How Immigration is Impacting the U.S. Social Economy
Ronald G CORWIN, Professor Emeritus
Department of Sociology, Ohio State University
has become a political swamp roiling in dubious ideologies and idle charges of
racism. Here are some facts. Population growth is testing the historical capacity
of this nation to assimilate immigrants. In 1900 there were 77 million people
in the U.S. Today there are 311 million. But 30 million immigrants continue to arrive
annually. Between 2000 and 2010, over half of the nation's growth can be
attributed to a 43% increase in the Hispanic population. Hispanics now make up
16.3% of the total population and 37% of California residents. Most Hispanics
in California (84%) are from Mexico; about 40% are foreign born.
In 2009, eleven million immigrants, or about 30 percent
of the nation's foreign-born population, were living in the United States
illegally.Most are from Mexico. On a personal level, the plight
of illegal immigrants struggling to better themselves evokes sympathy, even
admiration. One letter writer observed that a poor Mexican sneaking across the
border to find work to support his family hardly qualifies as a national
threat. However, that is not what is occurring. What is actually happening can
be appreciated only from a societal perspective. In the larger picture, it is
clear that illegal immigration—from Mexico and a few other
Central American countries in particular—is having a devastating impact on
this nation’s social structure, on the economy, and on some long-suffering
As more poor Hispanics enter the country, poverty goes up. The United
States already has a huge racially segregated, impoverished underclass whose
fate has not improved— and in fact has worsened—even after scores of well-meaning
social programs over the past half century. They are now competing with
Mexicans, many here illegally, who have been arriving en mass and forming
insular communities that provide little incentive to assimilate with the
dominant culture. Immigrants and their minor children now account for a substantial
number of persons living in poverty, with little prospect for economic
improvement in the near term. Their presence is rippling through the economy,
overwhelming already overcrowded segregated schools, and aggravating low wages--and the wages
and unemployment rates of black males, in particular.While the Pew
Hispanic Center estimates that inflows of unauthorized immigrants have
declined—from 800,000 a year to 500,000 a year from 2005 to 2008—these numbers alone
do not tell the real story. Consider these facts.
Latinos have high birth rates, their population continues to grow rapidly even
as immigration slows. Births account for 63% of the 11.2 million increase between
2000 and 2010. One in four of the nation's children are Latino. It is then
worth noting that more Latino children are living in poverty than children of
any other racial or ethnic group. This marks the first time in U.S. history
that the single largest group of poor children is not white. In 2010, 37.3% of
poor children were Latino, 30.5% were white and 26.6% were black. In short, the
crude number of illegal immigrants obviously underestimates their overall
impact on the society. ·
It is not only the children who are risk. A
disproportionate number of Hispanics of all ages live in poverty (20% compared
to 8% of whites and 22% of blacks). Per
capita income of Hispanics is one half that of non-Hispanic whites; household
net worth is less than one tenth. Between 2006 and 2007, the median
annual income of non-citizen immigrant households--a group that accounts for 52%
of all immigrant households--fell 7.3%, while the median annual income of all
U.S. households increased 1.3%.
Fifty percent of Hispanic households use some form of welfare, the highest rate
of any major population group. Therefore, the continued inflow of half a
million illegal immigrants annually seriously compounds the nation’s economic
problems at a time when the percentage of
Americans living below the poverty line last year reached 15.1 percent— the
highest level since 1993.
Hispanics (mostly from Mexico) compound problems
associated with the already large relatively uneducated population. In 2008, 40%
of foreign-born Hispanics 25 and older had less than a 9th grade
education; 60% less than 12 years. Foreign-born
Hispanics make up 37% of the population with less than a 9th grade
education. Four percent of foreign-born from Mexico have a college degree,
compared to 30% of foreign-born Asians. The lesson from California is that huge
waves of immigrants from nations with low levels of educational attainment can
devastate schools and in turn undermine the nation’s economic and social
standing as a world power.
· Nationwide, immigrants account for virtually all of the increase in
public school enrollment over the last two decades. This nation already has a
staggering segregation problem. Immigration is compounding the problem. In
California nearly half of all children who will soon be entering school have
immigrant mothers. Long Beach, California maintains several elementary schools
enrolling over a thousand predominately Hispanic students—three times the size
of schools in the predominately white neighborhoods of that city. One
elementary school copes with an enrollment exceeding most high schools—1,300
students, most from Hispanic homes, and most English learners. Black and Latino
children attend high-poverty, overwhelmingly minority public schools
characterized by poor test scores, less-experienced teachers, and fewer resources
than most white public schools. Seventy percent of the nation’s black students
and three-fourths of its Latino students attend schools where minority
enrollment exceeds 50%.High schools and colleges will also experience the
consequences of these trends in coming years. ·
workers are absorbing a disproportionate number of scarce jobs. In the year following
the official end of the Great Recession in June 2009, foreign-born workers
gained 656,000 jobs while native-born workers lost 1.2 million (according to an
analysis of U.S. Census Bureau and Department of Labor data by the Pew Hispanic
Center). As a result, the unemployment rate for immigrant workers fell 0.6
percentage points during this period while for native-born workers it rose 0.5
workers—who for decades have struggled to achieve wages commensurate with white
counterparts—are especially disadvantaged by competition from illegal workers. The
preponderance of evidence shows that immigration has adversely affected the
employment opportunities for black citizens, and studies variously estimate
that immigration reduces the wages of less educated native workers 5 % and up
to 10 %. Forty percent of native-born blacks work in high-immigrant occupations
and are therefore much more likely to be affected by any decline in wages or
benefits resulting from immigrant-induced increases in the supply of labor.
According to some estimates, for African American males without a high school
diploma, immigration has been responsible a 16% to 20% decline in wages.
. Illegal immigration cultivates an underground economy that thrives on identity
theft and human smuggling. In
2007, Latinos accounted for 40% of all sentenced federal offenders—up from 24%
in 1991 and more than triple their share of the total U.S. adult population (13%);
72% of them are not U.S. citizens. Most were convicted of unlawfully entering
or remaining in the U.S., but also by some estimates, they are 4.2 times more likely to be in prison for murder,
and 5.8 times more likely to be in prison for felony drug crimes. Young
Hispanics are 19 times more likely than young whites (and slightly more likely
than young blacks) to be in youth gangs. Some commentators maintain that the
crime rate for illegal immigrants is no higher than might be expected based on
their numbers. That is beside the point. Crime increases with illegal
immigration. Whether disproportionate or not, an impressive number of people in
the country illegally—many repeat offenders— have been involved in crimes, many
of them violent.
While some of these numbers might be debatable, what is
indisputable is this. As long as infinite streams of poorly educated Mexican
immigrants living in poverty continue to replace the older generations, there
will remain large clusters of segregated, low-income minorities living and
working in ways that remain marginal to the U.S. economy. Importing poorly
educated Mexicans living in poverty to overwhelm the schools, to accept
low-paying jobs that punish other minorities, and to reproduce at
disproportionate rates is self-defeating. This would be true even if it could
be shown that they somehow contribute to the economy in the short term; but
even that claim cannot be substantiated, especially when you add in other
facets of the social structure that are also being adversely affected.Misplaced sympathy for individuals who have
come to this country illegally should not be allowed to obscure either their debilitating
impact on the society, or their irreparable damage to overwhelmed minorities
who for decades have unfairly endured economic and social hardship. The irony
is that the same liberals who for decades lamented the fate of our minority
citizens have now turned their backs on them to support a new, trendier,
The historic capacity of this nation to assimilate immigrants has been a key to its success. But that capacity is now being seriously tested. No nation has ever attempted to absorb well over 30 million newcomers, nearly one-third from a single country, Mexico. The huge influx from a relatively few countries creates a critical mass, which in turn promotes linguistic and cultural isolation. And yet, in the June 4, 2007 issue of U.S. News & World Report, Editor-in-Chief Mortimer B. Zuckerman smugly counsels us that that “We are all immigrants…the concern over the current wave of Hispanic immigration is similar to that over other waves…involving people from Catholic and Jewish enclaves in Eastern Europe and the Mediterranean who came to a basically English-speaking Protestant country.” They, he hastens to remind us, assimilated and were never a burden to the state. An equally dismissive Linda Chavez, writing in 2008, reminds us that the largest ethnic group in the U.S. today, Germans, is fully integrated into the society, notwithstanding earlier hand-wringing about alien “foreigners.” To support her contentions about assimilation, she notes that today about one-third of U.S. born Hispanics are married to non-Hispanics.
But these pollyanna extrapolations from the remote past are deceiving and certainly do not accurately reflect either the assimilation picture today or immigration’s adverse impact on the U.S. social structure. For one thing, Mexicans have been arriving in mass and forming dense, insular communities. And more important, they remain close to home, while immigrants from Germany, Italy, and other European countries were forced to commit to a new culture. True, a 2003 study covering a 100 year span, published by Rand economist James P. Smith shows that each generation of Hispanic immigrant men moves up the economic and educational ladder as quickly as earlier generations of Europeans did. Smith’s study included all Hispanic immigrants, one-third of them from countries outside Mexico, and in any case, even by the third generation, their wages still lagged white counterparts by 10 percent.
A more telling finding comes from the Pew Hispanic Center, which in 2002 found that 26% of Hispanic households had zero net worth and one-third were without health insurance; those figures are probably higher today, and they are undoubtedly higher for some Hispanic groups than others, in particular Mexicans. A 2007 report by the Thomas Rivera Policy Institute, based at USC, estimates that, on average, it takes a Latino immigrant at least 20 years to catch up with U.S. born Latino in terms of asset accumulation. Even then, after 20 years one in two Mexican immigrants still lives in poverty. A 2002 study by the Public Policy Institute of California shows that third generation Mexicans in California lag by 25 percent.
These discouraging conclusions are forcefully underscored in a 2008 book by Edward E. Telles and Vima Ortiz, titled “Generations of Exclusion.” The book reports analyses based on surveys starting in 1965 and collected from four generations of Mexican-Americans in Los Angeles and San Antonio. The study shows that assimilation proceeds slowly and then stalls out. The progress made between the first and second generation in educational attainment, income and linguistic assimilation became flat in subsequent generations. On the whole, income inequality between Mexican-Americans and other Americans worsened between 1970 and 2000. And, children of the first generations lived in balkanized neighborhoods even more Hispanic than the ones they grew up in.
Although over time Mexican-Americans made more diverse friendships and intermarried more, the process was slow. Even by the fourth generation, the majority continued to have spouses and friends of Mexican origin. Perhaps most telling, third generation Mexican-Americans were only 30 percent as likely as non-Hispanics to have completed college. In the fourth generation, about 20 percent still had incomes below the government poverty line. These downward trends in social integration are bound to effect birth rates as well. Jane Dye, a Census Bureau demographer, found that Hispanic birth rates, after dropping in the second generation, rose in the third generation. This pattern was associated with a corresponding decline in the higher education attainment of the third generation. The consequences of these treads are manifest in a variety of ways. For example, according to a study by The Pew Hispanic Center, only 52 percent of Hispanic naturalized citizens speak English well and 28 percent of Latino immigrants speak only Spanish on the job.
It is true that the number of Hispanics earning $100,000 and with a minimum of $500,000 in assets is growing fast, perhaps up to eight times faster than non-Hispanics with the same economic profile. However, the 3.7 million households involved account for only a small percentage of the more than 40 million foreign-born and U.S.-born Hispanics living in the U.S. Also, note that these figures include all Hispanics, a substantial proportion of whom are not from Mexico, which is the source of the lowest income groups with the least education; and about half of them are second or third generation U.S. born.
In any case, it seems clear that isolating the experience of particular generations, who arrived long ago, under very different circumstances, does not help us understand the current situation. To assess the status of a group at a particular time, it is necessary to include all members of that group present at the time. Any progress made by the small cohorts of older Hispanics, such as those in Smith’s sample, or even those who arrived 20 years ago, has little bearing on the present due to of the overwhelming impact of millions of new arrivals every year. The big picture is this: in 1970, the Mexican immigrant population was less than 800,000, compared to nearly 11 million in 2005. No matter how well particular individuals may or may not do in the long term, what counts is how a steady stream of so many low-income, unskilled immigrants will impact states like California over the coming decades.
Because of concerns about the ability of this nation to absorb large numbers of immigrants arriving between 1880 and 1920, immigration quotas were established that may have facilitated the progress of immigrants who arrived one or two generations ago. Certainly, past waves of immigration cannot simply be extrapolated without taking into account this fact and other tumultuous social, demographic, and economic transformations that have occurred over the past century. The early part of the 20th century was driven by industrialization, urbanization, unionization, and a compulsory education movement. Because of an insatiable demand for unskilled labor in factories and construction industries, the relatively small numbers of uneducated immigrants were easily absorbed. Moreover, second generations were shuttled into schools, and immigrants could see that it was necessary to learn English to function. In an expanding economy with an active unionization movement, immigrants could look forward to rising incomes.
Now, poor immigrants with inadequate education live in poverty and work in a low-paying, un-unionized job niche where demand is at best growing slowly and at worst will level off and decline. California’s industrial base has moved away from manufacturing toward industries that require a more educated labor force. As a result, less-skilled workers compete for a stable pool of lower-paid jobs, with little prospect of growth in earnings; in fact, recent reports show substantial declines in wages at the bottom of the wage hierarchy. In the near future, any new labor force entrant who lacks some postsecondary schooling will be seriously disadvantaged (McCarthy and Vernez, Rand, 1998). By some estimates, up to two-thirds of California’s foreign-born workers do not have a high school diploma, and only 57% of Latino ninth-graders will graduate in four years, compared to 81% of white students (Education Trust-West). These poorly educated workers seem fated to work throughout their lifetimes for continuously diminishing sub-standard wages, vulnerable to various sources of exploitation. It is only a matter of time, it seems, before supply of such workers will exceed demand. Even if immigration came to a halt today, new arrivals could not anticipate reaching parity until mid century. Realistically, it will take much longer. In effect, the nation has another vigorously growing underclass.
While the long-term economic consequences of immigration, and illegal immigration in particular, are still being debated, it seems clear that over the next few generations at least, the costs that illegal households impose on the society in the form of treatment for the uninsured, federal aid to schools, federal prisons/courts, and the immigration system will exceed by far the taxes they pay. The economic costs imposed by illegal immigrants are especially burdensome in California and some other border states that must assume the steep costs of educating their non-English speaking children. And, beyond these economic costs, immigration is having serious adverse affects on already unacceptable levels of social stratification. Competition for unskilled jobs with high school drop outs from Mexico has depressed the wages and increased the unemployment rates of black males, including especially youths and high school drop outs. Correspondingly, immigration has seriously compounded already unacceptably high levels of poverty and residential segregation, and it is largely responsible for segregated, overcrowded schools in many cities. Furthermore, other facets of the social structure are also being adversely affected, as many immigrants, especially those from Mexico, are imprisoned, participate in violent gangs, and perpetuate an illegal workforce and an underground economy that thrives on identity theft and human smuggling.
OBSTACLES TO ASSIMILATION
There are several reasons why the current waves of immigration will not assimilate as rapidly as previous waves. The absolute numbers of immigrants arriving in a few states, and in particular immigrants from Mexico entering Border States, will be the determining factor. In addition to new arrivals, births to immigrants already in this country now top new immigration as the largest driver of the Hispanic population surge, which will make up half the nation’s population growth at mid century. But sheer numbers aside, the new immigrants bring with them a culture and some personal handicaps that pose barriers to rapid assimilation.
Writing in 2004, Harvard Professor Samuel Huntington concluded from the behavior of children born to Hispanic immigrants, especially those from Mexico, that recent arrivals have been unusually resistant to assimilation. That assessment is based on the high Hispanic drop out rate, the large number of immigrants (and especially children) on some form of public assistance, and research suggesting that Hispanic parents want their children to retain their native language (although that may not be happening). A Pew Hispanic Center study taken after Sept. 11, reports that of Americans of Mexican descent, only 18% chose “American” when asked about their primary identity (Cited by O’Sullivan, 2004). Those who report being discriminated against are especially prone to retain a hyphenated identity (Golash-Boza, 2006).
Huntington’s book has been the subject of rancorous controversy, including accusations of racism. It was thoroughly castigated by Jim Sleeper, among others. However, his argument is worth considering. Huntington maintains that post-1965 immigration is very different from previous waves in two significant ways:
First, it consists of continuously high levels of immigration. Previous immigration was either low but continuous or a series of high peaks followed by low troughs. Continuous high immigration, Huntington maintains, tends to retard the assimilation of immigrants into the host community by fostering ethnic ghettos. Assimilation, he says, is also retarded by official bilingualism and multi-culturalism, both of which promote sub national, racial, ethnic and cultural groups—by encouraging immigrants to maintain their birth-country cultures, by granting them special legal privileges, by replacing national history with the history of groups, and by downgrading the centrality of English in favor of bilingual education and linguistic diversity.
The second difference is that the new immigration intake is much less diverse than the immigrants in earlier periods. Half of new legal immigrants come from Latin America, most of them from one national source, Mexico, and the supply of Mexican arrivals is for practical purposes infinite. When immigrants speak several languages, they have a clear incentive to master a common language, but when they speak one language, they can more easily function within their own enclave. Mexicans, he says, are especially inclined to maintain isolated enclaves, not only because of their numbers, but also because they come legally and illegally from a contiguous nation with a long and porous border and are regionally concentrated in the Southwest.
IMPACT OF IMMIGRATION ON THE ECONOMY
Adding up the costs and benefits of immigration is a complex and contentious chore that so far at least has yielded murky and wildly inconsistent estimates.
On the one hand, a June, 2007 report summarizing economic on the impact of immigration, prepared by the White House Council of Economic Advisers (authored by Edward Lazear), concludes that Immigration has a positive impact on the U.S. economy and boosts wages for the vast majority of native workers, though there are “small negative effects” on the earnings of the “least-skilled Americans.” The report fails to disclose that the brunt is being felt by blacks, who have been economically disadvantaged for decades. Instead, the report asserts that most workers have complementary jobs that do not replace native workers. On average, the paper says, immigration has boosted the wages of native-born workers and expanded the overall economy. Foreign-born workers, the report concludes, have accounted for about half of labor force growth in the past decade, fueling overall economic output, creating jobs and increasing earnings for native-born workers by as much as $80 billion a year.
The report fails to mention that a large share of these new jobs have pay scales at the bottom rung of the labor market. The report goes on to say that immigrants and their children also have a “modest positive influence” on government spending, contributing about $80,000 more per person in tax dollars over the long run than they claim in government benefits and services.
A previous report from the National Research Council concurs with these positive conclusions. It says that the average immigrant pays nearly $1,800 per year more than he or she consumes in such benefits as education and health care. According to that study, when the contributions of U.S.-citizen children of immigrants are considered, the net fiscal contribution of the average immigrant is $80,000 per year, and the economic benefits of immigration could run as high as $10 billion a year. In addition, immigrants pay billions of dollars into the Social Security system. According to a study cited in the report, which used Social Security Administration data, over the next 75 years new legal immigrants to the United States will contribute $611 billion to the Social Security system. This does not include the approximately $20 billion paid into the system by illegal workers each year. Without legal immigration, according to this study, the actuarial deficit of the Social Security trust fund would balloon by one-third over the next 50 years.
However, other studies have come up with very different answers. In a May 2007 report for the Heritage Foundation, senior research fellow Robert Rector argues that low-skilled immigrant households cost taxpayers $89 billion more each year than they pay in taxes. And, Steven Camarota, writing for the Center for Immigration Studies, maintains that although immigrants who arrived decades ago did eventually nearly close the gap with natives, because it took so long to do so, their lifetime earnings would be significantly lower than those of natives. Therefore, they will pay fewer Social Security taxes, but receive payments upon retirement that are proportionately larger in comparison to their tax payments than is the case for more affluent taxpayers.
Thus, he concludes that adding large numbers of people with substantially lower life-time earnings could significantly weaken the Social Society system in the long-run. In a 2004 paper, he estimates that households headed by illegal aliens imposed more than $26.3 billion in costs on the federal government in 2002 while they paid only $16 billion in taxes, creating a net fiscal deficit of almost $10.4 billion, or $2,700 per illegal household.
In his testimony before a congressional committee, May 2007, Steven Camarota maintains that immigration is having only a tiny effect on the economy of the nation as a whole. There is little evidence, he says, to suggest that immigration either hurts or benefits the economy as a whole. However, he concludes there are some big winners and some big losers. The winners include the immigrants themselves, as well as some states (especially California), and of course the employers who hire immigrants, for whom immigration amounts to a subsidy. A 1998 Rand study by McCarthy and Vernez notes that because of low wages in California compared to elsewhere in the nation, between 1960 and 1990 employment in the state grew at a faster rate than it would have otherwise. Lower wages, it should be noted, result from an abundant supply of immigrant workers—not, as popular opinion holds—from immigrants working for less than natives doing the same work. In other words, the supply of workers allows employers to offer lower pay to all workers in the same job.
But even if there are some economic benefits from immigration, their magnitude, and causes, have yet to be pinned down. Conclusions have been inconsistent largely because researchers are talking past one another. For example, Rector points out that while most estimates include only a few generations, the White House report noted above averages the cost of immigrants and their descendants over 300 years—a long time to wait for returns. A more fundamental communication problem results from the inexcusable failure of researchers to sort out the wide variation among different immigrant nationalities. For example, one third of immigrants to the U.S. come from Asia, and the impacts of immigrants from China, Japan, and India differ from the impact of immigrants from Mexico and a few other Central American countries. Also, immigrants who arrive with advanced degrees will obviously have a different effect than those without high school education. Arriving with much lower education levels, Mexican immigrants in particular earn significantly less than natives on average. This results in lower average tax payments and heavier use of means-tested programs by immigrants from Mexico.
Based on estimates developed by the National Academy of Sciences, which tabulated immigrants by age and education at arrival, the lifetime fiscal impact (taxes paid minus services used) for the average adult Mexican immigrant is a negative $55,200. Even after welfare reform, an estimated 34 % of households headed by legal Mexican immigrants and 25 % headed by illegal Mexican immigrants used at least one major welfare program, in contrast to 15 % of native households. Mexican immigrants who have lived in the United States for more than 20 years, almost all of whom are legal residents, still have double the welfare use rate of natives; half of them are still living in poverty. Critics maintain that Mexican immigration acts as a subsidy to businesses that employ unskilled workers, holding down labor costs while taxpayers pick up the costs of providing services to a much larger poor and low-income population.
In 2004, The Center for Immigration Studies (Steven Camerata, “The High Cost of Cheap Labor Illegal Immigration and the Federal Budget”) estimated that for the year 2002 alone, households headed by illegal aliens imposed a fiscal deficit of almost $10.4 billion on the federal government, net taxes they paid, or $2,700 per illegal household. There are four areas where the estimated costs illegal households impose are much larger than for other households–treatment for the uninsured, federal aid to schools, federal prisons/courts, and the immigration system. Even so, on average, the costs that illegal households impose on federal coffers are less than half that of other households.
What matters is that their tax payments are only one-fourth that of other households, because of their low education levels, which result in low incomes and hence low taxes. He concludes that if illegal aliens were given amnesty and began to pay taxes and use services like households headed by legal immigrants with the same education levels, the estimated annual net fiscal deficit would increase from $2,700 per household to nearly $7,700, for a total net cost of $29 billion.
Economic Impact on States
So, it seems doubtful that immigration has benefited the overall economy. Moreover, any benefits that might have accrued have been offset by the big losers from immigration. The big losers include some states, because states and localities disproportionately bear much of the cost of providing schools and other public services to immigrants. Cost estimates vary from study to study, but they are large. Some writers charge that a substantial part of California’s 2008 $20 billion budget shortfall (perhaps over one-half) can be attributed to illegal immigration. By some estimates the burden of accommodating illegal immigrants in that state is more than $11 billion , or an average of $3,200 per person with the costs of those in prison well above this mark. A 1994 study prepared by Phillip J. Romero for the governor’s office found that illegal immigrants and their U.S. born children received about $3.6 billion more in state services than they paid in taxes. A 1997 study conducted by the National Research Council found a net fiscal transfer to the average immigrant-headed household of $3,463, much of it due to families from Latin America. In 2007, Romero updated his previous study and estimated that illegal immigrants in the state are currently receiving between $9.6 billion and $38.2 billion more in state services than they pay in state taxes.
According to still another study by the National Academy of Science, California taxpayers are picking up the tab for a net annual fiscal cost from immigration budget outlays minus tax payments of $1,178 per native-born household. A big cost comes from public education. A dramatic increase in public school enrollment would not create a problem for public education if tax revenue increased proportionately. But, immigrants generally have lower incomes than natives, so it seems unlikely that their tax contributions entirely offset the costs they impose on schools. This is especially true because Mexican immigrants have large families and because of the higher costs associated with teaching children whose first language is not English. By some estimates, California’s cost for educating children of illegal immigrants is 7.7 billion dollars, not including school lunches, English language programs, and public assistance programs such as Aid to Dependent Children. California also has proportionately more elderly and refugee immigrants than other states, as well as a higher proportion of young immigrants with larger families and lower incomes. Because these factors all operate in the same direction, they reinforce each other, leading to higher immigrant use of public service programs and lower tax revenues from immigrants in California than in the rest of the nation.
Today, states such as California that rely heavily on unskilled immigrant labor have reached an impasse. According to a report issued by the state in August, 2007, nearly 28% of new jobs went to the lowest fifth of wage earners, whose earnings declined 7.2% between 1979 and 2006. Therefore, the earning prospects of any Californian who lacks the postsecondary schooling required for higher-skill jobs are narrowing. Between 1970 and 1990, 85% of California’s new jobs went to workers with at least some postsecondary training. As the economic prospects of these more-educated workers improve, the prospects of the less educated diminish. Poorly equipped to compete for better jobs, they face the prospect of slow growth and even decline in their career earnings.
Dan Walters is among numerous editorial writers who warn about dire economic consequences if illegal immigrants were to be deported from California. They maintain that there are not enough legal residents to meet the demand for workers. What they mean is that illegal workers are taking low paying jobs that Americans won’t take (thereby driving down wages for everyone). And even that is not entirely true. More illegal migrants work in high-paying construction than in agriculture. In any case, relying on cheap labor that is in turn subsidized by available public services is probably not a good business plan in an international economy. Moreover, employers who pay the going wage are the ones who suffer when competitors are able to pay low wages. The fact is that in September, 2009 the unemployment rate in California was over 12% and as high as 19% in some parts of the state. This amounts to nearly millions of workers, not counting an unknown number of workers who have been out of work long enough they are no longer being counted. It is difficult to believe that that states needs 1.8 million illegal workers when there is not enough work for such a large percentage of legal residents.
Adverse Affects of Immigration on Black Citizens
Wages. Low-income minority citizens working in occupations that do not require much education—such as jobs in building cleaning and maintenance, food service and preparation, and construction—are big losers. These occupations attract large concentrations of immigrants, which in turn allow employers to pay their employees less. Therefore, if immigration has an adverse economic effect on native workers, it will be felt primarily by groups accustomed to work in those occupations. This includes, in particular, the one out of three native workers who are high school drop outs already living in poverty. Camarota estimates that about 1.5 million adult natives without a high school degree have been displaced by an equal number of immigrants. After years of inconsistent findings on the effects of immigration on native workers, a consensus appears to be emerging. Several studies, including one commissioned by the National Research Council, variously estimate the wages of less educated native workers are reduced roughly 5 % , and up to 10 %, because of immigration. A study for Brookings by Borjas, Freeman, and Katz estimated that immigration accounted for nearly half the 5% decline in wages for dropouts relative to other workers between 1980 and 1994.
Native minorities, especially blacks and Hispanics born in the U.S., are exceptionally vulnerable. Forty percent of native-born blacks, for example, work in high-immigrant occupations and are therefore much more likely to be affected by any decline in wages or benefits resulting from immigrant-induced increases in the supply of labor. According to some estimates, for African American males without a high school diploma, immigration has been responsible a 16% to 20% decline in wages. Furthermore, according to the National Bureau of Research, immigration was responsible for a 40% decline in black employment between 1980 and 2000. In short, immigration is adversely impacting the very segment of America that is already victim of gross income disparities.
Unemployment. The preponderance of evidence shows that immigration has adversely affected the employment opportunities for black citizens. Immigrants arriving since1990 have increased the supply of labor by 25 percent for the kinds of jobs traditionally taken by poorly educated blacks. In April 2007, the black unemployment rate was nearly double the 4.5% national rate, with the rate for Black males at 9.7 percent and for black youths over three times that figure. Including the more than 40% of young black male high school dropouts in prison could push the unemployment rate for black men to around 10%. Clearly, immigration isn't the whole reason for the high unemployment rates of black men—because racial discrimination among employers is still a huge factor. But, immigration is probably the largest single reason.
True, some researchers, including Steven Pitts (a labor policy specialist at the University of California-Berkeley's Labor Center) dispute that there is a clear link between the presence of immigrants and adverse economic outcomes for African-Americans. Pitts cites national data showing that despite a steady increase in foreign-born immigrants from 1980 to 2000, U.S. black unemployment dropped sharply during those years. However, this simple aggregate-level correlation says nothing about what happened to black unemployment specifically in areas where there was stiff competition from immigrants. Certainly, data on competition for jobs in local areas tell a different story.
In his April 5, 2008 testimony before the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, Camarata pointed to several studies that have found that immigration has impacted the wages or employment of native-born African Americans. Camarata’s own research found that blacks are more likely to be in competition with immigrants than are whites. Research by Andrew Sum, Paul Harrington, and Ishwar Khatiwada at Northeastern University has found that immigrants are displacing young native-born men in the labor market and that the largest impact is on blacks and Hispanics. A 1995 study by Augustine Kposowa concluded that non-whites appear to lose jobs to immigrants and their earnings are depressed by immigrants. A 1998 study of the New York area by Howell and Mueller found that a 10-percentage-point increase in the immigrant share of an occupation reduced wages of black men about five percentage points. Given the large immigrant share of the occupations they studied, this implies a significant impact on native-born blacks.
A 2006 study by Harvard economist George Borjas and colleagues from the University of Chicago and the University of California found that immigration reduces labor force participation of the least-educated black men. The authors estimate that immigration accounted for a 7.4 percentage-point decline in the employment rate of unskilled black males between 1980 and 2000. Even for black males with high school diplomas, immigration shrank employment by nearly 3 percentage points. While immigration hurts black and white low-wage workers, the authors note, the effect is three times as large on blacks because immigrants are more likely to compete directly with them for jobs.
A qualitative study by anthropologist Katherine Newman and Chauncy Lennon of fast food jobs in Harlem, found that immigrants are much more likely to get hired than are native-born black Americans. A case study of Los Angeles janitorial services cited in a Government Accounting Office showed that between the late 1970s and 1985, several small firms hired more Mexican janitors at low pay, prompting building owners to drop contracts with the companies that employed blacks in favor of the cheaper labor source. Industry wages slipped from a peak of $6.58 an hour in 1983 to $5.63 an hour in 1985. The number of black janitors in L.A. plummeted from about 2,500 in the late 1970s to 600 by 1985. Today, the city’s janitorial industry, like apparel manufacturing and hotel services, is almost entirely immigrant. Nearly all of South Central L.A. body-shop jobs are held by recent immigrants making $7 or $8 an hour.
Moreover, the evidence is consistent with simple logic. Legal and illegal immigrants are preponderantly employed in lower-skilled, lower-wage sectors of the economy, which exactly where significant share of native-born black men are employed. During recessions, this sector is usually hit hard, which adversely affects blacks even further, while at the same time increasing the pool of jobless immigrants with no visible means of support. As Camarata says, it is difficult to justify continuing high levels of legal and illegal immigration that disproportionately impact the bottom end of the labor market.
This nation already has a staggering segregation problem. Immigration is compounding the problem. According to the Pew survey mentioned above, some immigrants from Mexico and Central America are shedding the “Latino” and “Hispanic” labels. Those individuals, at least, might soon disappear into the perverbial melting pot. However, given the numbers, the cohesive family networks, and strong cultural identification of most immigrants from this part of the world, there is a high probability that they will remain segregated for some time to come. Notwithstanding numerous highly publicized programs in place since the 1960s, public schools are more segregated than ever, even more so than their surrounding neighborhoods. Black and Latino children attend high-poverty, overwhelmingly minority public schools characterized by poor test scores, less-experienced teachers, and fewer resources than most white public schools. Seventy percent of the nation’s black students and three-fourths of its Latino students attend schools where minority enrollment exceeds 50%. Nearly 40% of black and Latino students attend schools in which they make up over 90% of the enrollment. Ninety percent of these intensely segregated minority schools are also characterized by concentrated poverty. What are the prospects that this problem will not become even worse as more and more impoverished, under-educated immigrants arrive?
Aside from the impact of immigration on natives, we must consider how it affects immigrants themselves. The earnings of immigrants have been losing ground to natives. California’s immigrants now earn less than equally educated natives, and for immigrants with less than a college degree, the gap has increased in recent years. For workers with only a high school diploma, the difference between immigrants and natives increased 10% between 1960 and 1990, culminating in a 16% deficit. By age 35, immigrants from Europe and most Asian countries earn as much as, or more than, natives. In contrast, Mexican and Central American immigrants not educated in the United States experience flat or decreasing earnings after age 30, losing ground to natives as they age. It is therefore likely that it will take their offspring several generations to match the economic success of typical U.S. natives.
It appears that immigration is responsible for increasing the number of people who live in conditions of poverty or near poverty and ultimately for widening inequality. This is not something that very many people would applaud, and it has enormous economic and humanitarian implications for the nation. To the extent Mexican immigrants continue to live in poverty, they are fated to remain marginal to the society and at least partially dependent on transfer payments. Figures from various sources (especially recent reports from Rand and the Center for Immigration Studies) indicate that nationwide, immigrants and their children account for one fifth of the population living in poverty conditions—two-thirds higher than that of natives and their children. They account for more than one-half of the poor and near poor in California and roughly one-third in New York, New Jersey, Florida, Texas, and Arizona. One fourth of Mexican immigrants, in particular, are living in poverty and have no economic resources—more than double the rate for natives. They and their U.S.-born children account for 10% of all persons in poverty and 12.5% of those without health insurance, although they comprise 4.2% of the nation’s total population. Moreover, another 38% of Mexican immigrants are living under near poverty conditions. It may not be a temporary situation either. The Center for Immigration Studies report that among Mexican immigrant families who have lived in United States for more than 20 years, almost all of whom are legal residents, more than half live in or near poverty. This, notwithstanding the often cited figure that, on average, Hispanic immigrants catch up economically in 20 years. What that statistic means is that some improve their economic condition enough to bring up the average, even while most continue to lag.
In California at least, the economic situation is not improving for the poorest segment of the state. The previously mentioned report, released August, 2007, titled “Widening Inequality,” noted that a significant fraction of California’s work force is falling behind, as the lowest-paid workers lost earnings during the past 25 years. The growth of jobs at the low end, 28% of the total created during the period, is largely responsible. These are the jobs filled by immigrants eager to work for sub-par wages. The state’s lowest paid workers actually lost over in earnings when inflation is considered.
Writing in the Orange County Register (12-26-2010), Victor Davis Hansen describes areas in southwestern Fresno County plagued with abject poverty and racial segregation, which look like the Third World after 20 years of illegal immigration. Unemployment runs between 15 and 20 percent due to the growing presence of large corporations which have mechanized operations. Strict zoning and building codes and frequent inspections, which California is known for, do not apply to this area strewn with junked cars, electric wires crisscrossing between various outbuildings, roofs patched with temporary plastic tarps, pit bulls unleashed, and geese, goats, and chickens roaming the yards. Hansen observes that elites concerned about the welfare of smelt have no interest in epidemic dumping of trash, furniture, and often toxic substances along the badly deteriorated roads in this area. He writes, “We may speak of the richness of ‘diversity,’ but those who cherish that ideal simply have no idea that there are now countless inland communities that have become near apartheid societies…[supported mainly by state and federal subsidies].”
Hansen concludes, “California asks nothing of the illegal immigrant—no proficiency in English, no acquaintance with American history and values, no proof of income, no record of education or skills. It does provide all the public assistance that it can afford…and apparently waives enforcement of California’s burdensome regulations and civic statutes…” When it comes to regulations, it seems the state has chosen to limit enforcement to citizens while inviting the millions of subsidized illegal aliens already here, and the millions more still to come, to flaunt the laws. Notwithstanding sympathies we might have on a personal level for illegal immigrants who are struggling with poverty, from a structural perspective it is clear that illegal immigration has seriously compounded the problems of poverty and racial segregation in America.
For the nation as a whole, from 2000 to 2006, 41 percent of the increase in people without health insurance occurred among Hispanics. In California, 57% of people without health insurance are immigrants or their U.S.-born children. While there are no systematic data, anecdotal information indicates that they tend to use hospital emergency rooms for routine care. Some sources estimate that 60% of the county’s uninsured patients are not U.S. citizens, perhaps one half of them here illegally.
IMPACT OF IMMIGRATION ON OTHER FACETS OF THE SOCIAL STRUCTURE
Apart from immigration’s direct impact on the economy and social stratification, it is adversely affecting several dimensions of social structure of the United States.
Public School Enrollments
There is no question that education is where immigration has had the most pronounced impact on local tax revenues. Nationwide, immigrants account for virtually all of the increase in public school enrollment over the last two decades. In 2002, one in five school-aged children was from an immigrant family. Predominantly of childbearing age and with fertility rates higher than those of the native population, immigrants have contributed significantly to rapid increase in primary and middle school enrollments, particularly in California and other border states. As large numbers of children—both foreign-born and those born to immigrants in the U.S.—have entered school, K–12 California enrollments have increased by one-third. And the full effects of immigration have yet to be felt. In California nearly half of all children who will soon be entering school have immigrant mothers. High schools and colleges will also experience the consequences of these trends in coming years.
Of course, education is also the most promising avenue for immigrants’ economic and social improvement. So, it might be expected that costs of educating the children of immigrants will ultimately pay off in higher rates of assimilation reflected in employment, wages, and housing. That would be a reasonable argument if school districts were up to the challenge. However, since public education is funded primarily with state and local tax revenues, states with large immigrant populations bear a disproportionate share of the cost. And, clearly, states and localities are not paying for the influx of immigrants into their schools. Consequently, in California and other border states with large immigrant populations, many native children, along with the children of immigrants, are getting a sub-standard education.
For example, Long Beach, California maintains several elementary schools enrolling over a thousand predominately Hispanic students—three times the size of schools in the predominately white neighborhoods of that city (Corwin and Schneider, 2005; 2007). One elementary school copes with an enrollment exceeding most high schools—1,300 students, most from Hispanic homes, and most English learners. Nearly all of these students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. And, a high percentage of their teachers are relatively inexperienced and working on provisional status. The city of Santa Ana, California is a magnet for young, Mexican immigrants, most of whom are poor, have little education, and speak little English. Nearly all of the district’s students are Hispanic and are still learning English. The school district reported in 2004 that dozens of middle-and high-school classrooms were overflowing with 50 or more students, many having trouble with English. Over 700 additional students showed up the first week even as the district cut out 260 teachers for budgetary reasons. With some students standing or sitting on the floor, teachers, as one put it, were more concerned with crowd control than teaching. After a negotiated salary cut the previous year, under one-third of the teachers in some of the district schools were fully accredited. No one, natives or immigrants, receives a good education in schools highly impacted by large influxes of needy children.
The percentage of immigrants without a high school diploma is more than 3.5 times the rate for natives. By some estimates, immigrants make up about 15% of the total workforce, but account for 40% of the high school dropouts in the labor force. Mexico ranked last in a survey by the International Cooperation and Development in math, science and literacy skills among 15 year olds. And, there is some evidence that the educational levels of immigrants have declined relative to those of the native population. This decline has ominous implications, since there is no single better predictor of the rate at which immigrants and their children will succeed economically and socially than their levels of education. Highly educated immigrants reach economic parity with native residents within their lifetimes. In fact, according to a recent study by researchers from two major universities, one forth of new technology and Engineering companies have been formed by foreign born college graduates. However, those with extremely low levels of education—mainly from Mexico and Central America and refugees from Indochina—command low earnings and make little economic progress in their lifetimes. It seems likely that their incomes, poverty rates, welfare use, and other measures of economic attainment will lag behind natives for the foreseeable future.
Immigrants from most places of origin enroll in California’s primary, middle, and high schools at the same rates as natives and are as likely as natives to graduate from high school. However, not immigrant children from Mexico and Central America. Many have come north to find work. Many Hispanic immigrant adolescents never attend school at all, and for those who do, the drop out rate is double their white native counterparts (Rand, 1998). Up to two-thirds of Mexicans in the work force do not have a diploma. Their enrollment rates begin to drop off in middle school and fall progressively further behind during the high school years. According to some studies, by age 20, only 45% of Hispanic immigrants have graduated from high school, compared to 90% of non-Hispanic immigrants and 88% of natives. More second-and third-generation Mexican Americans graduate from high school (about 78%), but they still lag third generation blacks and whites (according to the Public Policy Institute of California). Even by the third generation, one forth of them do not have a diploma, and they earn 25% less than counterpart whites.
English Language Skills
All immigrants show improvement in English skills the longer they remain in the country, but the better-educated immigrants adopt English more quickly than their less educated counterparts. English literacy of Mexicans, the largest immigrant group, tends to lag behind other immigrants. Whether this lag is cause for concern remains to be seen. A Pew survey conducted between 2002 and 2006, which included 14,000 persons from Latin American countries, found that by the second and third generation, most spoke English very well; by the third generation only 29% spoke Spanish very well. However, the respondents arrived a generation or two ago, before the huge wave of Latin American immigration that is occurring today, and when there was less inclusion of Spanish in schools, businesses, and government documents. There is mixed evidence about whether residents who live in heavily immigrant enclaves learn English more slowly, but it is known that less-well educated immigrants learn English more slowly, which includes the large influx of immigrants from Mexico.
The longer immigrants stay in the United States, the more likely they are to become citizens. But, the rate varies among immigrant groups. Filipinos are the quickest to naturalize, whereas immigrants from Mexico, Central America, the United Kingdom and Canada are notably slower. These rates seem to vary inversely with social and geographic distance from the United States. However, naturalization rates increased more than fourfold between 1993 and 1996—particularly for Mexican immigrants.
An Illegal Workforce
It is estimated that between 9 and 20 million of the nearly 34 million immigrants—including one half the employed Mexican immigrants—are living and working illegally in the U.S. Many estimates place the number at 12 million. Up to one half of immigrants to the U. S. since 2000 came illegally, according to figures compiled by the Center for Immigration Studies. And an estimated 600,000 fugitive immigrants are living in the U.S. in defiance of deportation orders. Authors of the 1998 Rand report reached some tentative conclusions about the current generation of illegal immigrants based on characteristics of illegal immigrants who were given amnesty in 1986. That cohort earned less and was less educated and less proficient in English than natives. They were just as likely as legal immigrants to be employed. However, while there has been much speculation about how persons who appear to be flaunting the law might be influencing American’s attitudes toward law-breaking, so far there has been no reported research on that topic.
The propagandist, Rubin Navarrette (Press Enterprise, July 27, 2007), is among several editorial writers advocating that illegal farm workers should be given legal status in appreciation for the fact that they work for low wages responsible for holding down the price of lettuce and other produce. Up to 90% of agricultural workers are illegal immigrants, but few employers have been fined or jailed for hiring them. Many workers earn $7 per hour or less—which probably does help keep food prices down. But when the costs of safety-net programs and schools for illegal workers and their children are factored in, the lettuce may not be cheap after all. Advocates for legalization maintain that these workers are doing jobs no American wants, but of course it is the substandard wages no one wants. Legalization would amount to a subsidy for an industry that is unable to compete successfully in the world market, and is analogous to giving incentives to manufacturers of shoes and clothing to enable them to import cheap labor from India and China, rather than outsourcing the work. The fundamental principle of economics is that not every business deserves to survive. Bolstering weak businesses deprives other businesses of resources.
Immigration advocates maintain there are not enough unemployed workers to fill the jobs now being performed by illegal workers. In California, for example, there are 2 million illegal workers employed on farms, in hotels and restaurants, and other service occupations. But there is only half that number of unemployed workers, and many of those would not take jobs as janitors or farm workers, for example. The advocates use these numbers to justify amnesty or guest worker programs, which would in fact hold wages down and keep jobs filled. However, these programs also subsidize inefficient businesses. It is noteworthy that staunch free-market advocates are among the first to abandon market strategies when their own businesses are threatened. Yet, in the long run, job vacancies at prevailing wages would either force inefficient businesses to close or give them incentive to adopt mechanization and other efficiency measures designed to replace cheap labor. Correspondingly, job vacancies would require service-sector employers to eventually increase wages, which in turn would attract unemployed workers from throughout the nation.
The argument that illegal workers are necessary for a healthy American economy is at best shaky, and in the long run, it could be damaging.
Does illegal immigration promote serious crime? Yes, it does. Unfortunately that straightforward answer is being obscured by academic research focused on whether or not illegals are disproportionately represented among the criminal population. Whether or not illegal immigrants commit crimes more frequently than legal citizens is beside the point. The point is that a large core of offenders, many of them hardened repeat offenders, slip into the country every month along with other illegal immigrants. Therefore, even if most illegals are not involved in the most serious types of crimes, illegal immigration is nevertheless responsible for a significant volume of serious crimes.
Are illegal immigrants more likely to commit crime than citizens?The hypothesized link between illegal immigration and crime has been vigorously contested by reputable researchers. In a paper published for the Center for Immigration Studies, Carl F. Horowitz endorsed a conclusion published in 1997 by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and the Urban Institute:
"Few stereotypes of immigrants are as enduring, or have been proven so categorically false over literally decades of research, as the notion that immigrants are disproportionately likely to engage in criminal activity…(If anything) immigrants are disproportionately unlikely to be criminal."
This conclusion is reinforced by several other studies (e.g., by Butcher and Piehl and John Hagan of the University of Toronto and Alberto Palloni of the University of Wisconsin), none of which has found more than a weak link between immigration and crime. In fact, some studies, such as one published by The Public Policy Institute of California, have shown that immigrants are far less likely than the average U.S. native to commit crime in California. In that study, it was also found that men born in the U.S. are incarcerated at rates up to 3.3 times higher than those born outside the country. According to the Public Policy Institute of California, immigrants in 2005 made up about 35 percent of California's adult population but accounted for only 17 percent of the prison population. Also, a study by the Center for Immigration Studies, the incarceration rate of U.S. born men between the ages of 18 and 39 was five times the rate of their immigrant counterparts.
Harvard University sociologist Robert Sampson examined seven years worth of violent acts in Chicago committed by whites, blacks and Hispanics from 180 neighborhoods of varying levels of integration. He also analyzed recent data from police records and the U.S. Census for all communities in Chicago. (Contexts, winter 2008). Sampson shows that concentrated immigration is associated with lower rates of violence across communities in Chicago, with the relationship strongest in poor neighborhoods. And, Ruben G. Rumbaut (a sociology professor at the University of California at Irvine and coauthor of "The Myth of Immigrant Criminality") is another researcher who disputes the perception that immigrants, especially illegal immigrants, are responsible for higher crime rates. According to him, "This perception is not supported empirically. In fact, it is refuted by the preponderance of scientific evidence."
However,these sociological studies seeking to portray illegal immigrants as put-upon innocent law-abiding residents seems a bit myopic, in view of the fact that illegal immigrants are by definition breaking the law, and especially since forging documents and stealing identities is part of the process of coming here illegally. Moreover, there are conflicting data to consider. Camarata (2004) estimates Illegals account for almost one-fifth of those in federal prisons and others processed by the federal courts, but they make up only about 3.6% of the nation’s total population. There are also news reports in several cities documenting that Hispanics have been involved in a disproportionate number of DUI-related accidents and arrests. A 2003 article in the Austin American Statesmen said that Latinos account for nearly half of 2002 Austin drunken driving arrests even though they make up only about 21 percent of Austin's driving population. And, statewide, 42 percent of the people arrested in 2002 for driving while intoxicated were Latino, according to the Texas Department of Public Safety. Similarly, in Durham nearly half the individuals charged with DUI are Latino, according to Paul Savery writing in the Carolina NewsWire. Comparable stories have been reported in newspapers in Nashville and in Stockton, CA.
Also, it is worth noting that some types of immigrant crimes (especially those not related to drug use) tend to be under-reported. Horowitz notes that although law enforcement officials often over-incarcerate minorities when they are caught, they also often do not keep accurate records of perpetrators. Immigrants often fear reporting crimes to the police—either because they believe that local police are connected to immigration authorities or because their victimizers are of the same nationality, and thus are more likely to retaliate. Organized criminals, in particular, maintain a veil of secrecy through intimidation.
A special 1990 report based on the Justice Department’s National Crime Victimization Survey suggests underreporting among Hispanics occurs more often than among non-Hispanics at nearly twice the rate that they did report—even for violent crimes. An especially portentous reason for underreporting is that what most Americans would call crime many immigrants consider to be tradition, or if a crime, a “family matter” not requiring outside interference. Yet another reason for underreporting lies in the fact criminals from Mexico, cross over the border to commit crime and then return home to escape prosecution. In the City of San Diego, observes Horowitz, one fourth of all burglary arrests and 12% of all felony arrests involve illegal aliens, even though they comprise less than 4% of that city’s population.
Does illegal immigration cause more crime? However, as I said above, this debate, centered on whether illegal immigrants commit crimes disproportionately to their numbers, is beside the point. The more fundamental question is whether crime goes up with illegal immigration. And it does. For one thing, a relatively few illegals are responsible for a great deal of crime. The GAO studied 55,322 illegals incarcerated in federal, state, and local facilities during 2003. It found each prisoner had been arrested about 13 times, most for felonies and violent offenses.
Anyway, whether disproportionate or not, an impressive number of illegals have been involved in crimes, many of them violent. Almost one in six inmates in Arizona, for example, is a Mexican citizen. In 2008, the Miricopa, Arizona County Attorney released a report showing the 22 percent of defendants sentenced there for a felony in 2007 were in the country illegally. Illegal immigrants accounted or seventeen percent of the criminals sentenced for violent crime, 36 percent of those sentenced for kidnapping, and half of those convicted for "chop shops" associated with auto theft. They also accounted for 85 percent of convictions for identity theft and nearly half of those convicted for forgery and fraud.
At the end of 2003, approximately 267,000 illegal aliens were incarcerated in U.S. correctional facilities. Of special importance is a 2005 GAO issued a report entitled Information on Criminal Aliens Incarcerated in Federal and State Prisons and Local Jails, prepared for the Subcommittee on Immigration, Border Security, and Claims. It estimated the percentage of all federal prisoners who are “criminal aliens” at about 27 percent, most of them citizens of Mexico. It has been reported that In Los Angeles, 95% of some 1,500 outstanding warrants for homicides are for illegal aliens. About 67% of the 17,000 outstanding fugitive felony warrants are for illegal aliens. The Columbia Li'l Cycos gang, which uses murder and racketeering to control the drug market around L.A.'s MacArthur Park, was about 60% illegal in 2002.
According to the GAO, in 2006 alone, 20,000 criminals with drug- and weapons-related violations successfully entered the United States because of staffing shortages at airports and other border entry points. In a study of sex crimes Deborah Schurman-Kauflin of the Violent Crimes Institute in Atlanta, identified nearly one million crimes committed by illegal immigrants between 1999 and 2006. According to the Arizona Criminal Investigations Division, 50% of the serious crimes committed in that state are related to illegal immigration, apart from illegal immigration itself, such as murder, sexual assault, aggravated assault, fraud, hit and run collisions, kidnapping, felony, flight, DUI, and identity theft. In Phoenix alone (the so-called kidnapping capitol of the U.S. and haven for illegal immigrants) the number of kidnapings annually from drug dealers with ties to Mexico is staggering. Reported kidnappings-for-ransom there have been averaging one a day in the last few years, and police estimate the actual number is double that.
The CID also reports that “extremely violent gangs from Mexico and Latin America are acting as enforcers for drug and human smuggling organizations.” Mexican cartels have established operations in at least 230 U.S. cities. Nearly all members of the violent Mara Salvatruha gang are illegal immigrants, as are most of L.A.s 18 Street gang. A shadow economy that both serves and exploits illegal immigrants has grown and includes such crimes as car theft (in border regions), identify theft, drug smuggling, money laundering, falsifying papers, and human trafficking. And a new type of opportunistic criminal has emerged who preys upon illegal immigrants because they are afraid to report crimes to authorities. They are often recruited to undertake kidnapings and other crimes.
Some studies report that Hispanics are a high-crime population, more than twice as likely to be in prison as whites (but blacks are three times more likely), and four times more likely than whites to commit murder, robbery or assault. The number of Latinos doing jail time in the U.S. has increased more than 400% since 1955. Hispanics are nearly six times more likely than whites to be locked up for drug offenses. However, it should be recognized that discrimination probably plays a part in the disproportionate drug arrests. Hispanics and other minorities are more than twice as likely as whites to be incarcerated for the same drug offense.
Second-generation offspring often drift into crime as a way to resist acculturation into the mainstream of the new country. Horowitz cites federal commission reports of 1901, 1911, and 1931 each of which observed that the children of immigrants are more predisposed toward crime than their parents. Hispanics are 19 times more likely than whites to be members of youth gangs (blacks are 18 times more likely). In suburban Northern Virginia outside Washington, D.C., police estimate that about 20 to 30 ethnic gangs, with a combined total of more than 2,000 members, have been responsible for dozens of recent attacks involving the use of machetes and baseball bats. Some 600 youths in Fairfax County alone have ties to Mara Salvatrucha, a notorious Los Angeles-based gang (founded by El Salvadoran nationals) responsible for what likely have been hundreds of slayings nationwide over the past decade. Ethnic groups with high proportions of young males tend to have a bigger crime problem.
So, it matters not whether most illegal immigrants are involved in crime, as so often claimed. What matters is that illegal immigration fosters serious, often brutal and grisly crimes committed by a significant criminal element who enter this country along with other illegals. Without a doubt, illegal immigration promotes crime.
Other types of crime aside, it also seems clear that immigration is directly linked to widespread identity theft. Illegal immigrants need verifying documents, notably social security numbers, birth certificates, and driver’s licenses (Sullivan, Bob, March 31, 2006). Government sweeps of companies that hire illegal immigrants repeatedly turn up numerous cases of identity theft. Every year nine million people pay their taxes using the wrong social security number. While many cases are due to honest mistakes, there are clear indications that most of the mismatches are immigrants who have appropriated someone’s number. They can use names from published accounts of deaths and births, or they simply appropriate existing numbers. Due to confidentially laws and related practices used by government agencies and credit agencies, there is no way for an individual to learn whether his or her number is being used by someone else unless there is a snafu of some kind that brings it to light.
Social security numbers, birth certificates, and driver’s license numbers can be easily obtained through relatively simple techniques, e.g., copying, counterfeiting, or applying for lost documents, and they are also readily available through underground web sites that specialize in fraud and other criminal sources such as dishonest government employees willing to sell information.
While probably not responsible for all of the identity theft in this country, it is clear that illegal immigration is not a victimless crime, even if you overlook the felonies.
Smuggling and the underground economy
Beyond the individuals involved, illegal immigration supports a small but significant smuggling industry consisting of seemingly legitimate businesses that supply smugglers with cars, lodging, plane tickets and other services such as providing illegal identities. Immigrant smuggling in Arizona alone is believed to be a $1.7 billion a year business involving travel and car rental agencies, used car lots, and motels.
And, don’t forget the underground cash economy. Individuals and businesses that employ illegal immigrants often pay in cash, which permits the employee to avoid declaring income and paying taxes. This unspoken and largely invisible institution, coupled with large numbers of individuals in open defiance of court orders is, in turn, an insidious corrupting influence that in the long run may have a more significant impact on the society than more the more obvious forms of crime against persons and property that get reported in the media.
Use of Public Welfare
Critics of immigrants maintain that various forms of public assistance and welfare programs are serving to sustain and promulgate the new underclass. To the extent that immigrants make extensive use of publicly funded welfare and assistance programs, they will remain marginal to the American mainstream. Notwithstanding some inconsistent data, there is little doubt that immigrants are making extensive use of various forms of public welfare. The previously cited 1998 study by researchers at Rand, which focused on only the years 1991–93, did not find differences in the extent of participation by immigrants and natives in a wide range of cash assistance, nutrition, health, and housing programs.
However according more recent figures published by the Center for Immigration Studies, one in four immigrants (and one in three from Mexico) use some type of means-tested program, compared to 16% of natives. Those figures show that immigrant households use welfare at a higher rate than natives in every region or state except Illinois, and in California immigrant households account for nearly half of all households using at least one major welfare program; in several other states, immigrant households account for at least a 25% to 35% of all households receiving welfare. Furthermore, the Center finds that for cohorts entering after 1970, immigrants tend to use welfare more often over time as they “assimilate” into the welfare system.
Children of Immigrants, Elderly Immigrants, and Refugees
While the 1998 Rand study did not confirm that the use of welfare programs was exceptionally high for most immigrants in the early 1990s, it does show that immigrants’ children are nearly twice as likely to participate in public assistance programs, including school lunch programs, as are children of native parents. This pattern of use reflects the overall lower incomes and larger numbers of children in immigrant versus native families.
In addition, the Rand study found that elderly immigrants and refugees admitted to the United States for humanitarian reasons are more likely than natives to use “safety net” programs. Elderly immigrants are three times as likely to rely on SSI benefits, and more than twice as likely to participate in the Medicaid program. They are less likely to benefit from Social Security and Medicare because they have not accumulated enough years in the labor market to qualify. Because SSI and Medicaid are partially funded with state general resources, this pattern of service use by elderly immigrants disproportionately affects the states.
Refugee immigrants are much higher users of public services than are other immigrants—four times as likely as other immigrants to use Medicaid, six times as likely to obtain AFDC, and four times as likely to receive food stamps. Elderly refugees are three times more likely than other elderly immigrants to receive SSI benefits. California is home to nearly half of the refugees admitted to the United States.
Most discussions of immigration blithely ignore the vast differences among immigrants arriving from different nations and with dissimilar educational backgrounds and cultural heritage. One third of the immigrants in this country are Asians, including Chinese and Japanese, who generally fare better than Mexicans--the largest immigrant group and the one ethnic group directly responsible for all of the this nation’s population growth.
Like it or not, a large share of immigration’s adverse effects can be traced to immigrants from Mexico and a few other Central American countries. It also should be recognized that immigrants classified as “Hispanic” and “Latino” include a large percentage of non-Mexicans, and therefore studies using those designations do not accurately reflect the impact of immigrants from Mexico. However, the critical consideration is not nationality. Mexicans have been arriving en mass and forming insular communities that provide little incentive to assimlate with the dominant culture. And, probably an even more important factor is their proximity to Mexico. Unlike the Germans, Italians, and other European nationalities who cut ties with home and came to the U.S. between 1880 and 1924, Mexicans looking primarily for work do not need to fully commit to a new culture because of proximity to home.
Other special factors that help explain lagging assimilation rates among immigrants from Mexico include high levels of poverty in Mexico and a strong family-oriented culture that historically has not placed high priority on formal education. The salient fact is that a large share of new immigrants from Mexico is under-educated and likely to remain so. Therefore, notwithstanding a long history of assimilation by Eastern Europeans from the 1880’s forward, rapid assimilation might not occur this time around for most poorly educated Mexican newcomers, and perhaps for most of their children and even for some of their grandchildren—at least not in Border States like California where most of the immigration from Mexico is occurring.
Immigrants and their minor children now account for a substantial number of persons living in poverty, and their prospects for economic improvement are not good. The fate of those who arrived in the 1970s provides some clues about the prospects of newcomers, but making projections from their experiences can be very misleading because they arrived in smaller numbers and under different circumstances. It could be true that immigrants from most places of origin are attaining full participation at least as fast as immigrants have historically done.
But Hispanic immigrants—particularly those from Mexico—do not fit the pattern. Their education and earnings of remain lower than those of other immigrant groups in both the first and the second generations. According to the Center for Immigration Studies, by 2002 these immigrants were on average older and more experienced than natives in the workforce. Yet, their median income was actually slightly below that of natives, even after more than 22 years; nearly half still lived in poverty or near poverty conditions.
As Samuelson puts it in his 2007 on-line article, “Only an act of willful denial can separate immigration and poverty.” As more poor Hispanics enter the country, he observes, poverty goes up. Between 1990 and 2006, 2.9 million people were added to the poverty rolls. All of them were Hispanic immigrants, here legally and illegally. Samuelson notes that we have made strides in this country against poverty, but the progress is offset by immigration, which imposes strains on local schools, public services and health care. There is little prospect for improvement given that Mexicans are the fastest growing group in the United States, accounting for all of this countries recent population growth.
The United States became a leading economic power in the 20th century largely because of a steadfast commitment to education. Between 1870 and 1950 the average American’s level of education rose by 0.8 years each decade. In 1950 no European country enrolled 30 percent of its older teens in full-time secondary school. In the U.S. that figure was 70 percent. But since 1970, the U.S. has made little educational progress, and high school graduation rates have actually fallen since 1960. At the same time, many other nations have soared ahead in educational attainment.
These dismal patterns forcefully underscore one thing: Education no longer has the priority it once had, especially among some cultural groups living in this country. The current practice of importing poorly educated Mexicans to overwhelm the schools, accept low-paying jobs that push out other minorities, and reproduce at disproportionate rates is self defeating. This would be true even if it could be shown that they somehow contribute to the economy in the short term; but even that claim cannot be substantiated.
The devastating part that uncontrolled immigration has played in the continuing deterioration of American education is clearly spelled out in the recent history of California, the state with the nation’s largest population and one of the world’s biggest economies. In the late fifties to the mid-sixties, half of its high school graduates went to college, compared to a third in the rest of the country. California’s teachers were the highest paid in the country and better educated than most. The state was consistently among the top ten spending per pupil. This despite—or perhaps because of—phenomenal growth at that time. Classrooms were being constructed at the rate of 20 per day to accommodate 200,000 new students entering the schools each year. However, by 2000 spending per pupil had dropped radically, putting California near the bottom of the 50 states. On various scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (the nation’s “report card”) the state now ranks at or near the bottom among the 50 states. Only about one fifth or so of the students are proficient in math, science, and reading, and the state ranks near the bottom on the percentage of high school graduates who go directly to college.
Beginning in the mid sixties, California’s education system was battered with a severe one-two punch: a successful anti-tax movement, which cost districts on average one half of their revenue, and at the same time, a new wave of mass immigration that quickly overwhelmed the schools. Proposition 13, passed by 65 percent of the voters in 1978, rolled property assessments to their 1976 values, limited property taxes to 1 % of their assessed value, and capped valuation increases at 2 % a year unless the property was sold. It was a severe financial blow, but only part of the story. Equally important was the repeal of the national origins immigration quota in 1965, which ushered in a new era of mass immigration that besieged the schools at precisely the time they were being financially cut off at the knees.
Then in 1986, the Immigration Reform and Control Act allowed more than 2.5 million illegal immigrants, more than half residing in California, to become legal citizens. The demographics of the state were revolutionized almost overnight. In 1962, there were 17 million people living in California; all but eight percent of them were classified as “white.” By January of 2000 the population had doubled, to 34 million, and Hispanics had increased to 32 percent of the population. With these changes, the student population grew by an average of 100,000 each year, producing severe overcrowding, with many elementary and middle schools hosting over 1,000 students. But probably even more important, most of these immigrant students were ill prepared for American schools. A huge number of them had special needs that severely challenged teachers. For many (perhaps over 40 percent) English is the second language, and one-in-four is still learning English.
As these financial and demographic changes rippled through the system, the state assumed a larger role in funding schools, which in turn promoted centralized control, including some untested, even foolish, mandatory experimental programs. At the same time, lawsuits were filed across the state in the name of equalizing funding, but which ended up setting unjustifiable funding limits.
The lesson from California is that huge waves of immigrants from nations with low levels of educational attainment can devastate schools and in turn undermine the nation’s economic and social standing as a world power. Yes, it would be comforting to believe that each generation of immigrants will eventually assimilate. And that could be true…for many…eventually. But evidence on generational changes among Hispanics does not leave much room for believing that massive assimilation will occur any time soon. More to the point, as long as infinite streams of poorly educated Mexican immigrants living in poverty continue to replace the older generations, there will remain large clusters of segregated, low-income immigrants living and working in ways that remain marginal to the U.S. economy and the society.
This nation already has a huge racially segregated, impoverished underclass whose fate has not improved, or has worsened, even after scores of well meaning social programs over the past half century. For example, black newborns are 300 percent more likely to grow up in poverty than white newborns. Between 1972 and 2003 the percentage of blacks aged 16-19 who were jobless grew from 70.5-78 percent. Good jobs for black low-skilled workers already living in poverty are rapidly disappearing throughout California. Now employers are importing another poorly educated underclass who are competing for the remaining jobs and whose presence not only is adversely affecting those same minorities who have been struggling for decades, but also will continue to exacerbate the wealth gap and racial segregation for a long time.
So-called “liberals” who choose to honestly confront the facts must weigh the structural consequences of their well-meaning and understandable sympathy for the plight of illegal immigrants against the debilitating, even corrupting, influence that illegal immigration is having on the society, and the irreparable damage it is doing to already overwhelmed minorities who for decades have unfairly endured economic and social hardship.
What to do about it? Here are a few suggestions:
· Levy very substantial financial and penal penalties on employers who hire illegal immigrants, and establish federal, state, and local offices responsible for identifying them.
· Or, alternatively, require all employers who hire non-citizens to contribute to trusts for each worker to be shared by (a) worker’s families to subsidize their living costs and (b) school districts that enroll their children;
· Since a large portion of illegal immigrants have sub-standard education, compensate by placing limits on the number of acceptable legal applicants who might impose financial burdens on society, while giving preference to legal immigrants with advanced education;
· Stop providing incentives for illegal entry into this country, including free education and health care, and stop permitting illegal immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses, which that can use to obtain jobs and public services;
· Provide Mexican citizens with the skills necessary to return to their country in responsible positions in education, government, social services, and law enforcement. _____________________________
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