One Incident Busts Two Immigration Myths: Jobs Americans Won’t Do and There’s No Such Thing as Self-Deportation

Published on February 7th, 2012

Among the many statements made by pro-immigration advocates, two are commonly heard. The first—that immigrants do jobs Americans won’t—has been around for years. The second—that there’s no such thing as “self deportation”— has only become well known during the past few Republican debates. However, the phrase is familiar to those of us who have been working for more than two decades to promote sensible immigration policy.

A recent incident at California’s Pomona College disproves both. [Immigrant Worker Firings Unsettle a College Campus, by Jennifer Medina, New York Times, February 2, 2012]

“Carmen,” an illegal alien who had worked for Pomona for eleven years, earned $17 an hour. Her wages had steadily increased from her original $8.00 hourly salary. With her husband, Carmen had recently bought a “modest house” in the neighborhood.

But late last year, college administrators delivered letters to Carmen and dozens of long time employees asking them to show proof of legal residency. An internal college review had revealed discrepancies in their personnel files. When seventeen employees could not confirm that they were legally in the United States, they were dismissed.

Predictably, there’s been a fall out at Pomona. Some students are discouraging their younger friends from enrolling. Certain alumni are threatening to withhold donations.

But in the end Pomona’s president David W. Oxtoby didn’t waver. Confirming that the workers would have to leave the college, Oxtoby said:

“The law is very unforgiving, and unfortunately we have to obey the law even though it really hurt the community.”

Faced with the certainty of losing her job, Carmen included among her options moving back to Mexico.

Working at a well appointed college like Pomona, especially if the position eventually pays enough to buy a house,  is something most unemployed Californians would consider.

Here’s how the Pomona website describes the college. Take note that this is a far cry from the local fast food joint:

“Our location-within an hour of the Pacific Ocean, the Mojave Desert, the San Gabriel Mountains and the city of Los Angeles-informs and shapes daily life at the College. There aren't many places in the world where you can ski in the morning, play on the beach in the afternoon, and take in a major league baseball game or an opera at night (not to mention the simple joy of wearing flip-flops in the middle of February). But beyond the recreational and cultural possibilities, our location also adds another dimension to the learning experience, with unequaled opportunities for field study, community involvement and internships.”

Carmen was not only able to work herself up to $17 an hour, she also had health insurance which 52 million Americans do not.

That busts myth number one—that immigrants do jobs Americans won’t.

And if Carmen returns to Mexico because her employment incentive has been removed, that busts myth number two—that self-deportation is a fantasy harbored by enforcement-minded Americans.

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