Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Avoiding the Cost of Illegal Immigration

Many state officials nationwide play a clever little game when it comes to illegal immigration. They deliberately refuse to breakout the actual cost of public expenditures for illegal immigrants, leaving the cost of educating, housing, feeding and incarcerating illegals a nebulous figure that can neither be admitted or denied. This is done so as to avoid having to give a straight answer to the increasingly irrate legal residents and taxpayers of their states, and to prevent raising the ire of Hispanic advocacy organizations, whose sole goal is to facilitate the mass entry of as many Hispanic immigrants to the US as possible. In California, the true cost to the state of so many illegals remains unknown because the state doesn't want to know it.
California provides health care and schooling to more than 2.5 million illegal immigrants, but the state has not estimated education spending on illegal immigrants in 'recent memory,' a state department of finance spokesman said. Then-Gov. Pete Wilson said it cost $1.7 billion to educate nearly 400,000 children of illegal immigrants in California public schools in 1994.

Two U.S. General Accounting Office reports from last year, however, say there isn't enough information or a sound methodology to determine how much states spend educating illegal immigrants.

The state tracks about $1.1 billion in costs associated with incarceration of illegal immigrants and some health care programs. California hospitals estimate they spend about $500 million each year on emergency room care for illegal immigrants, but this year will get $71 million under new Medicare reimbursements rules issued by the Bush administration.
Hispanic activists argue that illegal immigrants pay sales taxes and other taxes and fees, thus contributing to the state's income and defraying some of the burden illegals place on the state treasury. However, economist point out that such revenues are meager compared to the economic costs illegal immigrants place on the broader economy.
Some economists say the cheap labor force reduces wages for low-skilled workers, both native and immigrant, but cuts the bottom line for several key industries including agriculture, construction and hospitality.

'Employers gain more than the workers lose,' said George Borjas, professor of economics at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. 'It's the same argument as free trade. Free trade negatively affects the autoworker, but you and I as consumers gain a lot.'

A recent Pew Hispanic Center report echoes Borjas' point about immigration pushing down wages. Nationally in 2004, Latino employment increased by 1 million workers, but weekly earnings declined by more than 2 percent for the second year in a row.

The fall in wages was greatest among immigrants arriving in the United States within the past five years.

Phil Martin, an agricultural economics professor at UC Davis, noted that the only time farm wages rose faster than nonfarm wages in the state was roughly between 1965 and 1975 -- after the end of the state's braceros program and before immigration began to increase sharply.

The competition brought by cheap immigrant laborers can also reduce pay for all low-wage workers.
In short, illegal immigration lowers the prices of goods for people at the top of the economic ladder, but drastically slashes the wages for everyone on the lower rungs of the ladder. The cost of this is immeasurable. Those at the lower end of the economic spectrum who see their wages cut end up in poverty, having to work two or more jobs just to keep a roof over their heads. That means their children grow up without parental guidance because both parents are at work - hence the shocking rise in gang activity in US cities and towns. Many cannot hold down two jobs and familes slip into poverty and dependence on welfare - with all the destructive behavior that accompanies the welfare check. Illegal immigration has so badly undercut the American working class - and destroyed the economic opportunities for unskilled workers - that it is now creating a permanent American underclass, a large mass of people who will perpetually live at subsistance level unable to find employment sufficient to raise them out of poverty. It is a situation, not surprisingly, similar to that which prevails in most Central and South American nations.
Roy Beck, president of NumbersUSA, a Washington, D.C., nonprofit that wants to curtail immigration, refers to it as 'occupation collapse.'

Beck cites the meatpacking industry and downtown Los Angeles janitorial services as two vocations whose wages plummeted with the influx of cheaper immigrant workers.

But Isabel Alegria, a spokeswoman for the California Immigrant Welfare Collaborative in Sacramento, said wage loss is not something that can be attributed to the immigrant.

'It's an economic factor,' she said. 'Yes, you have an immigrant willing to work for less, but if that drives down wages, the blame isn't on the immigrant.'

Borjas and others say any benefit that illegal immigrants bring to the economy cannot overlook the costs of providing them with government services. 'You have the welfare state on top of everything, which pushes whatever gain you have into a loss, especially in a state like California, which is so generous,' he said.
Ms. Alegria is partially correct. Americans should not blame individual illegal immigrants. They should blame her. People like Ms. Alegria, almost always espousing left-of-center politics, want to admit as many Hispanic immigrants to this country for racial and ideological reasons - none of which benefit the US. Activists like Ms. Alegria should be held accountable for promoting policies that harm the US as a whole and decimate the US working class. But activists aren't the primary perpetrators of this debacle. Elected officials at the state and national level brought this upon the US by refusing to enforce immigration laws and letting the border collapse.


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