by Joe Guzzardi
March 21, 2011
Before getting too excited about the slight drop in February’s national unemployment rate to 8.9 percent, remember that it is still about twice what economists consider full employment. In California, unemployment remains at a stubbornly high 12.6 percent. California’s 24 percent underemployment is even more dire.
Within California, cities like El Centro near the Mexico-United States border have struggled with the country’s highest unemployment for more than two years. Although El Centro has rebounded somewhat from 32 percent unemployed last year, its current 28 percent is painful. A typical El Centro job search may last a year; two years is not unheard of. The Imperial County Workforce Development Office expects that local unemployment will remain above 20 percent for a decade.
Yet against this unrelentingly dismal background, many Capitol Hill legislators and Washington D.C. lobbyists continue to plot for comprehensive immigration reform. Shortly after the 112th Congress was sworn in, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said in response to a question about whether he could envision immigration reform passing in this session said: “I think the answer is unequivocally yes, I think we can get something done.”
The argument Reid and his like-minded allies make is that amnesty for the nation’s estimated 12 million illegal immigrants would somehow magically help the job market. A secondary argument amnesty proponents advance is that legalizing aliens would increase tax revenues and add to the dwindling social security fund.
But a 2010 report compiled by the Public Policy Institute of California titled “Immigrant Legalization: Assessing the Labor Markets” found no evidence to support the theory that amnesty would be good for either illegal alien workers or native-born. The PPIC, historically a liberal leaning think tank that often supports high immigration levels, uncovered no probable improvements in occupational mobility or wages for the lowest skilled in the short run and, in the long run, did not project that legalizing immigrants would create any increased upward pressure on the wages of either low-skilled natives or low-skilled legal immigrants.
Furthermore, the PPIC acknowledged that while tax revenues may increase slightly, it noted that many illegal immigrants already file federal and state returns and pay sales and payroll taxes. The PPIC concluded that whatever additional tax revenue that may accrue through amnesty would be “modest” and would be more than offset by the costs of providing even minimum levels of social services to aliens. In conclusion, PPIC’s research revealed that states like California with a large illegal alien population would disproportionately bear the costs related to amnesty while the federal government would retain whatever fiscal benefits might result.
For El Centro residents as well as other similar agriculture-dominated California cities like Fresno, Modesto and Stockton, amnesty would hurt them the most. Many Mexican nationals crossing into the United States travel through the Imperial and San Joaquin Valleys in search of work. As it did during the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act, amnesty would encourage more illegal immigrants.
According to the Bureau of the Census, El Centro is 75 percent Hispanic with 21 percent of its total population living below the federal $21,756 poverty line established for a family of four. The last thing a low-skilled, unemployed worker regardless of where he lives, needs is a legalization plan for more potential job seekers.
Instead, what’s necessary is a time-out on immigration that would help put hundreds of thousands of unemployed Americans who have given up their job search back to work. Not only would that be a huge victory for those struggling Americans, it would also create a modest reduction in the expenditures needed to support illegal immigrants and thereby lessen the burden on taxpayers to fund them.
Joe Guzzardi has written editorial columns—mostly about immigration and related social issues – since 1986. He is a senior writing fellow for Californians for Population Stabilization (CAPS) and his columns have frequently been syndicated in various U.S. newspapers and websites. He can be reached at [email protected].