WASHINGTON, August 10, 2013 — The problem with illegal immigration is that it works.
No, seriously. Illegal immigration works really, really well.
Illegals keep coming here from Mexico and points south because it really works for them. They are making a living for their families. They frequently take great risks to come here; some die on the way. They work hard when they get here, many times in manual labor or lightly skilled jobs. They save their money, but they also buy things they couldn’t get or couldn’t afford in their own countries. They make sacrifices, being away from families and friends and familiar surroundings.
But it works for them. They’re able to move up in the world, get work, receive on-the-job training. Immigrating illegally makes their lives better.
Illegal immigration works for employers. They hire illegals for less than they would have to pay locals. The illegals, motivated by money, opportunity and security, work hard. Their employers frequently get more value for the wage paid. Many locals aren’t nearly so motivated. The employer doesn’t have to do nearly as much paperwork, doesn’t have to pay FICA and other employment taxes, doesn’t have to pay as much for bookkeeping. Employers do well in this arrangement.
Ask a hotel owner or a construction contractor who their best workers are. Try to bid on a big contract competitively without building in some illegal labor. It will cost 40 percent more to use strictly American labor, especially if you are in an industry dominated by union labor.
Illegal immigration works for consumers. Prices are a pressure point in a capitalist economy. Labor is a major component, if not the major component in manufacturing and bringing a product to market in a retail environment. Illegal labor keeps prices down, and that works for consumers.
Illegal immigration works for local governments. While crimes committed by illegal aliens get sensation media coverage, most illegals obey the law. They want to stay off the books and out of sight, so they keep that low profile low by obeying the law and staying out of trouble. If they do get into trouble, they often disappear and end up back home.
Illegals pay sales taxes and other taxes. Their landlords pay property taxes. When they eat out, they pay meals taxes. The utilities taxes built into the electric, gas, telephone bills, etc. are paid by illegal aliens just as we pay them every month. They pay taxes about as well as anyone else except for federal and state income taxes, medicare, etc. Health care and other forms of welfare seem to be a big issue, but some of these taxes go to cover the costs of those programs, so the illegals are productive, tax paying members of society in that regard, and not dead weight. Therefore, illegal immigration works where taxation is concerned as well.
If it works so well for so many people, what’s wrong with illegal immigration? It doesn’t work so well for unions. Illegal workers undercut union wages, and their work ethic can make American workers uncomfortable. But the biggest problem with it is that word, “illegal.”
There are solutions to the problem, but none that have much political support. We could set up a good neighbor system to let foreign workers in easily with documentation, or to allow seasonal workers. Better border controls, biometric identification, and a more rational system of awarding visas would all help solve this problem. Organizing and formalizing the mess we have in place would have to be an improvement over what we have. What we have isn’t working to stop illegal immigration, because it yields too many benefits to too many people.
The political problems with rational immigration reform aren’t driven just by economics, but by jealousy. Successful immigrants can drive home their failures and create resentment in people who aren’t doing well. Foreigners’ success inflames nativist sentiment. After years of economic turmoil, people view immigration as a threat.
In the final analysis, illegal immigration works, and even people harmed by it prefer it to the alternatives. Illegal immigration works for illegals, employers, consumers, and local and state governments.
Illegal immigration works, but it could work better.
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