Jewish World Review May 4, 2005 / 25 Nisan, 5765
Change our immigration laws to allow needed workers to immigrate legally?
The "Minutemen" have left their posts along a short stretch of
the Arizona border with Mexico after their month-long effort to stem the
flow of illegal immigration. The Minuteman Project, which ended May 1, never
drew the thousands of volunteers organizers predicted would show up along
the 23-mile stretch of desert in Cochise County, Ariz., which has been a
favorite crossing point for thousands of illegal aliens. At month's end,
fewer than 900 men and women had joined the ragtag group that some hailed as
"citizen volunteers" and others condemned as vigilantes, and only 335
illegal aliens were apprehended as the result of their efforts.
That's about half the number of illegal aliens the U.S. Border
Patrol usually picks up each month along that same stretch of border
which the Minutemen say is proof of their effectiveness. But the Border
Patrol has a different explanation. The drop in border crossings is "not
attributed to any civilians on the border at all," agent Andrea Zortman told
National Public Radio recently. In March 2004, she explained, "we began the
Arizona Border Control Initiative Phase I, and with that, we brought in
additional agents, additional vehicles, assets, infrastructure, technology
and whatnot." The Mexican government, too, stepped up its efforts to patrol
the border, sending in troops to scare off Mexicans hoping to sneak into the
United States near where the Minutemen set up camp with their lawn chairs
Of course no one knows if some of these illegal aliens simply
hiked a few extra miles to avoid the new agents and Minutemen and crossed
elsewhere. But the Christian Science Monitor reported recently that to
extend the same level of manpower along the entire 1,400-mile border with
Mexico would require "60,000 people and probably a permanent presence,
experts note." There's a much better way to deal with the problem, but
unfortunately, most politicians seem terrified even to discuss it.
The problem of illegal immigration could be vastly improved, if
not solved, if we'd reform legal immigration. The dirty little secret is
that we need more immigrants than we currently allow into the U.S. legally,
whether we are willing to acknowledge it or not. Now, I know public opinion
polls show that most Americans don't want more immigrants. Only 9 percent of
Americans favor increasing immigration, according to one recent poll by
Republican pollster Ed Goeas. But the vast majority of adult illegal aliens
are gainfully employed and not at below-minimum wage jobs either which means that the American labor market easily absorbs them, and, in fact, has
become dependent on them.
Although some immigration opponents claim that immigrants take
jobs from Americans, there is little evidence to support this. One study by
Rob Paral of the Immigration Policy Center shows that employment in
one-third of all job categories would have contracted during the 1990s in
the absence of newly arrived immigrant workers, even if all U.S.-born
workers with recent experience in those categories had been re-hired.
According to Paral's analysis, "data from the 2000 census indicate that even
if native workers could readily have moved to any part of the country in
which jobs were available during the 1990s, and even if they had been
willing to accept any job offered, there would not have been nearly enough
unemployed native-born workers to fill all available jobs."
Without the more than 12 million immigrants who arrived in the
1990s including some 5 million illegal aliens the U.S. would have
created fewer jobs, experienced slower economic growth and maintained a
lower standard of living for everyone. Large segments of agriculture, the
poultry and beef industry, certain manufacturers, and other employers faced
with labor shortages or skyrocketing wages would have been forced out of
business or moved their production abroad.
Even if it were possible to put native-born workers into all
jobs now performed by immigrants, would it make sense? We spend billions of
dollars each year to educate Americans. Do we really want Americans with 13
or more years of education picking lettuce, processing chickens or cleaning
toilets and are we willing to pay them $18 or $20 an hour to do so?
Doesn't it make more sense to match relatively low-skilled, foreign-born
workers to jobs that require few skills?
If we changed our immigration laws to allow needed workers to
immigrate legally, we'd largely solve our illegal alien problem; the
Minutemen could go home permanently; and the Border Patrol could devote
itself to keeping out drug dealers and terrorists. Too bad politicians
aren't even willing to consider this option
JWR contributor Linda Chavez is President of the Center for Equal Opportunity. Her latest book is "Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics". (Click HERE to purchase. Sales help fund JWR.)