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A Portrait of America in Polls: Immigration Harms the Labor Force

Updated on May 17, 2014

In an era when selfies and Snapchat provide an instant visual image, the poll may seem as old-fashioned as a Normal Rockwell painting. But polls are a candid shot of the nation's collective opinion, reflecting a consensus on the part of a particular cross-section of citizens and revealing viewpoints on topics often rooted in controversy. Good or bad, but rarely indifferent, Americans in polls speak their minds and reveal their fears and their hopes.

One of those controversial topics about which Americans speak their minds is illegal immigration. While every new wave of immigrants to the United States has been greeted with suspicion by citizens of the community who had already established roots, the current reaction to immigration is not simply a regional one, but a national one. During the waves of immigration that took place in the early decades of the 20th century, an Iowa farmer may not have given much thought to the Babelesque influx of foreign languages, customs, and ways of life that were reshaping New York City. But in the modern world, immigration is a pro/con topic which invigorates discussion from all corners of the American map.

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After 9/11, national security concerns were heightened over the fear of America's porous borders and inadequate visa clearance reviews. This fear was naturally stirred after the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings when the public learned that the FBI, following up on a tip by Russia, had investigated Tamerlan Tsarnaev but found no indication that the Tsarnaev brothers were a threat. According to the Center for Immigration Studies, this revelation explains why the country is doubtful of the FBI's ability to investigate the potential threat to security that is posed by the presence of 11 million immigrants who have entered the country illegally.

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Security is the most obvious and most dramatic example of the way in which Americans react to a threat to safety. But while television news can provide on-the-spot coverage of an event such as the Boston Marathon bombing, the devastation it caused, and the 24-hour search for the suspects, it’s less effective at documenting the responses of Americans to the presence of low-cost labor during a time of economic hardship. In that respect, polls are the window to the national thought process.

Immigration is a controversial issue in a nation which has seen four centuries of it, but the national portrait of the country today, still in recovery from the recession, today, painted by the polls shows a citizenry with deep concerns that the welcome mat may need to be replaced. Following the 2008 Great Recession, as the economy tightened and unemployment rose, Americans felt that illegal immigrants were a threat to the labor force. In a New York Times/CBS News poll, when asked what role illegal immigrants play in the economy, 74% responded that they weaken the economy.

A poll of 1000 likely voters, conducted by Pulse Opinion Research during February 11-12, 2014, disclosed that 35% feel that the employment prospects for the 20 million Americans seeking full-time work are poor.

According to University of California, Berkeley economist David Card, the costs and benefits of immigrant labor are not evenly distributed. While immigration, both legal and illegal, provides a benefit to the businesses and employers who hire the low-cost labor, the ones who suffer from the practice, are the native low-skilled workers

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A study by Harvard economist George Borjas discovered that immigration reduced the wages of American high-school dropouts by nine percent from1980-2000. In times of economic travail, it’s significantly harder for an American high-school drop-out to find work. When asked whether employers should be required to make more of an effort to recruit and train workers with the highest unemployment rates, rather than hiring immigrant labor, 74 percent of those polled by Pulse Opinion Research agreed. And 68 percent responded that it would be better for American businesses to raise pay rates to attract an unemployed American rather than an immigrant worker, even if raising pay meant a rise in prices for the consumer.

Perhaps one of the reasons why the polled Americans are willing to pay higher prices so that unemployed Americans can find work is because of the disparity between the cost of immigration to the states and to the federal government. As University of California, San Diego economist Gordon Hanson explains it, illegal immigrants fork over money to Uncle Sam in the form of income tax and Social Security contributions. However, the services which are provided to these undocumented immigrants cost more than the states receive from them in revenue.

The portrait of America according to the polls shows that nation is displeased with this imbalance, and the damage that it causes to the labor force.

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    • dragonflyfla profile image

      dragonflyfla 3 years ago from South Florida

      Great points Old Poolman! I agree it is impossible to completely control but I still believe there are ways to control. Did you watch the youtube clip on how it has changed just in our life time?

    • profile image

      Old Poolman 3 years ago

      Great hub. You addressed a very sticky and sore subject with this one. No matter what you say about immigration, some will take issue with what you said. If you oppose amnesty, you are automatically a racist regardless of the reasons why. If you are in favor of amnesty, you are taking jobs away from our own unemployed citizens.

      Our government does a really poor job in processing applications for legal immigration and makes it very expensive. It is no wonder so many choose the illegal immigration route to get into this country. Many of the jobs they do are not even applied for by our current unemployed.

      Our government can't even keep track of those they allow into the country on student visas. Many arrive legally on a student visa, but forget to return home when the visa expires.

      This is a huge problem that will not be resolved in our lifetimes. Try living in some of the other countries illegally and you just might spend the rest of your life in prison. I would hate to think we would have to adopt a system like that to protect our own borders.