Economic crises are one of those times that predictably drum up anti-immigrant fears. The usual charges vary from overwhelmed social services, taking Americans jobs – or for the ambitious immigrant, taking down the economy. Not only are these statements ingenious, they are simply false.
Even though the economic benefit of exploited labor misses the point, these clai ms are disputed by the Immigration Policy Center with an exhaustive catalog of studies. Some snapshots include:
- Urban Institute, 2007: “less than 1 percent of households headed by undocumented immigrants receive cash assistance for needy families, compared to 5 percent of households headed by native-born U.S. citizens.”
- White House Council of Economic Advisers, 2007: “concluded that immigration increases the U.S. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by roughly $37 billion each year.”
The net positive effect on the federal budget could be used to compensate the costs that states incur. This net positive effect is due, as noted above, to the relatively low use of social services, sales tax and even social security tax payments – which undocumented workers do not get back.
Grace Chang’s book, Disposable Domestics, is as relevant today as it was ten years ago. Analyzing mostly Korean, Filipina and Latina immigrants, she argues that immigration patterns do not only correlate with poverty, but with US influence and interference in a country. Chang notes that “the extraction of resources by the United States and other First World nations forces many people in the Third World to migrate and follow their countries’ wealth.” We can see this playing out before our very eyes with the violations of multinational corporations in foreign countries. They save money through lax environmental laws and abuse labor laws they know will not or cannot be enforced. These corporations put small stores out of business and destroy the places where they operate, – siphoning the profits back into the United States. Check out ILRF’s ‘working for scrooge’ list for some of the worst violators.
Many of the jobs undocumented immigrants end up in in the United States would not exist if their labor was not exploited. These companies – if they employed Americans – could be charged with illegal practices. Under the threat of deportation, undocumented workers face extreme obstacles to organize and confront abuses. Even after working long hours, in poor conditions for low pay, workers are denied paychecks. The fact that even legalized workers in the United States face harassment, intimidation, or fired for trying to organize gives us insight to what companies will do without these laws for minimal protection. (read the report ‘no holds barred’ on intimidation of workers) Companies who employ undocumented immigrants have even called the INS on themselves during an organizing drive to thwart unionization. Thus, immigration laws have often been applied strategically for the benefit of businesses.
The controversy over Supreme Court justice nominee Sonia Sotomayor seems to suggest that our laws are almost scientific, like plugging the problem into the law calculator, and it comes up with an answer. One might actually be led to think our laws were never political, nor unjust. While slavery and Jim Crow laws come to mind, there are many more. For example, in the New Deal – as a concession to Southern Democrats, legislation regulating hours and minimum wage excluded farm and domestic workers – because those jobs were held mostly by African Americans. Or, upon entering this country as an undocumented immigrant, you are subject to criminal laws, but not labor laws. While much of the overt discrimination has been purged from our legal system, it seems to better resemble my Bank of America bill statement than a scientific code – the injustice is in the fine print. Whether we are talking about torture, slavery, or sweatshops, our legal system should not have a selective application.
American workers have a vested interest in ensuring labor rights for everyone working in the US, as well as around the world. The bottom line is, it is impossible to compete with a labor force without rights. We must recognize the history of companies using technicalities to justify inhumane conditions, which systematically undermines good paying jobs. Having equal rights for all is the America I believe in.