Sunday, April 03, 2005

There's nothing cheap about immigrant labor

I have been involved in an ongoing and very earnest discussion with someone in my family about the issues surrounding "cheap" immigrant labor. I was astounded to learn that my relative was less than enthused about any anti-illegal immigration measures simply because they [illegals] didn't impact him in any way! I thought to myself, how can something that matters [to America] so much, mean so very little to someone like him? He's educated, involved, honorable, and a former service member...but he doesn't see the immediate need to curb illegal immigration. (?!) Even more shocking to me was that I had to admit that for every one person like me who cares and wants to help do something about it, there must be thousands more who are complacant and blind to the long-run ramifications - NOT because they are stupid, but because they believe themselves to be personally UNAFFECTED! It really is the "boiling the frog" syndrome. No one will be moved enought to notice or DO anything...until it's too late. So I will continue to reason and present my arguments to him, and hope to challenge his complacency without alienating him from the issue completely.

Today, I came cross this succinct article on the Americans for Legal Immigration (ALIPAC) website and it was perfect timing! It covers almost every topic I've already presented. I emailed it to my relative (lest he think I'm some ideological kook alone in my "sky-is-falling" convictions) and thought it was good enough to share with you.

Hat tip: ALIPAC

PS: If you haven't visited ALIPAC yet, I highly encourage you to do so. They keep their fingers on the pulse of the issue and present logical, reasoned arguments for LEGAL immigration.

There's nothing cheap about immigrant labor

By Richard D. Lamm

It is easy to see why illegal immigrants are attractive to employers. These are generally good, hard-working people who will quietly accept minimum wage (or less), who don't generally get health or other benefits, and if they complain, they can be easily fired.

For some employers it is an abused form of labor. Even minimum wage is attractive to workers from countries whose standard of living is a fraction of ours. But it is not "cheap labor." It may be cheap to those who pay the wages, but for the rest of us it is clearly subsidized labor, as we taxpayers pick up the costs of education, health and other municipal costs imposed by this workforce. That has become a substantial and growing cost as the nature of illegal immigration patterns has changed.

For decades, illegal immigrants were single men who would come up from Mexico or Central America alone, pick crops or perform other low-paying physical labor and then go home. They were indeed cheap labor. But starting in the 1960s, these workers either brought their families or smuggled them into the country later. They become a permanent or semi-permanent population living in the shadows but imposing immense municipal costs.

Illegal immigration today isn't cheap labor, except to the employer. To the rest of us it is subsidized labor, where a few get the benefit and the rest of us pay. These costs ought to be obvious to all, but the myths of cheap labor and "jobs Americans won't do" persist.

It is hard to get an exact profile of the people who live in the underground economy, but the average family of illegal immigrants has two to four school-age kids. It costs U.S. taxpayers more than $7,000 a child just to educate them in our public schools. Now no minimum-wage workers, or even low-wage workers, pay anywhere near enough in taxes to pay for even one child in school. Even if their parents were paying all federal and state taxes, Colorado's estimated 30,000 school-age children of workers illegally in the U.S. impose gargantuan costs on other taxpayers.

The dilemma is compounded by the fact that approximately 50 percent of illegal workers are paid in cash, off the books. Go to a construction site almost anywhere in America, and you will find workers paid cash wages. Virtually every city in America has an area where illegals gather and people come by to get cheap, cash-wage labor.

The health care cost of this "cheap" workforce is also significant and subsidized by U.S. taxpayers. The total cost of this subsidized labor is impossible to ascertain and difficult to even estimate, but it is immense and growing as our population of these workers grows. A few benefit, many pay.

Americans pay in more ways than taxes. Cheap labor drives down wages as low-income Americans are forced to compete against these admittedly hard-working people. Even employers, who don't want to wink at false documents, are forced to lower wages just to be competitive. In many ways it is a race to the bottom, fueled by poor people often recruited from ever- more distant countries by middlemen who profit handsomely.

Professor George Borjas of Harvard, an immigrant himself, estimates that American workers lose $190 billion annually in depressed wages caused by the constant flooding of the labor market from newcomers.

Let me suggest that correctly analyzed, the fight against illegal immigration is both a liberal and conservative cause. There is no moral or legal justification for this abused form of labor.

Former Gov. Richard D. Lamm is co-director of the Institute for Public Policy Studies and a professor at the University of Denver. He is a member of the Board of the Federation for American Immigration Reform.