies in another and arguably more powerful
democratic institution, the free market. It is the common local
businesses and the people who support them who are the real power
brokers in this issue.
It may be, for instance, a roofing company, perhaps a restaurant,
who chooses to hire illegals, but it is the patrons with their
money who turn these establishments into viable ports of entry.
One only needs to multiply these local circumstances nationally
to understand exactly who is responsible for the radical cultural
transformation of large portions of the country.
Much is made of the politician who panders to his constituents during
the election season then retreats to his seat of power to curry
reciprocal favor with big business and the like.
But perhaps they are reflecting the will of the people after all,
who say one thing and yet do another."...................

Delaware Bob on Dec 05, 2009 at 06:21:42 said:

Very good and well written story. I have been saying for years that illegal aliens are destroying this Country. Anyone listen? Not those who have any control over the problem. ICE comes to mind. Why did they stop the raids? They were working, for God's sake. I didn't care much for Bush because of his amnesty bill, but when it failed, he at least started the enforcement.

Then comes this poor excuse for a president, obama, and he stops the enforcement. Now ICE just goes after the employers. This is good, but what about the illegal aliens working the jobs? Are they at least being ordered out of the Country with their family? I don't want any families separated. That's wrong. Yes, get the whole family, if they are illegal aliens.

They say our border is secure. I guess this is some sort of joke, as Arizona is arresting 2-3,000 illegal aliens a week! They still want to leave water for the invaders. When is this all going to end? It will end when our Government orders the illegal aliens out of this Country! It will end when the States step up to the plate and pass illegal immigration laws and enforce them.

It's our Country. Get the illegal aliens out of it, or let them stay and destroy it. I say GET THEM OUT!

john on Dec 05, 2009 at 05:21:28 said:

legalize the illegals, yep that\'s the answer. Then they can bring their families here. That would be splended. Illeglas drive the wages down so Ameericans can\'t earn a decent wage to live the AMerican dream. I wish ethnic media would see both sides of the coin. These illegals come here drive down wages live 30 people to a house and let our society pick up the tab for the difference between what they make and what they need. The real unemployment rate is 15-17%, illegals should leave. You do not help AMerica you only help yourselves.

Brittanicus on Dec 04, 2009 at 17:01:34 said:

Laws to do with apprehension of illegal immigrants have always been compromised? Anything that really works is immediately attacked by the open border organization, in a silent conspiracy with both political parties. We the American people--the taxpayer have to always ultimately grin and bare it? We just pay out the money in copious taxes to the federal agency that delivers welfare benefits, to those who slip past the border guards.

Our prisons are full, jails-- in 6-figure numbers of illegal people, along with a growing trend passed on to every foreign pregnant woman, that if they can bypass the sentinels along the border their babies are instant citizens. By delivering a baby here they can instantly if indirectly get food stamps, low income housing and many more birthright citizenship entitlements. This of course is a rampantly out-of-control recital that happens over and over again in the Sanctuary State of California. For a nation that has stepped on the moon, found the HMS Titanic in a huge expense of water, but--they are unable to deport the millions of people, who illegally settled here? That any tourist can enter America and overstay their visa by bluffing the ICE agent? That we trust these parties to leave of their own accord when their visa time expires, even though that there is nothing to verify their departure? It really sad that Americans swallow the garbage we are fed from Washington. Now they--REALLY--expect us to believe of enacting a Comprehensive Immigration Reform that is reportedly said to be good for the economy?

There are so many men and women jobless, with many living without hope. Penniless and so desperate they are going to food pantries and waiting for their unemployment benefits to run out. This is insane, absolutely outrageous and everyday more and more American Workers are losing their jobs to illegal laborers who take fewer wage. Trying to pass any kind of immigration reform stands on the very edge of madness? In the depth of a major recession they have the audacity to enact another BLANKET AMNESTY, and then we should call our reluctant Senators and Representatives to vote for The SAVE Act (H.R.3308) This is a composite of all intelligent immigration enforcement that propels Americans citizens and legalized newcomers first and always to vacated jobs? It contains E-Verify as a permanent addition of which The SAVE Act has received its 100th cosponsor, that being Rep. Michael Turner (R-Ohio) who added his name to the long list.

The SAVE Act (H.R.3308) would use currently available tools and resources to increase interior enforcement of federal immigration laws. The SAVE ACT would make E-Verify mandatory for all employers, increase monitoring of compliance of the E-Verify screening, require notification of identity theft; and the requirement of information sharing between the Social Security Administration, Department of Homeland Security and the Internal Revenue Service. Also increasing interior enforcement, the SAVE Act would, add more ICE agents and increase funding to state, county and local law enforcement and expedite the deportation procedure by increasing detention capacity and the number of immigration judges. In addition Homeland Security has announced that it will be adding a new verification feature to the E-Verify Photo Tool this month to address employee privacy concerns?

Currently an employee’s photo document is displayed on the E-Verify computer screen. At present, the photo screening tool will only “function” when an employee presents a recent version of a permanent resident card (I-551) or employment authorization document (EAD) as proof of employment authorization. A new security feature will add a watermark across the image that when viewed says “E-Verify Use Only”. This is to prevent unauthorized use or fraudulent manipulation of government-issued ID photograph. This will lessen any critic’s issue, to stop the griping and entertain .another court case? E-verify has the capability now to identify illegal immigrants using phony driver’s licenses and many other procured American entitlements. It could also halt the growing document fraud, Medi-care and state medical care unauthorized use. E-Verify have exclusive possibilities to achieve not only illegal entrants from employer’s headaches, but can identify bogus auto registration, child support and even unlawful section 8 and other subsidies.

So get on the phone and demand as a voter for your lawmaker to vote for THE SAVE ACT (H.R. 3308) and be relentless. The number to call is 202-224-3121. Also bombard the House-Senate policy makers with 28 cent postcards, to stop the open border organizations from engineering another Path to citizenship or AMNESTY. Tell them to amend the 1986 Immigration Reform Act, not another facade that was a bloated with fraud. Understand that THE SAVE ACT will protect American jobs and remove illegal immigrants from working locations over time. Those who believe in America’s survival, without OVERPOPULATION as stated by the US Census bureau better read the facts, not the lies at NUMBERSUSA. Those who want details of corruption in WASHINGTON and state government go to JUDICIAL WATCH. For Overpopulation statistics, should go to CAPSWEB. Other sites of interest on Immigration enforcement is ALIPAC and AMERICAN PATROL.




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