- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 13, 2008

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

“Immigrants do jobs Americans won’t do and don’t want.” President Bush, John McCain, Hillary Clinton and Ted Kennedy have all said it. But the facts tell a different story.

America’s broken immigration laws are hurting U.S. workers and overburdening our taxpayers.

In 2006, America had 12 million illegal and 26 million legal immigrants. These 38 million immigrants total one-eighth of our population. A third of legal immigrants, and nearly two-thirds of illegal immigrants, haven’t completed high school. Nine percent of American citizens aged 18-64 are without a high school degree.

Common sense, basic economics and the data indicate that admitting large numbers of poorly educated immigrants reduces job prospects and wages for less-educated/skilled Americans. Between 2000 and 2005, jobless Americans without a high school degree increased by 2 million. During the same period, immigrants without high school degrees grew 1.5 million.

The large, disproportionately undereducated influx of immigrant workers has depressed wages for less-skilled/educated Americans. In the last 25 years, hourly wages for high school dropouts decreased 20 percent relative to inflation. For American high school graduates, they decreased 10 percent. African Americans have been particularly hard hit, as Mrs. Clinton recognized in a CNN Democratic debate. Immigration accounted for a third of the jobs lost by African American high school dropouts over the last few decades.

Typically, pro-amnesty voices claim that illegal immigrants are needed because there aren’t enough Americans to fill low-skill jobs. If this were true, then wages and employment rates for less skilled/educated American workers would rise as employers competed to hire them. Yet just the opposite has happened.

Enforcing immigration laws improves pay and job opportunities for less-skilled/educated American workers. When illegal immigrants were removed from the Cruder poultry plant in Stillmore, Ga., wages increased significantly. Additionally, Cruder provided workers from nearby towns with shuttles and free dormitories. Cruder hired workers from the local unemployment office, probationers and men from a homeless mission. The Wall Street Journal noted, “For the first time since Latinos began arriving in the late ‘90s, Cruder’s processing lines were made up of local African Americans.”

America’s immigration policy has not only harmed less-skilled/educated American workers, but it also heavily burdened taxpayers. In 1997, the National Academy of Sciences estimated that immigrant households consumed $20 billion more in public services than they paid in taxes annually. Adjusted for inflation and the current number of immigrants, this figure would be $40 billion. Net costs to taxpayers would triple if illegal aliens received amnesty and began to use services and pay taxes like legal immigrants with equivalent educations.

In 1996, America reformed welfare because it devalued citizens and overburdened taxpayers. We must reform our immigration policies for the same reasons.

Our illegal immigration policy should be “attrition through enforcement.” First, we must secure our border and build the 850-mile fence mandated by Congress. So far, only a few miles have been completed. Simultaneously, we must prosecute and briefly jail those who illegally attempt to cross the border. Finally, we must prevent illegal immigrants from taking jobs from Americans by making legal status a labor standard, similar to child labor laws. Requiring businesses to use the Employment Eligibility Verification System, and then fining those with mismatched names and Social Security numbers, would make this standard a reality. Most illegal aliens work on the books, using their real name and a made-up Social Security number. The IRS can fine companies for submitting mismatched W-2s but never has. It’s time to step up enforcement.

The Center for Immigration Studies estimates these actions would result in 50 percent of the illegal-immigrant population returning to their countries within five years. The benefit to taxpayers and less-educated/skilled American workers would be substantial.

Current immigration laws, which give preference to immigrants with family members already here, is outdated and unsustainable. Preferences for better- educated immigrants, who will be self-sustaining economic contributors instead of taxpayer burdens, should be instituted.

America’s first consideration must always be the security and welfare of our citizens. We have welcomed more immigrants than any country on Earth, but always in accordance with our laws and, except in cases of humanitarian emergencies, always based upon the proposition that their admittance was mutually beneficial.

America’s needs have changed. We are no longer an expanding agrarian nation, so hungry for settlers we give away land. Nor do we require millions of unskilled laborers to fuel an industrial explosion. Immigration policies that fulfilled these needs benefited America in the past. Now they only benefit those who want cheap, taxpayer-subsidized labor, and harm American workers who’ve seen their wages and job opportunities plummet. It’s time to put American workers first. Presidential candidates who recognize immigration reform as a blue-collar economic issue will be a step ahead of the pack.

Herb McMillan, a captain at a major airline, serves on the Board of the Maryland Taxpayers Association.


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