We All Came From Somewhere Else

Ayumi was busy doing end of the school year activities this weekend, so Linda and I had an opportunity to have a quiet dinner out together. Partway through dinner we heard the crash of dishes nearby and turned to find that a waiter had dropped a tray of food at a nearby table. That’s unusual, but it happens. The patrons whose food had just bounced of the carpet glared at the server who was frantically cleaning up the mess. In the ten minutes or so that it took for the kitchen to replace the food, we were subjected to a non-stop tirade about poor service, clumsiness and, without any reason, the ethnicity of the waiter. He was Hispanic

The customer had no reason to believe that “Carlos” didn’t have legal status to live and work in the United States, but you wouldn’t know that by his comments. “Damn Mexicans, stealing jobs from Americans”, “Living a good life by not paying taxes” and “Getting free government services” were refrains that he repeated over and over.

Those types of comments get repeated daily wherever people gather at work, in restaurants, over a backyard fence and, unfortunately, around the evening dinner table. I’m not saying there aren’t issues and frustrations involved, but let’s take the emotions out of it. Here are the facts.

Most illegal immigrants don’t take jobs from Americans. Most of them take jobs that Americans don’t want. There’s more than one reason for this, but here are the two big ones. First and foremost, they don’t have the training for most high paying, or even moderate paying, jobs. It’s not that they couldn’t be successful at the training, it’s just that they’ve never had the opportunity to get it. In today’s job market, no training means no job. Second, the companies that offer higher paying jobs are precisely the ones that go beyond the minimum requirements when checking legal status of prospective employees. They have to, losing an employee to the INS after they’ve spent thousands of dollars giving him specialized training is bad business. The companies that aren’t likely to do more than the minimum checks are the ones who need to fill low skill, minimum wage jobs. As long as they’ve covered themselves from a legal standpoint, the training costs are minimal.

So where do the majority of illegal immigrants find jobs? Agriculture, service, entry-level manufacturing, entry-level food preparation and entry level construction are the big hitters. How many Americans really want to pick peaches, clean hotel rooms, haul metal shavings, pluck chickens or shovel concrete for a living. In years gone by, maybe quite a few, but we’re more spoiled now and less prone to do arduous unpleasant work, especially when that work pays poorly.

A tremendous number of illegal aliens do pay taxes. Moreover, since they’re working with bogus social security numbers, most don’t file tax returns. That means no tax refunds and that the money they paid gets dumped back into the general treasury fund. When an employer pays the withholding taxes for an employee the funds are linked to the social security number and name of the employee. When the IRS finds a withholding payment where the number and the name don’t match the records, the payment is marked as being “unmatched”. Since 1989 the GAO estimates that over $500 billion has been passed through because of this reason. That’s $500 billion dollars that no one gets credit for. Similar windfalls have accumulated from the money withheld for Social Security and Medicare, programs from which illegal immigrants will get no benefits. That money ends up in the “Earnings Suspense File”, a euphemism for “someone gave us some money”.

It’s true that some illegal aliens are getting government services. One estimate is that illegal aliens consume over two billion dollars per year in medical services and other entitlement programs. Whether you can count them as “free” is problematic. As a group, illegal aliens spend a ton of money in the United States. They buy food, clothing, consumer goods and services. They pay rent and, since the development of mortgage programs based on ITINs (Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers) rather than Social Security numbers, they buy homes. If you compare the boost that this provides to our economy along with the taxes that they do pay as a group with the cost of services that they are provided free, then it’s pretty clear that we get more from them then they take.

Here’s the kicker. If we could magically wave a wand and all the illegal aliens were suddenly sent home, our economy would grind to a halt. We don’t have nearly enough legal residents to fill even a small percentage of the jobs that would be vacant. Crops would go unharvested, restaurants wouldn’t be able to open and factories would limp along at reduced capacity. Retail stores and supermarkets would see sales drops in the range of twenty to thirty percent. The waves caused to the rest of our economy would seem more like tsunamis than ripples.

Having said all that, illegal immigration must be contained. The real danger isn’t what illegals do to the job market or the economy. The real danger is that they present a major vulnerability to our personal and national security. The challenge will be in controlling immigration in a way that will allow us to protect the economy while continuing to reap the real work force advantages that these people bring to our country.

First, we have to regain control of the borders. We can’t do that with fences or border patrols. Those tools have their use, but no country has ever found them to be truly effective. How many people slipped out of East Berlin while the Berlin Wall was in place? That was a short barricade bolstered by multiple barbwire fences and armed guards with a mandate to shoot to kill. If that couldn’t be made to work what chance do a 1500-mile fence on our southern border and a 3000-mile fence on our northern border have?

Regaining control of our borders will require putting some real teeth into the immigration laws. How about a mandatory five-year prison sentence and permanent prohibition against applying for legal immigration for a first offense? If we follow that up with a mandatory twenty-year sentence for a second offense I think that might give a potential illegal alien pause for thought. Of course, this course of action presupposes active and continuous investigation of work places for immigration violations. It will also require rescinding stupid law enforcement policies that prevent police from inquiring about resident status when doing traffic stops or investigating crimes.

Second, we have to address the immediate need to continue filling worker requirements. Providing an easy route to citizenship for current illegals is wrong. It makes the sacrifices of all legal immigrants over the years worthless. However, developing a guest worker program that allows workers to stay and pay taxes without giving them an automatic path to citizenship would work. That way, employers would continue to benefit from their existing trained workforce and our economy would continue to grow. If a current illegal truly wanted citizenship, they could be given the option of returning to their home country and applying for legal immigration. That course of action would require a short-term amnesty program to give immigrants time to either become a guest worker or return home with no penalty.

Finally, we have to re-evaluate our current immigration limits. It’s obvious that they aren’t realistic. If they were, illegal immigrants wouldn’t be able to find jobs as easily as they do now. Our population is aging and baby boomers will be retiring in record numbers. With birth rates dropping, we’ll need to augment our employee base through immigration. The need will be in all levels of training and experience, ranging from unskilled and entry level to highly skilled technical training.

Prior to 1921, limits on immigration were sporadic, minimal and seldom enforced. Since then, immigration has become more controlled. The National Origins Act of 1924 was the first discriminatory immigration law in the United States. That law, and the many others that followed, were attempts to control immigration without stifling it. Somewhere along the way the system began to break down. It’s time to fix it and again make immigration our greatest strength rather than one of our biggest weaknesses.

It’s difficult for me to understand the animosity that many have towards immigrants. With the exception of those of us who are one hundred percent native Americans, we can all trace our roots to an immigrant from somewhere. While it may appear that we’re experiencing an unprecedented wave of immigrants, that just doesn’t wash. Our country was built by massive immigration from Africa (forced, but immigration none the less), England, China, Ireland, Germany, Italy, Poland and virtually every other country around the globe. It was built with immigrant’s sweat, blood and tears. It was made great on the strength of their innovation and hard work. It survived adversity on the strength of their character, their passion for freedom and their patriotism. To deny the value and necessity of immigration is to deny our own heritage.

Experience tells me that fifty percent of those who read this post won’t be able to get by their emotions far enough to consider the points I make and the argument I present. So I’ll leave it like this. The next time you’re ranting about a job being filled by someone you assume is an illegal alien, take a moment to decide which one of your friends or family members might like to take his or her place. Then go ask them if they would. Any bets?

TD

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2 Comments on “We All Came From Somewhere Else”

  1. tigerdad Says:

    Zeezil,

    My soapbox. Go home. (But have a nice day!)

    TD

  2. Tom Says:

    I agree with you as usual! I have heard some STUPID suggestions in my life, but I think the idea to build a “fence” to control immigration is, if not on top of the list is pretty close. Your comments about the Berlin wall really point that out.


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