August 25, 2009
As Immigrants Move in, Americans Move Up
A perceived weakness of the liberal argument on immigration is over-reliance on the concept of compassion. This perception is reinforced in part by reality, as liberals commonly call upon people to remember the importance of basic human solidarity and concern for others in the debate over immigration.
That's all well and good, but it implicitly cedes too much ground to the conservative shibboleth that "bleeding-heart" liberals are incapable of grasping the cold, hard truth that immigrants suck up American resources -- and nothing resonates with people more clearly than pragmatism in a poor economy.
The problem is that this supposed truth is likely a pleasant fiction.
The Immigration Policy Center (IPC) recently released a study based on data released by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and found that even amid a recession, immigrants do not take jobs away from citizens because they are not necessarily competing in the same market or region.
"Unemployed natives and employed recent immigrants tend to have different levels of education, to live in different parts of the country, to have experience in different occupations, and to have different amount of work experience," the study concluded. "As a result, they could not simply be 'swapped' for one another."
Moreover, the center found that when natives took low-paying jobs during downturns, they moved on when the economy recovered. Therefore, the notion that an army of native-born Americans are lined up waiting for jobs "stolen" by immigrants, like Russians waiting in a food line during the Communist era, is not supported by facts.
Buttressing the IPC's findings is an article written a month ago by a major figure at the Cato Institute (a conservative think tank), Daniel T. Griswold, titled, "As Immigrants Move In, Americans Move Up." The data is too comprehensive to delineate here, but the bottom line is that, according to three separate metrics, the influx of immigrants into America has not precipitated an increase in poor people. In fact, low-skilled immigrant labor may be forcing native-born Americans to move up in the world.
Of course, sober and reasoned arguments don't lend themselves to effective demagoguery, but they need to play a bigger part in defeating this demagoguery.
If nothing else, it's not advisable to take seriously the rants of people who blame immigrants for America's economic woes when they spend their own time ripping off other Americans. Case in point: the Arizona head of the Minutemen paramilitary group was indicted last week for trying to bilk people in a mail fraud conspiracy.