After the usual pleasantries, she started to rant about illegal immigrants from Mexico and how they, in her words, ruined our country. She thought they were a drain on our welfare system, health care, education and society in general. She said they are taking jobs away from American citizens and are responsible for our substandard wages. Her solution was to send them all back to where they came from. She thought we should build a fence on our borders and charge the Mexican government for every one we caught and sent back to Mexico.
I have heard these same arguments for years. On the surface they seem like legitimate concerns. But are they valid arguments?
An article written by David Karjanen, “Putting The Cost Of Illegal Immigration In Perspective” gives us some insight into a different aspect of the cost/benefit debate on immigration.
Karjanen, a professor at the Institute for Global Studies at the University of Minnesota, said for years he has been looking at the labor market dynamics of immigrants and low-wage workers in California. He said, “Quite frankly, the cost/benefit debate fundamentally misses the point. Costs associated with immigrations should not be seen as cost, per se, but rather subsidies to employers.” And he is right.
He noted that newspaper editorials and elected officials in California, New Mexico, Arizona and Texas fuel the controversy by stating the states are “under assault” and “inundated” by unauthorized immigrants. And, like my friend, claims they are creating a drain on public funds and services.
Again, on the surface that seems to be true. But is it? A survey in 2002 finds that households headed by undocumented, unskilled immigrants generate $26.3 billion need for government service.
That’s equal to $2,700 per each undocumented household. Compared to only $16 billion they paid in federal taxes, the fiscal deficit is $10 billion.
Interestingly, the public cost for social services for native born households is much higher averaging $3,454 per family. Anyway, I have always been skeptical of statistics like these. If the government knows how much illegal immigrants earn and how much income tax they pay, then why can’t they find them for deportation?
Karjanen sites the misplaced logic that shutting off the flow of immigrants would force employers to hire native-born labor. And by doing so, the wages would rise and public sector cost of undocumented immigrants would be reduced. However, that may not be the case. The reason is, the federal government’s minimum wage standard creates low income families. The working poor, regardless of their citizenship status, will need the same public services as the illegal immigrants. Therefore the cost to the public will be the same.
Retail sales clerks, cashiers, janitors, landscapers and fast food workers would need their wages increased from $8 per hour to $12 or $14 per hour (the rates at which full time workers become ineligible for most public programs) to escape the poverty level. And according to Karjanen that will never happen. He also adds that most low-wage workers on public assistance in this country are native born, not immigrants. And besides, there is no guarantee that native-born citizens would work the immigrants’ current jobs. That’s what created the need for immigrant workers in the first place: Americans didn’t want to get their hands dirty doing menial labor. They would rather go on welfare.
According to Professor Karjanen, we need to take a look at the direction of the U.S. economy. “Immigrants have just become a convenient scapegoat, and a smoke screen for the problem — an economy that isn‘t working for the working poor,” he said. “The public should not be concerned about footing the bill for undocumented immigrants but for low-wage jobs. Getting rid of non-documented immigrants and hiring native-born workers in their place will not solve the problem because any worker making less than $10 per hour will qualify for some form of government assistance.”
What has really ruined our country and created a drain on our welfare system, health care, education and society in general is not illegal immigrants but government subsidies for corporations in the form of welfare to minimum wage earners; allowing businesses to profit by paying low wages, creating a class of the working poor that is supported by the tax payers.
Sending illegal immigrants back to Mexico is not the answer. Immigrant spending accounts for 17 percent of our retail sales. Ironically, the more non-documented workers we send back to Mexico the slower the economy becomes.
The solution is simple: Raise the minimum wage above the poverty level and eliminate the population of the working poor.
Create a program forcing employers of illegal immigrants to sponsor them for citizenship. This will eliminate most of the immigration problem and create more legal citizens. Then, we won’t have to build fences on our border and no one can blame immigrants for ruining uor country.
David Farside is a Sparks resident and political activist. The polemics of his articles can be discussed at email@example.com. His Web site is www.thefarsidechronicles.com.