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Illegal immigrants
Costing or Producing Billions?
Special Contribution
By Domenico Maceri
A Mexican family were spotted by a U.S. Border Patrol helicopter. The family walked 25 miles through the deadly desert on the Tohono O'odham Nation to head for Los Angeles.
Courtesy Tucson Citizen

They cost the federal government $10 billion annually, according to the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), a Washington think tank which favors tighter immigration controls.

Who are they? Illegal immigrants. If they became legalized, they'd cost the federal government $29 billion.

The report by CIS is not surprising given their political stance. Unfortunately, it confirms many Americans' negative impressions about undocumented workers and offers no solutions.

The report does acknowledge that undocumented immigrants work, but states that they receive a lot more in benefits than what they contribute in taxes. The reason for this "deficit" is their low educational level which results in their low incomes. Since they are paid little, they don't make a net "profit" for our society.

There is little doubt that undocumented workers are not paid very well. Have you ever asked someone mowing your lawn how much his boss is paying him? Have you ever wondered what the person cleaning your hotel room earns? Have you ever thought about the salary of the person who picked the lettuce you eat?

Of course, those questions don't come to mind. It's not your business to inquire about the workers who produce the goods and services you use. But it's not that complicated. Companies hiring undocumented workers pay them very little and they don't provide them healthcare or benefits.

An immigration officer handcuffs one of 10 suspeced illegal immigrants found traveling beneath plywood planks in a pickup bed in Sugar Land.
Courtesy Steve Campbell/Chronicle

What happens when labor costs are lowered? Some people benefit. Those people are the companies and at the same time the consumers including you.

Since undocumented workers are provided few benefits, if any, from their companies, it's inevitable that when they need services someone else pays.

That's you, the taxpayers. Of course, we are all happy when prices are low but when we have to pay, we feel the pain. Yet, we should not get mad at the illegal immigrant who is desperate for a job.

Your anger should be directed at those doing the hiring. They often pay undocumented workers under the table and therefore make no contributions to the general fund.

The CIS study does not address the profits made by companies when they hire undocumented workers. Their goal is pretty obvious. They want to make it difficult if not impossible for the government to offer any kind of amnesty to the estimated 8 to 10 million undocumented workers living in the U.S. The study is also silent about the consumption and economic activity produced by undocumented workers.

The study does not say anything about how much labor costs would increase if all of a sudden all the undocumented workers were deported. Would our economy collapse? Would their absence devastate the economy of California and other states in which agriculture is a major industry? What about the $7 billion annual windfall from undocumented workers' payroll to Social Security and Medicare, which, to its credit, the CIS study acknowledges?

129 Ecuadorian migrants were intercepted by US authorities in September 1999. The fishing vessel DIOSA DEL MAR was being used to smuggle migrants from Ecuador to Central America for further transfer to the United States.
Courtesy Pacific Tides

Everyone knows that while on the one hand people are against illegal immigration, when it comes to business, priorities are established.

Once in a while you hear about the US Border Patrol conducting raids, as it happened not too long ago in Southern California.

These raids never occur during harvest time in the agriculture industry. One such raid, however, did occur several years ago in Georgia, during the harvest of sweet Vidalia onions.

The screams about "la migra" did not come from the undocumented workers but from the owners who contacted their elected officials in Washington. The raids during harvests stopped and you won't hear about them. The message is clear. We don't want illegal immigrants, but at the same time we want their work.

Proof that we want their work is even apparent in the political contributions made by companies to President George W. Bush. Employers from farm and construction work to restaurateurs and others support the idea of having guest workers to avoid labor shortages. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which represents 3 million small businesses across the country, supports the plan of a guest-worker program proposed by Bush.

The guest workers proposal and some form of amnesty for undocumented workers already in the country are, however, unlikely to become a reality soon. Undocumented workers have no lobbyists in Washington and politicians from both parties are unwilling to act particularly in an election year, fearing a backlash from conservative voters. Yet, it will happen not because of humanitarian concerns, but rather because it's good for business interests which have lobbyists in Washington.

Other Articles by Domenico Maceri
    Julián Castro's Monolingualism: a ...
    Biden's Immigration Plan: Between Trump and ...
    Legal and Illegal Immigration: A Winning ...
    World Cup: Beyond the Soccer Field
    John Kelly's Fails English and History

Domenico Maceri, Ph.D., UC Santa Barbara, teaches foreign languages at Allan Hancock College in Santa Maria, CA. His articles have appeared in many newspapers including Los Angeles Times, Washington Times, Japan Times, and The Seoul Times. Some of his stories won awards from the National Association of Hispanic Publications.






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