Donald Trump launched his presidential campaign in June 2015 with a vulgar attack on the nature of a group of people:
When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending the best…they’re sending people that have lots of problems and they’re bringing those problems. They’re bringing drugs, they’re bringing crime. They’re rapists…and some, I assume, are good people.
To stop these horrors, among others (Trump believes illegal immigration “destroyed our middle class,” “holds down salaries,” and “keeps unemployment high” because the undocumented steal our jobs), he wants to deport over 11 million people, including so-called “anchor babies,” children who were born in the U.S. and thus have constitutionally-guaranteed citizenship.
He laments these illegal “aliens” have meant that “U.S. taxpayers have been asked to pick up hundreds of billions in healthcare costs, housing costs, education costs, welfare costs, etc.”
He loudly obsesses over the need to build an impenetrable wall between Mexico and the U.S. (even though 25-40% of illegal immigrants come by air, simply overstaying their legal visas!). Showcasing his iconic narcissism, he told one gleeful crowd:
This is serious. This is a Trump wall. This is a real wall… If they ever put my name on it, I want a gorgeous wall. The Trump wall, oh won’t that be a beautiful wall. That’s why I have to make it beautiful. Because some day when I’m gone they’re going to name that wall after Trump, I think.
Nothing quite says “presidential” like speaking in the third person, the diction of Elmo.
The wall, Trump insists, will be paid for by the Mexican government as some sort of restitution for making the U.S. “a dumping ground for the rest of the world.”
A spokesman for the Mexican government said this idea “reflected an enormous ignorance.” Apparently, Mexico won’t pay for Trump’s project, despite Trump’s despicable threat of higher tariffs on Mexican goods if they don’t.
I’ll do the spokesman one better: Trump is an enormous ignorance.
Illegal Immigrants Are Less Likely to Commit Crimes than the Native-Born
Trump’s generalization of illegal immigrants as prone to criminality is demonstrably false. The American Immigration Council states:
As numerous studies over the past 100 years have shown…immigrants are less likely to commit crimes or be behind bars than the native-born, and high rates of immigration are not associated with higher rates of crime. This holds true for both legal immigrants and the undocumented, regardless of their country of origin or level of education…
For example, in 2010, native-born men age 18-39 without a high school diploma had an incarceration rate of 10.7%, triple that of equally-educated Mexican men (a rate of 2.8%) and five times that of Salvadoran and Guatemalan men (1.7%).
Studies show immigrants are less likely to be incarcerated because they are less likely to commit crimes to begin with, and those who do are less likely than native-born people to be repeat offenders.
The Council explains:
This is hardly surprising since immigrants come to the United States to pursue economic and educational opportunities not available in their home countries and to build better lives for themselves and their families. As a result, they have little to gain and much to lose by breaking the law. Undocumented immigrants in particular have even more reason to not run afoul of the law given the risk of deportation that their lack of legal status entails.
If only Trump and other conservatives based their beliefs not on “fear and myth, but on sound analysis and empirical evidence.” Their beliefs are inspiring violence.
Illegal Immigration Does Not Kill Jobs
Examining data also reveals there is very little connection between native unemployment rates and immigration. Rather, illegal immigrants have filled a void in the economy. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center,
in the United States, two trends—better education and an aging population—have resulted in a decrease in the number of Americans willing or available to take low-paying jobs… To fill the void of low-skilled American workers, employers often hire immigrant workers… These workers are more likely to be employed by the service industry, while native-born workers are more likely to hold jobs in management, professional, sales and office occupations.
There is much evidence that immigration–of both high-skill and low-skill labor–creates more jobs, rather than destroys them. Research from the Manhattan Institute in December 2014 concluded that the expanded workforce provided by immigration created more jobs and boosted economic growth.
Geovanni Peri of the University of California – Davis compared labor markets in states with high immigration vs. low immigration and concluded that undocumented workers, by taking over routine and low-skill tasks, allowed skilled workers to be more productive, work longer hours, and make higher incomes.
The Los Angeles County economy alone would shrink by an estimated $100 billion if illegal immigrants disappeared.
As a side note, Trump even thinks the Mexican government is “taking our jobs, they’re taking our manufacturing and they’re taking our money.” He thinks bad trade deals, where Mexico supposedly got the better of the U.S., are the cause of outsourcing, of U.S. factory jobs heading to Mexico. This is incorrect.
American corporations outsource jobs. The pursuit of profit moves jobs in many sectors of industry from advanced capitalist nations to poorer, less developed ones. Millions of jobs are outsourced by just a handful of firms alone.
Firms outsource their workforces to places like Mexico, China, Bangladesh, and the Philippines because in these places they can pay workers pennies in comparison to American employees, with the added benefit of weaker environmental and workplace safety regulations.
Multinational corporations are the driving force behind the loss of American manufacturing jobs. Trump can blame the U.S. or Mexican governments for allowing or facilitating it, but the idea of Mexico “taking” these jobs by bullying or besting the U.S. is delusional.
Wages Are Driven Down When Part of the Workforce is Exploited, With No Minimum Wage or Benefits. The Solution is to Level the Playing Field.
So illegal immigrant labor can raise incomes for skilled native workers. But what of unskilled natives? Is there any truth in Trump’s assertion that the undocumented “hold down salaries”?
The miserable pay employers get away with giving illegal immigrants (employers can threaten to fire or turn them in if they push for decent wages) drives down the wage of native workers seeking employment in the same sectors of industry.
While illegal immigration doesn’t seem to be eliminating jobs for low-skill native workers, it is lowering their wage–anywhere between 0.4 to 7.4% for 25 million U.S. adults without a high school diploma. Native workers must accept a lower wage or seek work in other sectors, because they are forced to compete with extremely low-cost labor. Employers can turn to the undocumented if native-born won’t work for a comparably low wage. Competition drives down price, even the price of labor.
Making illegal immigrants citizens would boost their wages and thus alleviate their exploitation and raise the wages of low-skill native workers.
That sounds more humane than mass deportation.
The Best Way to Stop Illegal Immigrants From Using Services They Don’t Pay For? Make Them Citizens and Tax Them Like Everyone Else.
Yes, we could spend $100-200 billion on an Orwellian mission in which the State rounds up 11 million people–men, women, children, the elderly–and trucks them back to another nation. This would include people born and raised in the U.S., people with college degrees, even veterans.
However, it would save time, money, and perhaps America’s moral soul to simply grant immediate amnesty to all undocumented immigrants.
“Illegals are using our healthcare system and schools without paying a dime into them!” is a common complaint. True, this is a problem. But granting citizenship brings illegal immigrants deeper into the tax system right away.
I say “deeper” because one-half to two-thirds of illegal immigrants contribute to Social Security in the form of payroll taxes. 10% of the Social Security fund comes from illegal immigrants. Since most are not eligible for Social Security, they only take out 1/15th of what they contribute to the fund.
Further, like the rest of us, undocumented workers pay sales taxes on everything they buy and property taxes when they rent or pay for a home. These taxes fund schools, roads, fire departments, and countless other services we all benefit from.
Amnesty would give the U.S. a much-needed tax boost. The Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy estimates billions. For more, see The Economic Effects of Granting Legal Status to Undocumented Immigrants from the liberal Center for American Progress, or Why Immigration Reform Would Boost the Economy from the conservative Forbes Magazine.
A Moral Imperative
Trump and conservatives like him insist the undocumented cannot be allowed to stay or given citizenship because they broke the law.
This is a thoughtless appeal to authority, and can be easily dismissed. Sometimes, laws are wrongheaded, unwise. There have been many times in U.S. history when laws have been discarded when they proved ineffective, wasteful, or harmful.
What someone like Trump needs to show is that maintaining current law does the most good for the most people, whether the most native-born citizens or (if you believe in the brotherhood of man) the most legal and illegal people alike. We’ve seen how amnesty can be a benefit to the native-born. One can argue amnesty is unfair to those who waited to enter legally, but what’s most fair is not always what’s most moral (think of students who receive more attention than others because they most need help). Amnesty does very little harm to current or future legal immigrants. There may be frustration, anger, a sense of unfairness. But the harm of deportation to poorer, more violent nations is far greater. The harm of tearing families apart is greater. The harm of casting children away from the only home they can remember is greater. The harm of not being allowed to vote or have the full protection of a citizen is greater, because that’s how oppression so easily takes root: make and keep victims powerless. The harm of discrimination because undocumented persons are the “other” and not “real Americans” is greater. The harm of continued exploitation of undocumented workers is greater. And so on.
Overall, this is one of many absurd situations where the punishment is more immoral than the “crime” (think spending years in prison for smoking marijuana). It is more immoral for the State to round illegal immigrants up, imprison them, tear apart their families, and ship them back to more dangerous or poverty-stricken lands than for a person to sneak across the border illegally looking for a safer, better life in the U.S. There is no question on the ethics of this matter. Therefore, let us support both amnesty (just like with marijuana users wasting away in prison; they should be released at once) and changes to the law (just like drug law itself), namely making a quick, cost-free entry available to anyone who wants to come here (no quotas) who does not have a violent criminal history, links to terror groups or gangs, and so on. No, this does not mean immediate entry, because checking backgrounds does take time (special measures will have to be taken for people without papers of any kind), but if entry is guaranteed upon passing and if it is a much speedier process then we can largely eliminate the incentive to illegally cross (the current legal method of immigrating can take years, even decades, and costs over $1,000, often much more). After that, only illegal immigrants with violent criminal histories will be deported. Those without such histories who avoided an easy entry process will still be granted amnesty while facing a light punishment that fits the “crime,” such as community service hours. All this is a big part of what justice is: change bad laws for the better and give justice, restitution, to those harmed under bad laws in the past.
These are innocent families escaping dire poverty, joblessness, drug wars, and gang violence throughout Central and South America. In the U.S., illegal workers often face dismal pay, harsh working conditions, and an inability to organize and unionize to improve their position. They are not entitled to a minimum wage, nor benefits, nor overtime, nor child labor protections, nor in most states injury compensation. We saw children as young as 13 working in an Iowa meatpacking plant, and beaten and bruised adults working 17-hour days. Undocumented persons live in fear of being caught, when an ethical society would lend a helping hand and make them feel welcome. Hispanics as a whole suffer from police profiling and mistreatment from bigoted citizens (including harassment and violence) because they are thought to be illegal immigrants. Where is our empathy, our compassion?
We have the power to end all that, broadening liberty, happiness, and prosperity for millions.
Perhaps some day we will care more about human beings than who is or who is not an “American.” We will have no need for giant walls. Perhaps we can, as Jack London hoped, care “more for men and women and little children than for imaginary geographic lines.”