The issue of how the United States of America will deal with undocumented people entering its borders is so hot that many Americans were willing to embrace a ridiculous campaign promise as of building a wall between the United States and Mexico in hopes of addressing and potentially solving it, something thoroughly debunked in media like a video by Adams Ruins Everything. In our nation’s history, as history.state.gov tells us, there was the Johnson-Reed Immigration Act of 1924, which placed a limit on the number of permitted immigrants and banned Asian immigrants in general (which wasn’t changed until 1952).
But there are certainly reasons for wanting to control America’s immigration rates. We’re going to try to have a balanced approach to this topic with easy, simple answers. Unfortunately that’s probably just going to make everyone mad, especially the nineteen percent of people polled who said they wanted to have all illegal immigrants removed.
10. Hundreds of Billions of Dollars Will Be Spent
For the purposes of these entry, we’re just talking about the cost of collecting all illegal immigrants and transporting them out. We’re not going to consider the added expenses of tightening security to ensure they don’t gain re-entry. Even without doing so, the estimates of the cost for this process are extremely high. As Newsweek reported in August 2015, even the lowest figure for hunting down, detaining, and removing over eleven million people was $114 billion, and the American Action Forum estimated that it would be a twenty year process to remove all these people. Thinkbynumbers.org tells us that’s more than ten thousand dollars per person, and slightly less than twice what the American government spends on traditional social welfare programs a year.
But when you get into the higher end estimates, and into the wider economic impact of a project like this, then you get into truly staggering numbers. Those costs range to as high as $400 to $600 billion. To put that in perspective, American military involvement in Afghanistan after 2001, with contractors charging exorbitant fees, cost about $685 billion according to Time magazine. The Washington Post said that was a major contributor to the debt economy that led to America’s major recent recession. In short, the process would mean years of economic disruption, even in a best case scenario.
9. Many White Collar Jobs Will Be Left Empty
The stereotype we have for undocumented immigrants is that they work unskilled jobs where the focus is on manual labor. A report by the Pew Research Center in 2012 showed that, as it happens, millions of them buck the stereotype. More than twenty percent of them work in business administration, management, sales, and general office jobs instead of anything we would think of as blue collar work.
That might not sound like a huge amount, but it’s much more than the number of undocumented immigrants that work either on farms or in construction, the professions that would be the first two to come to mind when it comes to undocumented immigrants for many people. In fact, it’s more than the number of undocumented immigrants that work in those professions combined. It goes to show that while we generally assume that it’s the least educated in America that are the only ones that want to see the undocumented removed for employment reasons (hence the popular saying “they took our jerbs!”) in a very self-centered way, educated workers would also have many potential career opportunities, too.
8. Homicide Rates Will Likely Drop In Certain Areas
In the interest of trying to protect the ability of undocumented immigrants to stay in America, in some cases their defenders go overboard in propping them up as contributors to society. One of those ways sites like Immigration Impact do this is to argue that illegal immigrants commit less crime than natural born citizens, if for no more moral reason than they feel the need to keep their heads down. One very notable area where this is not true, in many places, is murder.
National Review reported that in Arizona, a study by the Government Accountability Office found that illegal immigrants were roughly 28% more often convicted of homicide-related crimes than native born citizens. In California the likelihood was approximately 33% higher. If you think this is an attempt to characterize Mexican illegal immigrants in particular as more inclined to murder because all the states mentioned share a border with Mexico, it is not. In Texas, illegal immigrants were less likely than natural born to be convicted of murder. However, in New York, illegal immigrants were more than three times more likely to be convicted in homicide offenses. So this is hardly an issue limited to a specific region.
7. Real Estate Values Will Drop
As we indicated in entry nine, many illegal immigrants have jobs that pay well enough that they can live fairly affluent lives. Indeed, in 2009 Pew Hispanic Center estimated 35% of all undocumented citizens in America were homeowners, a rate which rose up to 45% for illegal immigrants that had spent a decade in the country. A big part of the reason that this is possible is that ITIN loans allowed for mortgages to be given to illegal immigrants. If they were removed, that would leave as many as three million homes unoccupied.
The number of abandoned homes will lower the value of many homes, and make maintaining them prohibitively expensive for banks, which Bankrate.com warns will encourage crime on top of sanitation problems like wild animals infesting the abandoned homes. On top of all those other financial problems it will remove much of the demand for the homes in growth areas in America.
6. Repatriates Will Be Abused
As indicated by the large number of homeowners among illegal immigrants that have been in America for more than ten years, for many of them America feels much more like home than Mexico ever could, or like many Mexicans want it to feel for them. Guardian magazine reported that by 2015, nearly 500,000 who were children when their parents took them across the border had been deported to Mexico. Although in 2014 the Mexican government founded an organization called Somos Mexicanos in an attempt to ease the transition, there is still clearly a massive amount of prejudice.
A study of more than 300 interviewees brought to light that 85% of them had experienced discrimination since being deported. Roughly fifty percent of them reported experiencing mental health problems such as depression as a result of the deportation process. Considering that it can mean the equivalent of being instantly homeless, jobless, cut off from your family, and broke in a country where you might not speak the official language and many people will be prejudiced against you, that’s very understandable. They also can expect a ten year ban from returning to the United States.
5. Billions of Dollars in Government Support Would Be Freed
Returning to the issue of the sheer cost of deporting millions of people, people that favor the idea will likely cite the expense the government brings on itself by keeping them around and often providing them with financial support. During his campaign, Politifact.com reported that Republican candidate Donald Trump claimed that illegal immigrants cost the government $113 billion in services and benefits. In Los Angeles alone in 2010, services for children of illegal immigrants cost $52 million.
It may seem counterintuitive for welfare to be provided to illegal immigrants since they don’t have social security numbers and other identifiers that you’d imagine would be necessary, but it’s one of the reasons that the average illegal immigrant household was estimated to cost $24,721 in 2010 according to The Fiscal Times. It should be noted that illegal immigrants paid about $14 billion in taxes (about twenty percent lower than the average natural born household with a similar level of income) during the same period, but obviously that’s a large net loss as far as direct expenses versus taxes are concerned. Still, as we’ll see, illegal immigrants in the labor force allow for lowered expenses that go a long way towards making them essential for America’s economy.
4. The Dairy Industry Would Be Devastated
For many people who live paycheck to paycheck, it may seem as if illegal immigrants are used as labor just as a pure cost-cutting measure out of greed. It turns out that for many of them it’s more a necessity for survival. A study by Texas A&M University in 2015 reported that pulling out immigrant labor would result in the closure of 7,000 dairy farms. Hiring natural born citizens would require too much in wages. Automation isn’t really an option, either.
At present, the LA Times says a milking machine costs more than $250,000 and thus automation will not be a viable replacement for the illegal immigrant workforce for some time. If dairy farms were to attempt to pass the added costs onto the consumer, they would have to double the cost of milk, which would would very quickly hit many working class families pretty substantially in the food bill considering how many American eat cheeseburgers and pizzas on a regular basis.
3. Farm Businesses Would Be Destroyed
As we said in entry nine, a surprisingly small number of illegal immigrants work on farms compared to white collar environments. Nevertheless, in agrarian states that have stepped up their anti-immigration campaigns, there were significant problems with harvesting crops. Even Georgian parolees couldn’t be motivated to take the jobs and $15 an hour wages couldn’t convince citizens to take it, or even $20 hour. That’s how hot and humid summers in those orchards could get. Mic.com tells us that as a result, in 2011 alone Georgian farmers lost $140 million on unharvested crops.
Still, that did not stop Alabama from passing a similar law. In 2012 the Washington Times reported that the training costs alone for getting replacement farmhands lost farmers millions of dollars while Georgia struggled again, and many farmers simply chose not to plant crops. Not that these financial disasters prevented similar campaign promises from being a central point of the 2016 Republican presidential campaign.
2. The Construction Industry Will Be Hit Hardest
As we mentioned previously, removing millions of homeowners from America is inevitably going to vastly undercut the demand for new houses. In one area, however, it will raise housing costs. North American Building Trades Union informs us that 25% of the total construction labor force in the commercial sector is illegal immigrants. The rate for construction workers in the residential sector is even higher than that. Now, considering how it required millions of dollars to train all those farm workers to replace the illegal immigrants in Alabama, imagine how much more it will cost to replace these workers in an industry where they’re much more prevalent.
That’s only part of the reason two thirds of professionals in the construction industry believe it would drive up prices, according to Consumer Affairs, and forty percent believe it would be enough that many companies would shift focus to working on luxury homes. Not only will many buildings no longer be made, but many homeowners will be more hesitant to have repairs done, which will drive down their value and cost the government a lot in lower property taxes.
1. Unskilled Worker Wages Will Increase
On the other hand, Harvard University economist George Borjas has reported that low-skilled workers born in America have suffered financial damage across the board. The Wall Street Journal published a study in 2013 that over the prior twenty years the desperation and willingness of undocumented immigrants to work for less than natural born citizens has cost unskilled workers a 4.7% loss in wages over that period. In 2013 the generally more progressive New York Times published an article that was less definite, but stated that it was as high as 7.4%.
Now, over the course of two decades this might not seem too substantial to people who aren’t in that income bracket, but this was during a time period where unskilled laborers needed their wages to rise considerably to be able to match inflation rates. And as we learned, natural born citizens weren’t satisfied with $15 to $20 an hour wages as a means to get them to do that very hard labor in sweltering hot conditions. That’s a very strong demonstration of the immense power they will have to negotiate their wages up substantially.
Dustin Koski is also one of the authors of Forust: A Tale of Magic Gone Wrong, a fantasy novel that may touch on the undocumented immigrants controversy.