Advocates say creating a path to citizenship could be a boost for the economy
By Luz Lazo
Thousands of undocumented immigrants have left the states, leaving their field and manufacturing jobs as well. Farmers have begun to complain that American citizens are not willing to replace the undocumented workers.
Alabama, which enacted the nation’s strictest immigration law in September, is experiencing losses that could be in the hundreds of millions of dollars in farm and tax revenue.
A recent report estimates the state’s economy could be reduced by up to $40 million and suffer a $130 million loss in tax revenues, the amount the state’s 120,000 undocumented immigrants paid in 2010.
Supporters of the tough local immigration laws say undocumented immigrants drain local resources and take jobs away from Americans. Illegal immigration promises to be a hot-button issue in the 2012 election. Some Republican candidates say states have been forced to tackle the problem because the federal government has failed to address it.
Here is what some of the candidates have said:
Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich
If you’ve come here recently, you have no ties to this country, you ought to go home period. If you’ve been here 25 years… I don’t think we’re going to separate you from your family, uproot you forcefully and kick you out.…Let’s be humane in enforcing the law without giving them citizenship but by finding a way to create legality so they are not separated by their families.
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney
Amnesty is a magnet…People respond to incentives, and if you can become a permanent resident of the United States by coming here illegally, you’ll do so…. The principle is that we’re not going to have an amnesty system that says that people who come here illegally get to stay for the rest of their life in this country legally.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry
We have a huge number of illegals that are coming in to this country and they are coming into because the federal government has failed to secure that border. But they are coming because there is a magnet and the magnet is called jobs and those people who hire illegals are aught to be penalized.
Congresswoman Michele Bachmann
I would build a fence on America’s southern border on every mile, on every yard, on every foot, on every inch of the southern border. I think that’s what we have to do, not only build it, but then also have sufficient border security and enforce the laws….End the madness for illegal aliens to come into the United States of America.
Former candidate Herman Cain proposed an electrified fence
It’s going to be 20 feet high. It’s going to have barbed wire on the top. It’s going to be electrified. And there’s going to be a sign on the other side saying, ‘It will kill you — Warning.’
The impact of the exodus of immigrant workers in these states’ economies signals the significance of the often undocumented migrant workforce in the U.S. economy, experts and reports say.
“If we were to close the border and get rid of the undocumented workers, we would see a fierce economic crisis, especially in agriculture and service sectors,” said Jorge Osterling, a professor of multilingual and multicultural education who specializes in U.S. immigration at George Mason University.
“The agriculture, livestock and hospitality industries depend on undocumented workers and everyone knows that,” he said. “Once they’ve entered the country, they are hired because they do the job well and don’t generate any problems.”
The Pew Hispanic Research Center estimates 8 million undocumented immigrants work in the United States, representing approximately five percent of the workforce. Many of them are employed in low-paying jobs in the agriculture, construction and service industries.
“America needs these workers,” Arturo S. Rodriguez, president of the United Farm Workers of America told members of Congress in October. “If you had milk with your cereal, it is likely that the workers who milked the cows didn’t have the right papers.
“When we sit down every day to give thanks for our many blessings,” he said, “most of the food on our table has been harvested and cared for by unauthorized workers.”
Rodriguez said American agriculture employs more than 1 million unauthorized workers. He said at least 50 percent of farm laborers are not authorized to work in the country. In California and Florida, the percentage is higher — at least 65 percent, Rodriguez said. The union’s great majority of farm workers are undocumented, he said.
“Most farm workers live in poverty, endure poor working conditions and receive no government assistance,” Rodriguez said. “The simple reason that the agriculture industry depends so heavily on immigrants is because undocumented farm workers take jobs many American workers won’t do, for pay other American workers won’t accept and under conditions other American workers won’t tolerate.”
Government officials and reports have advocated for the need of migrant workers, as the country has become increasingly divided over immigration. Some studies even suggest that a path to citizenship would give a positive push to the nation’s economy.
Based on the experience of the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act, a new immigration reform bill “would raise wages, increase consumption, create jobs and generate additional tax revenue,” according to a study by Raúl Hinojosa-Ojeda, founding director of the North American Integration and Development Center at the University of California, Los Angeles.
The report estimates that benefits of $1.5 trillion in cumulative gross domestic product in a period of 10 years. It also estimates that the higher earnings of newly legalized workers would generate up to $5.4 billion in additional tax revenue.
Opposition to a path to legalization has remained high in Congress, while immigration promises to be among the top debates in next year’s presidential election. Proponents of tough anti-illegal immigrant enforcement say undocumented migrants take jobs away from Americans.
“Citizens and legal immigrants should not be forced to compete with illegal workers for scarce jobs,” House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) said recently during a discussion of the Obama administration’s immigration policy. “Each time [the Department of Homeland Security] arrests, detains or deports an illegal worker, it creates a job opportunity for an American worker.”