John Skrentny on immigration politics at “The Hill”

John Skrentny writes on winning strategies for immigration reform in a political climate of distrust.


Immigration reform: From distrust to direction

BY JOHN D. SKRENTNY   MAY 16, 2011

What accounts for this distrust? The answer is obvious: the federal government’s long-term record is one of highly visible failure.

The lowlight was the bipartisan Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986. That law promised to seal the Mexican border, clamp down on employers who hire illegal immigrants, and legalize nearly three million then in the country. For many, this grand bargain became a tragic broken promise, making a mockery of rule of law and cheapening American citizenship. The number of illegal immigrants soared. New industries, notably meatpacking, restaurants and landscaping, joined agriculture in becoming heavily reliant on illegal immigrant labor. Yet the public image of “immigration” is often not of hard-working people tolerating bleak working conditions and low pay, but of news reports showing grainy footage of Mexicans streaming across the border.

Even Obama’s record-setting deportations and unprecedented crackdown on employers have done little to convince restriction-minded voters and lawmakers that the border is or even can be controlled. In this climate, even the targeted legalization bill known as the DREAM Act, which would benefit law-abiding young people who grew up in America and attended college or served in the military, has repeatedly failed.

On Tuesday, Obama hinted—but did not emphasize – something new: change coming from conservative business leaders (he even quoted Rupert Murdoch) and conservative Christian groups as forces for immigration reform.

Why rely on conservative groups? Reformers can learn from the stunning legalization bill passed in March in the deeply red state of Utah. Business and Christian groups in that state re-branded immigration reform as conservative and persuaded the Republican legislature to pass a bill to turn Utah’s illegal aliens into temporary, legal guest workers.

It happened after leaders in the Salt Lake City Chamber of Commerce witnessed convention business fleeing the restrictionist climate in Arizona for Utah. They saw an immigrant-friendly Utah as good for business. The conservative Mormon church joined the cause because its leaders believed that religious and moral teachings dictated welcoming strangers from foreign lands. Their “Utah Compact” pledged support for business- and family-friendly immigration policies guided by a “spirit of inclusion.”

Utah’s story shows reform is possible when change is led not by government or established immigration reform leaders, but by conservative religious groups with moral clout and business leaders with political and economic power.

The other lesson of the Utah story may be harder for reformers to accept: give up on citizenship as a goal. Unlike his July, 2010 speech, when Obama called for illegal immigrants to “earn their citizenship,” on Tuesday he only said they must “get in line for legalization.” This would be smart political strategy for results-oriented reformers.

The legislators in Utah could not offer U.S. citizenship, but national reformers can learn from Utah’s strategy of providing work visas. For years, reformers sought citizenship for the great majority of millions of illegal immigrants, failing under both Republican and Democratic presidents and Congresses. The DREAM Act’s narrowly-targeted pathway to citizenship has similarly failed. Since 1986, many voters strongly resist the full rights of American membership for people they perceive as lawbreakers. Reformers in Washington can follow Utah by providing people without papers with a work- or family-related visa.

Arguably, this is simply kicking the can down the road if these visas are made temporary. But as Obama said on Tuesday, most immigrants come to the U.S. to find work. This lesser prize protects workers from exploitation and American wages. Most importantly, it may break the congressional logjam, making other badly needed immigration reform – such as allowing more foreign talent, streamlining the visa process, reforming temporary visas for tech and agricultural workers—finally possible.

John D. Skrentny is Director of the Center for Comparative Immigration Studies and professor of sociology at the University of California, San Diego and a contributor to Reaching for a New Deal: Ambitious Governance, Economic Meltdown, and Polarized Politics in Obama’s First Two Years.

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GOP drafts legislative assault on illegal immigration

Congressional Republicans want more fencing, sensors, agents and drones to keep out all illegal migrants.


Congressional Republicans want more fencing, sensors, agents and drones to keep out all illegal migrants.

BY BRIAN BENNETT   MARCH 30, 2011

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A crew works on the border fence in downtown Brownsville, Texas, in January. (Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times)

Reporting from Washington — Congressional Republicans are drafting legislation that would require the federal government to develop a plan to add more fencing, sensors, agents and even drones to stop every illegal entry into the United States.

The legislative effort offers another example of how a more conservative Congress has steered the immigration debate away from the Obama admini-
stration’s two-pronged push for reforms and improved
border security, and toward strict enforcement
of immigration laws.

In December, a lame-duck House controlled by Democrats passed the Dream Act, a reform that would have created a path to citizenship for some young illegal immigrants in the U.S., but it was narrowly defeated in the Senate.

The Democrats’ Senate majority means the latest legislation is unlikely to pass, but the goal may be more political. By continuing to spearhead such measures, Republicans, who feel they are in agreement with most voters, hope to force Democrats to take a position on immigration issues in advance of the 2012 campaign.

The debate’s change in tone also comes as census data show that Latinos comprise the fastest-growing block of voters, potentially a complicating factor for Republican strategists. The number of Latino voters is increasing most in states that in 2010 gained congressional seats and Electoral College votes, according to a study released in January by the Pew Hispanic Center.

Immigration skirmishes seem to excite the Republican base, said Wayne Cornelius, a professor emeritus at UC San Diego who has spent more than 40 years studying cross-border migration.

“In the short-term, they calculate they can gain more votes with these hard-liner proposals,” he said, but some may have qualms about alienating Latinos.

A Republican strategist acknowledged there was debate within the party about how to handle immigration enforcement without driving away Latino voters who might otherwise agree with the fiscal conservative aspects of the party platform. Republican activists have said they think some Latino voters support the GOP position on immigration.

But many Republicans want a modernized immigration system that is consistent with the values of an immigrant nation, and those party members who speak loudly against reforms are a “vocal minority,” said the strategist, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the debate.

The U.S. has spent more than $4.5 billion to improve border security in the nine years since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, and critics argue that stopping every illegal crossing is an impractical goal.

“It is all just symbolic showmanship. It will never get through the Senate. It may have short-term electoral utility but will not result in any real legislation,” Cornelius said.

But Rep. Candice S. Miller, a Michigan Republican who wrote the Secure Border Act of 2011, said in an interview that “Congress needs to reflect the political will of the majority of the American people, which is to secure our borders.”

The Republican effort to push the Homeland Security Department to take a tougher stance on immigration enforcement follows a request last year by all seven Republican senators on the Judiciary Committee that asked the department to determine how much money it needed to deport every illegal immigrant the government encountered.

The Homeland Security Department has not estimated the cost, but a 2005 report by the Center for American Progress concluded it would require $206 billion over five years to deport the estimated 11 million people living in the country illegally.

The Obama administration has, in practice, largely supported the argument that border security is the first priority, Cornelius said. “It is really a red herring. We will never have the border secure enough…. Making immigration reform hostage to border security is a recipe for policy paralysis.”

Miller’s proposed legislation would require the Homeland Security Department to give Congress a five-year plan to bring unlawful entries and smuggling down to nearly zero, and let Congress decide whether to fund it. House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Peter T. King (R-N.Y.) and 10 other Republicans have agreed to co-sponsor the bill, which could be introduced as early as Thursday.

The proposal may come with such a hefty price tag that it’s unrealistic to carry out. But Republicans say cost should not be the Border Patrol’s concern. “They need to be very candid with us and tell us what they need,” Miller said. “We’re the ones passing the budgets and we have to decide amongst ourselves.”

Customs and Border Protection developed a strategic plan for securing the border by 2014, but some lawmakers say it doesn’t go far enough. The Border Patrol reported to the Government Accountability Office that by October 2010 it had control of 873 miles of the nearly 2,000 miles of the Southwest border, or 44%.

Asking the Homeland Security Department how it can stop all illegal entries is “asking the wrong question,” said Doris Meissner, former head of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, because law enforcement cannot change the underlying forces — jobs and the illegal drug market — that draw migrants and smugglers to the U.S.

“Members of Congress may want to pour concrete from sea to shining sea,” Cornelius said, “but it is simply not realistic.”

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Tougher Penalties For Undocumented Immigrants Caught At Sea (KPBS)

CCIS associate director David FitzGerald and director emeritus Wayne Cornelius were quoted recently in a KPBS radio story about undocumented immigrants crossing by sea.


BY AMY ISACKSON   MARCH 21, 2011

People caught crossing into the U.S. illegally by sea face tougher penalties. Officials hope it helps prevent migrants from dying.

Smuggling people and marijuana from Mexico to San Diego by sea has become a new trend in the western-most corner of the border. Authorities caught twice as many boats last year compared to the previous one. There’s no way to know how many more vessels slipped through.

Now, U.S. Border Patrol officials say they’ll deport anyone caught entering illegally by sea. Deportation means violators could be charged with a felony and prison time if they’re caught again.

Steve Pitts, a Border Patrol spokesman, said they hope the stiffer penalty deters migrants.

“The chances for those boats capsizing out there is extremely high. And we’re trying to prevent death, so we’re trying to deter people,” said Pitts.

Two migrants drowned in San Diego last year. U.S. and Mexican civil-rights groups and researchers estimate more than 6,000 people have died crossing over land in the last 15 years.

Border researchers Wayne Cornelius and David Fitzgerald at the University of California-San Diego, who interviewed thousands of would-be migrants in Mexico, found that knowing someone who died crossing the border does not dissuade people from trying themselves. The researchers also discovered that tougher border enforcement does little to deter migrants.

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Q&A: UCSD immigration expert Wayne Cornelius on why the Dream Act went down

MULTI-AMERICAN

The defeat in the Senate last Saturday of the Dream Act, which would have granted conditional legal status to qualifying undocumented college students, graduates and military hopefuls who arrived here before age 16, was just the most recent action on a proposal that has been circulating for nearly a decade. And each time it has come up for a vote, UC San Diego’s Wayne Cornelius has followed it, as he has every other federal immigration proposal that has come and gone since then.

Cornelius is one of the nation’s leading scholars on immigration and U.S.-Mexico border issues, a political scientist and director emeritus of UCSD’s Center for Comparative Immigration Studies. He is now associate director of the university’s Center of Expertise on Migration and Health.

After years of observing the politics of immigration, Cornelius has his own take on why the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act failed this time around, in spite of unprecedented student activism and a streamlining of the bill that allowed it to clear the House. He shares his opinion on the Obama administration’s strategy of pushing tough enforcement as a means to win support for broader immigration reform, a strategy he believes is doomed to fail.

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Fake CVs reveal discrimination against Muslims in French job market

BY ED YONG   NOVEMBER 22, 2010

Mosque

Meet Khadija Diouf. She is 24 years old, she’s single, she lives in France and she has spent the last three years working in secretarial and accounting jobs. Her surname tells us that she’s descended from Senegalese immigrants, and her first name strongly suggests that she’s Muslim. Hundreds of employers across France will have seen Khadija’s name and none of them would have known the most important thing about her: she doesn’t exist.

Khadija is one of three fake women invented by Claire Adida from the University of California, San Diego. They are all part of a clever experiment that reveals how the French job market is rife with discrimination against Muslims. Adida found that in at least two sectors, a Muslim candidate is around 2.5 times less likely to get a job interview than a Christian one, with all else being equal. These results were backed up by a large survey, which showed that among second-generation Senegalese immigrants, Muslim households earn far less than Christian equivalents.

To some, this won’t come as a surprise, for modern Europe doesn’t exactly seem like a welcome place to be a Muslim. In France, the Senate voted almost unanimously to ban women from wearing Islamic face-veils in public, a move that drew widespread support from other countries. Swiss voters approved a constitutional amendment to ban the construction of new minarets on mosques. In the UK, ridiculous headlines in so-called newspapers regularly portray Muslims as an identically-minded group, out to distort ‘traditional’ values, kill people and generally cause trouble. Negative opinions are growing everywhere.

These examples of religious discrimination are obvious and blatant, but others – such as prejudice in the workplace – are harder to uncover. Adida did it by focusing on France’s Senegalese community, which includes a mix of both Muslims and Christians. To see how they would compare on the job market, Adida created three imaginary CVs. All were single, 24-year-old women, with two years of higher education and three years of experience in secretarial or accounting jobs. Only their names, and small details about past employers, differed.

Khadija Diouf had a well-known Muslim first name and an obvious Senegalese surname and had worked with Secours Islamique, a humanitarian organisation. Marie Diouf had worked for its counterpart Secours Catholique and had an obvious Christian first name. And Aurélie Ménard had a typical French name with no religious connotations and had only worked for secular firms.

In the spring of 2009, Adida collected ads for secretarial and accounting jobs from the French national employment agency and grouped them into pairs, matched for area, sector, company size and position. For each pair, both received Aurélie’s CV while one received Khadija’s and one received Marie’s.

The results were striking. Marie Diouf got a positive response on 21% of her applications; she was clearly an employable (if fictional) young woman. But Khadija Diouf – her exact equal in virtually every respect – got callbacks from just 8% of her applications. For every 100 interviews that Marie was called for, Khadija was summoned for just 38. Even after Adida included a photo on the applications (the same one, showing a woman who was clearly not North African), she found the same bias.

Khadija_Marioe

It was impossible to send both Marie and Khadija’s CVs (which were virtually identical) to the same recruiter, given that they were identical except for a few names. Alarm bells would have rung. Nonetheless, it’s clear that Adida matched pairs of recruiters as well as possible, given that Aurélie’s odds of getting interviews were the same no matter which employer read her CV.

Adida essentially did the closest possible thing to a randomised trial (the gold standard in medicine), by assigning identical ‘people’ to be either Christian or Muslim and seeing how they fare. In her own words, “This experiment thus provides a clear indication that in at least one sector of the French labor market… there is significant religious discrimination.”

The strength of Adida’s experiment lies in isolating the effects of religion from the package of cultural traits that accompany it. That’s far from easy. In European countries, Muslim immigrants tend to come from the same place. In the UK, they largely hail from South Asia. In France, they mostly come from northern Africa.

If Muslims in these countries suffer socially and economically, religious discrimination is just one possible explanation. Others include racial or geographical discrimination (north Africa, for example, has a history of conflict against French imperialism), or differences in education, language or culture in one’s home country. An experiment that tries to look at religious discrimination needs to somehow hold all of those other factors equal. That’s exactly what Adida managed to do.

She also found that the discrimination that her fake applicants faced can directly affect the lives of real Muslims. She relied on a survey done in 2009 by David Laitin, looking at issues of integration among 511 second-generation Senegalese Muslims. Notably, the survey only looked at two ethnic groups – the Joolas and Serers – who have Christian and Muslim members in equal measure. Both groups arrived in France in the 1970s, so neither enjoyed an economic headstart, although the Christians were slightly better educated.

The survey’s data revealed that the Muslim households were significantly poorer than their Christian counterparts, even after adjusting for their initial educational advantage. They’re more likely to fall into poorer income groups and they make around 400 Euros less per month, around 15% of the average monthly salary in France.

Muslim_Christian_households

If anything, this just scratches the surface of anti-Muslim discrimination in France. There is a common view in France that Senegalese Muslims aren’t “real” Muslims because they have know little Arabic and because they socialise with Africans of all religions. The level of discrimination faced by groups that are more clearly linked with Islam might be even greater. The big question now is why, and it’s something that Adida plans to explore in future studies, using interviews, psychological games and more.

For the moment, her current study stands as a rare treat among research into discrimination. Some research goes on in the lab and benefits from careful experiments, but it’s unclear if their results apply in the real world, with all its complexities and vagaries. On the other hand, real-world experiments often struggle to isolate a single factor like religion, from the many others than entangle it. Adida’s work – inspired by a classic experiment on racial discrimination in America – combines both approaches: a careful, real-world experiment that does its best to unveil the effect of religion, with all else being equal.

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Whose jobs are done by illegal immigrants?

BY CHRIS COLLINS   NOVEMBER 18, 2010


Vanessa, an illegal immigrant, has harvested fruit in Kerman, Huron and Madera for four years. Until this summer, she had never seen a white face in the fields.

Then one day, four teenagers showed up at a cherry orchard. They didn’t speak Spanish, and they didn’t seem to know what they were doing.

“Everybody was surprised to see them there,” Vanessa said.

It didn’t go so well for the newcomers. Within an hour, all four had quit.

At the heart of the debate over illegal immigration is a question that burns as hot as the afternoon sun hovering over the Central Valley: Are illegal immigrants doing the work that no one else wants, or are they stealing jobs from Americans and dragging down their wages?

To some extent, both are true.

As Vanessa’s story shows, some jobs might go unfilled — even in tough times — without illegal immigrants.

But there are drawbacks. Illegal immigrants push down wages for legal workers in food-processing, factory and service jobs, economists say. Because illegal immigrants will work for almost any wage, employers have little reason to pay other workers more. Sometimes jobs that low-skilled Americans would be willing to do, such as washing dishes and cleaning bathrooms, are instead taken by illegal immigrants.

Illegal immigrants help the nation’s private-sector economy by providing cheap labor — something that is especially critical for the Central Valley. But their competition with low-skilled American workers and their strain on local government budgets cancel out that boost for that nation’s overall economy, some economists say.

In the end, illegal immigration in the Valley means businesses are big winners while many blue-collar workers lose out.

Farmworker groups have tried to prove that we need illegal immigrants. In 2006, as Congress was considering immigration reform, immigrant workers around the country either stayed home or joined protests for the May 1 “Day Without Immigrants” economic boycott.

In the central San Joaquin Valley, the United Farm Workers of America estimated that tens of thousands of field workers didn’t show up for work. Restaurants, landscape contractors, food manufacturers and growers all struggled to make it through the day with skeleton crews.

With immigration reform again on Congress’ agenda, the UFW has tried to bring attention to the role of illegal immigrants, which it says account for half a million farmworkers. It launched a campaign in June called TakeOurJobs.org that invited anyone to sign up online for a farming job.

The campaign was mostly meant to grab headlines — and it did. UFW President Arturo S. Rodriguez was invited to appear on Comedy Central’s “The Colbert Report” to talk about the campaign.

“Americans do not work in the field because it’s very difficult work, requires a lot of expertise and the conditions are horrid,” he told host Stephen Colbert.

More than 10,000 people registered on the website; only 11 people actually went out to work in the fields — including Colbert.


Economists say illegal immigrants play a key role in the nation’s economy: Their willingness to work for low wages helps keep American businesses competitive and lowers the cost of goods and services.

But their economic benefit is very small. One researcher estimated that it represents only the slightest fraction of the country’s gross domestic product — 3 cents for every $100 the economy generates. That means that most businesses are only marginally more efficient thanks to illegal immigrants, although some businesses that rely heavily on them — including those in agriculture — benefit greatly.

Illegal immigrants also offer another advantage: They are much more mobile than legal immigrants, who often have more family ties or are required by law to work for the employer who sponsored their visas. They follow the booms and busts in the construction industry and are “much more responsive to changes in the economy,” said Michael Fix, senior vice president of the Migration Policy Institute, a nonpartisan think tank in Washington, D.C.

From 2002 to 2006, the number of illegal immigrants living in the country increased each year by about 500,000 during the economic boom, climbing from 9.3 million to 11.6 million; but from 2007 to 2009, during the height of the recession, the total decreased by more than 1.5 million. During the 1990s, the illegal immigrant population grew the most in the mountain states and Southeast — places where job growth was strongest.

The role of illegal immigrants has become even more critical because Americans are, on average, much more educated now than half a century ago. The economy needs immigrants to fill the low-skill jobs, some economists say.

In an ideal world, the United States would let in enough foreign workers to do the jobs unwanted by most U.S.-born workers, said Gordon Hanson, an economics professor at the University of California at San Diego, who grew up in Fresno.

But America’s restrictive immigration system doesn’t allow that. So illegal immigrants fill in the gaps by being the first to enter the country when there are jobs and the first to leave when jobs dry up.


Many economists say illegal immigrants have hurt the wages of low-skilled U.S.-born workers. One economist, Harvard University’s George Borjas, concluded that wages fall by 3% to 4% for every 10% increase in the number of workers in a particular skill group.

In other words, more competition for jobs means lower pay. He found that the average wage of U.S.-born high-school dropouts decreased by 5% to 8% from 1980 to 2000 because of competition with immigrants.

This trend has been especially true in industries that have increasingly employed illegal immigrants. Since 1980, for example, the average wage for meatpackers has dropped 45%, adjusted for inflation, according to government data.

The Center for Immigration Studies found that one company had to raise its pay after being forced to fire illegal workers. In 2006, federal immigration agents arrested 1,300 employees at six meat-processing plants owned by Swift & Co., where an estimated 23% of the workers were illegal immigrants. After the raids, the company advertised heavily for new workers and paid employees bonuses if they recruited others.

Within five months, the plants were running at full capacity again — a sign that the company could operate without illegal immigrants, according to the report. Meanwhile, wages increased slightly at two of the plants and four offered signing bonuses.

Some experts say employers pay illegal immigrants less than other workers because they are less willing to demand a raise or draw attention to their legal status — and that drives down the wages for all workers. Researcher Anita Alves Pena, an economics professor at Colorado State University, found in a study earlier this year that illegal immigrant farmworkers earn 5% to 6% less in hourly wages than legal immigrant workers.

Gerardo Gomez, who crossed the border with his future wife in 1989 and now lives in Madera, spent years working in the fields because other employers wouldn’t hire him without a real Social Security card and green card.

“If there was a job, I was willing to do it — it didn’t matter what,” Gomez said. “But the jobs that paid more money required documents. Just to clean and work in the hospital required documents.”

Finally, in 1994, he got a job working for a small construction company that built fireplaces. His boss paid him about $7 an hour while the other workers — all of them legal immigrants or U.S.-born — were paid $10 an hour. When Gomez asked for a raise, his boss said, “OK, but first bring me your papers.” Gomez knew he couldn’t complain.

Not all economists agree that illegal immigrants hurt American workers. Giovanni Peri, an economics professor at the University of California at Davis, contends that when the economy is growing, the employment of low-skilled immigrants creates jobs that are typically filled by U.S.-born workers. A construction company that hires five new roofers may promote one of its U.S.-born workers to supervisor — a job that requires English proficiency — or hire a U.S.-born clerical worker.

Peri noted, however, that the recession has made it more difficult for U.S.-born workers to compete with illegal immigrants for jobs.

Some American workers are fighting back.

A class-action lawsuit against the SK Foods tomato-processing plant in Lemoore claims the company knowingly hired hundreds of illegal immigrants over several years to save millions of dollars a year in labor costs. The Chicago attorney who filed the lawsuit, Howard Foster, estimated that the so-called “illegal immigrant hiring scheme” depressed the wages of other workers by at least 15% and made it easier for the company to get away with “deplorable working conditions” because illegal immigrants were less willing to complain for fear of losing their jobs.

Foster has filed similar lawsuits across the country in the past decade with some success — and said he will likely file many more.

“Workers call me and e-mail me almost every day asking, ‘Can you help me? Can you represent me?’ ” Foster said, noting that many of the calls are from the Central Valley, where he said the food-processing industry is “rife with illegal workers.”

The lawsuit says SK Foods’ management knew it was hiring illegal workers because many couldn’t speak English, presented documents that were obviously fake or had previously been hired by the company under a different name. Company CEO Scott Salyer denies that illegal immigrants were hired, according to his attorney.


So what would happen if there were no illegal immigrants? Because the central San Joaquin Valley is heavily dependent on them, a mass deportation would certainly hit the agriculture industry hard, at least in the short term. But it would also be easier for other less-educated, U.S.-born workers and legal immigrants to find jobs, and their wages could improve.

“The truth be told, if we were to eliminate illegal immigration over the next five years, the impact on the economy wouldn’t be that large,” Hanson said. “But it would hit parts of the country very hard, particularly Fresno. The farmers would have to change what they do and some would go out of business or would have to move toward much less-labor intensive crops.”

Some economists say employers need to do just that: change. They say farmers have become addicted to cheap labor rather than shift to less labor-intensive crops and invest in technology that would reduce the need for fieldworkers.

In the 1970s, after the end of the Bracero program that brought in thousands of seasonal Mexican workers, farmers were forced to grow tomatoes with thicker skins that could be harvested with machines, reducing labor costs. Soon they were picking twice as many tomatoes with half as many workers, Camarota said.

Philip Martin, an immigration and farm labor expert at the University of California at Davis, offered another example: Farmers in the Central Valley used to always be “screaming about a labor shortage” needed for the raisin grape harvest. Now a method called dried-on-the-vine harvesting allows them to use fewer workers.

Without illegal immigrants, similar changes would have to happen — although they would inevitably have some consequences.

“Would some farmers go out of business? Yeah, but we would see a restructuring of that industry,” Camarota said.

Some economists also say that if farmers paid better wages, more U.S.-born workers would be willing to work in agriculture.

Experts also say the cost of food would rise only slightly if wages increased. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates, for example, that the wages for production workers account for only 7% of retail beef prices and 9% of pork prices.

“Illegal immigration is not necessary for the functioning of a modern economy,” said Mark Krikorian, director of the Center for Immigration Studies. “But certain industries have gotten accustomed to it, and they benefit from it.”

Not everyone agrees increasing wages would work. Manuel Cunha, president of the Fresno-based Nisei Farmers League, an association of agriculture businesses in the Western U.S., said farmers would have to dramatically increase wages to convince U.S.-born workers to take a job in the fields — and even if they did, many would probably work just long enough to make a little money and then quit.

Cunha said that raising wages would hurt growers, whose No. 1 cost is labor. Grocery chains would turn to foreign countries to buy cheaper food, he said.

Besides, he said, most workers born here are unwilling to work mind-numbing food-processing jobs or do back-breaking fieldwork — no matter what they’re paid. According to government data, 98% of farmworkers in California are immigrants.

Some experts say there’s also a cultural stigma to working in the fields that would be difficult to overcome if farmers had to depend on U.S.-born workers.

“They’re doing a lot of jobs other people simply won’t do,” said John Hernandez, executive director of Central California Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. “I’m not going to go in there and slaughter a cow.”

Alfred de la Cerda, a pastor in Orosi, said that when his U.S.-born son was 18 and waffling on whether to go to college, he suggested his son try fieldwork. Every day, the teenager came home exhausted. After two weeks, he quit the job and enrolled in Reedley College instead.

Said de la Cerda: “The truth is, no one born here will go out in the fields.”

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Are taxpayers stuck paying the bill for illegal immigrants?

Illegal immigrants still help the economy because their cheap labor drives down the cost of products and services, an issue The Bee will examine Thursday. But those savings are canceled by the cost to government services, at least on a national level, some economists say.

In the Central Valley, their positive and negative impacts are amplified because of our dependence on them. Businesses benefit in a big way while taxpayers cover the costs.

“Residents have to pick up the tab, and employers get away with paying those workers less,” said Gordon Hanson, an economics professor at the University of California at San Diego and CCIS Research Associate.

_________________________________________________________________________________

Even though many are paid under the table for housecleaning, yard work and day labor, most work for companies that deduct taxes from their pay. Illegal immigrants also pay sales taxes and property taxes.

Several research organizations estimate that about 55 percent of illegal immigrants are paid on the books, with taxes withheld. The Center for Comparative Immigration Studies found that 75 percent of illegal immigrants in 2006 were taxed.

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Pregnant pay premium to get into US



Development: On 11 November the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) published a report on the prices illegal Mexican immigrants pay to get into the US.

Significance: The DHS working paper argues that the effort and expense the US has put into reinforcing its southwestern border between 1993 and 2006 has pushed up the price illegal migrants have to pay to get into the US. The DHS reckons that the price illegal migrants have to pay people traffickers jumped from US$600 a head in 1993 to US$1,500 in 2007. Pregnant migrants usually pay even more. The DHS working paper found that 95% of first-time crossers used people smugglers in 2006.

The DHS admits that its estimate of the cost of being smuggled into the US is at the lower end of the spectrum. The Mexican Migration Field Research and Training Program survey (MMFRP) puts the 2006 price at well over US$2,250.

What is fascinating about the DHS working paper is how tentative its conclusions are. It points out that there is little evidence on whether people smugglers have tried to lower their unit costs by smuggling other goods (such as drugs) into the US alongside people.

The links the DHS does make are pointed: it cites an academic study which suggests that a 10% decline in Mexican wages compared with US wages leads to a 6% increase in border apprehensions. In the past 12 months border apprehensions have dropped by 17%, year-on-year, to 473,000. This suggests that potential Mexican migrants now calculate that the risks of crossing into the US are higher than the potential rewards.

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A Chance to Get Immigration Reform Right

AEI Study Outlines Principles for Regulation of Low-Skilled

NOVEMBER 3, 2010


Recent immigration reform proposals, such as Arizona’s SB1070, have focused on curtailing illegal immigration through increased border enforcement and deportation of unauthorized residents. But border enforcement is expensive and often ineffective. In addition, while foreign workers benefit the U.S. economy–whether they’ve entered legally or illegally–they also increase the tax burden on U.S. citizens. In Regulating Low-Skilled Immigration in the United States (AEI Press, 2010), Gordon H. Hanson, director of the Center on Pacific Economies, outlines principles for immigration reform that will balance these fiscal costs and benefits. Successful reform, he argues, must attract in-demand workers who have strong incentives to assimilate and be economically productive, but will not place excessive demands on public services.

Hanson outlines three broad choices policymakers must make concerning the mechanisms that govern immigration:

  • Whether to regulate the entry of immigrants using prices or quantities: The current regime of legal immigration is primarily quantity-regulated, as Congress determines how many visas are available each year. However, a price mechanism, such as a visa processing fee, would attract workers with higher incentives to be productive during their time in the United States. A visa processing fee would also generate revenue for the federal government and help to offset the fiscal burden immigrants place on public services.
  • How much variance to allow in the number of work visas: Current policy places strict caps on the numbers of visas issued, but a more flexible approach would benefit the economy by allowing immigration to increase during times of expansion and decrease during times of contraction. During times of economic growth, wages would rise and demand for visas would grow, pushing up their price. The government would receive a signal to increase the visa supply to keep prices stable. Accordingly, when the economy slows down and demand for visas falls, government would decrease the supply.
  • How to balance the fiscal cost of immigration with incentives for assimilation: Easing the path to U.S. citizenship for legal and illegal immigrants would mean greater demands on public services, but it would also benefit the country by encouraging important investments in U.S. society, such as pursuing higher education, purchasing a home, and becoming active in community organizations. A method of balancing the fiscal costs and benefits would be a graduated system of residency rights, whereby an immigrant could earn increased benefits and eventual citizenship through demonstrated productivity and compliance with visa regulations.
  • When the Obama administration addresses immigration reform, as it has promised to, it “should seek first to do no harm,” Hanson writes. “Constructive reform requires allowing low-skilled immigration to occur under a legal framework that respects market mechanisms and treats immigrants as individuals with the potential to contribute to U.S. society. Unless Congress recognizes and understands the successes and failures of low-skilled immigration policy to date, we risk losing another chance to get reform right.”

    Gordon H. Hanson is director of the Center on Pacific Economies and a professor of economics at the University of California, San Diego.

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UA-linked effort looks at crossers, effect of violence

Students interviewing hundreds of deportees

BY JAZMINE WOODBERRY for The Arizona Daily Star
OCTOBER 25, 2010

University of Arizona students are interviewing hundreds of deported illegal border crossers over the next year to document the connection between drugs, guns and violence on the border.

The study is funded by a $100,000 grant from the Ford Foundation, a private Michigan-based organization that awards grants to social-justice causes globally.

While the students’ research won’t be completed until early next year, preliminary returns from the surveys show that illegal border crossers are experiencing an increase in emotional and physical violence at the hands of smugglers and Border Patrol agents, said co-principal investigator Jeremy Slack.

The buildup of border enforcement and the overlap of drug- and human-smuggling appear central to a rise in violence over the last three years, Slack said.

“We are committed to tell this story by using their voices to tell the phenomena of the border,” he said.

UA students from several academic areas work with professors and students from partnering Mexican universities to conduct the interviews. They are talking with deported border crossers at shelters in Tijuana; Nogales, Sonora; Ciudad Juarez; Matamoros; and Mexicali.

The project stems from a dissertation by Daniel E. Martinez, a University of Arizona Ph.D. student and research visitor at Notre Dame. He was introduced to the shelters through Anna Ochoa O’Leary, who was awarded a 2006 Fulbright grant for her survey-based research with female migrants.

Initial data collected focused mainly on Mexican migrants in shelters near Tucson. But with the grant, researchers now can expand beyond the Tucson-Nogales area, and Martinez said this change will broaden preliminary data for an executive summary to be released next spring.

The Ford Foundation also funds the University of California-San Diego’s Mexican Migration Field Research Program, whose research is based on interviews with illegal border crossers. Researchers with that program conduct interviews in three Mexican communities with varying illegal-migration patterns and socioeconomic status.

A focus on how border enforcement is affecting migration is crucial, said Jonathan Hicken, a research associate with the Mexican Migration Field Research Program. The survey research adds a more human element missed in other, non-interview-based efforts, he said.

“It’s in our best interest for programs like this to start sprouting up everywhere,” Hicken said of the UA program.

to Read interviews

To read some of the interviews conducted by UA students with illegal border crossers, go to researchdiscuss.blogspot.com

Who’s paying for it?

To learn more about the organization funding the research, go to the Ford Foundation’s website: fordfoundation.org

Jazmine Woodberry is a University of Arizona student who is apprenticing at the Star. Contact her at starapprentice@azstarnet. com or 573-4128.

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