Are Illegal Aliens Taking Jobs From Citizens Here in America?: A Conceptual Rebuttal
Hi Kathleen Morales! How's it going?
Thank you for the question: Are illegal aliens taking jobs from citizens here in America?
First of all, there is a saying: "It takes two to Tango." What I mean by that is that this question always comes up, formulated in such a way as to make "illegal aliens" into a predatory force victimizing American workers. Now, I do not concede that the statement is true. I do not even concede that "illegal aliens are taking jobs from citizens here in America."
But even if that were true---I'm not saying it is (but if it were)---a question to ask is: How is it possible that "illegal aliens are taking jobs from citizens here in America"? How is that happening? Is there anyone stateside colluding with the "illegal aliens" in substituting themselves for American workers? In other words: Who are hiring these "illegal aliens taking jobs from citizens here in America"?
Who are hiring undocumented foreign workers? Why are these entities hiring these workers? Why is this phenomena so prevalent now? How is all of this happening?
In 1965 the Immigration and Nationality Act was passed and enacted in June 1968. What this legislation did was to abolish Emergency Quota Act of 1921 (Woodrow Wilson administration "Red Scare" stuff), which was about immigration restrictions to the United States. We were putting tight limits on what kind and how many foreigners could come live in the United States of America; this 1960s legislation corrected that by opening up the path for people from formerly less favored parts of the world (Africa, Asia, the Middle East, Latin America) (1).
Now, one of the consequences of this was that a vast source of much cheaper and more exploitable labor gradually became available to American employers. Its hard to say if this was the plan all along or not, but nevertheless, downward pressure on American wages was at least partially attributable to this. Also, it can be noted that the same thing was also happening in the advanced industrialized nations of Western Europe and Japan at the same time. But of course, other (not Latin American) sources of much cheaper, more exploitable labor were mined (2).
My point is that even if it were true that ("Illegal aliens are taking jobs from citizens here in America"), the point to see here is that "they" could not do this if American business entities did not hire these undocumented workers---two to Tango, as it were.
There is, of course, so much more we could say on this subject. But I'll close with this.
One of the things people say is something like this: Undocumented workers (from Latin America) do the jobs that native-born Americans won't do.
Now then, I do not concede that that statement is true either. But, for the sake of argument, let us assume that it is. Okay, we're just assuming for the fun of it, that the statement is true. Let's break that assertion down.
The question to ask is this: If it is true that undocumented workers who come to America do jobs that native-born Americans won't do, then why is that? Why would the American homeland actually feature employment in industries that its own citizens will not perform? If it is true that the American homeland actually features certain kinds of employment that its own native-born citizens will not perform, this would be indicative of stunning incompetence and lack of foresight on the part of the managers of the economic system of our country?
If the managers of the economic system created industries (or certain sectors of employment within industries) in which native-born Americans will not do, then whom did they think would perform these jobs? How did the economic planners know that any other people would do these jobs, much less the kind of people---who by happy coincidence, are used to being paid a fraction of the wages of native-born Americans?
Here's the thing.
When we talk about this issue of supposed job theft and undocumented workers, we are talking about the so-called "unskilled" and "semi-skilled" sectors, everything from dishwashers to landscaping and house painting, and the like.
Question: How come we never hear about immigrants---illegal or otherwise---"taking American jobs" from, say, lawyers, doctors, accountants, and journalists, and such?
Answer: Because doctors, lawyers, accountants, journalists, and the like have the very best UNION ever; and that UNION advocates for these white collar workers by keeping out foreigners who do the same work for less money (3).
An economist, Dean Baker, discusses this in the first chapter of his free online book, The Conservative Nanny State: How the Wealthy Use the Government to Stay Rich and Get Richer. Published by the Center for Economic and Policy Research. Creative Commons, 2006.
The first chapter is called: Doctors and Dishwashers: How the Nanny State Creates Good Jobs for Those at the Top. In it we read: "This larger group of professionals has constructed and promoted the key myth of the conservative nanny state; they have succeeded where others have failed because they have the ability and education to succeed in the 21st century world economy. The problem with the others that have fallen behind---the autoworkers, the shop clerks, the restaurant workers etc.---is that they don't have the skills needed to compete. The remedy of the nanny state conservatives is to either tell the losers to be more like them and work harder (the Republican nanny state conservatives) or express sympathy and throw a few dollars at vocational education and trade adjustment assistance (the Democratic nanny state conservatives). The key to a real solution is to move beyond the conservative nanny state mythology" (4).
Next paragraph: "It doesn't take sophisticated economics to understand how some professionals have fared well in recent decades, even as most workers have done poorly; it is a simple story of supply and demand. The rules of the nanny state are structured to increase the supply of less-skilled labor, while restricting the supply of some types of highly skilled professionals. With more supply, wages fall---the situation of less-skilled workers. With less supply, wages rise---the situation of highly skilled professionals" (5).
Doctors, for example
Dean Baker wrote: "In 1997 Congress tightened the licensing rules for foreign doctors entering the country because of concerns by the American Medical Association and other doctors' organizations that the inflow of foreign doctors was driving down their salaries. As a result, the number of foreign medical residents allowed to enter the country each year was cut in half" (6).
Anyway, its worth going to the website and reading that first chapter carefully. But here's the point: This issue of immigration and supposed job theft is very complicated because the U.S. government actually removed immigration restrictions that had been perceived to have been racist (the 1965 law that overturned the highly restrictive 1921 law) but maintained immigration restrictions---and even strengthened them---based on socioeconomic class.
Do you follow me? Immigration restrictions that related to race were removed by the United States government, thereby contributing to a situation that has us discussing "illegal immigration into the U.S." and "the theft of American jobs" by undocumented workers; while leaving in place and in fact augmenting immigration restrictions based on class.
See how polarizing that dichotomy is?
1. For example, one cannot ask (Why can't the U.S. government do the same thing for native-born American semi-skilled and unskilled workers that it does for the aforementioned white collar professionals?) without being accused of being called small-minded racist xenophobes?
2. Its hard to ask (Why can't the U.S. government subject native-born American white collar workers to the same market-driven rules of supply and demand by bringing in lower waged foreign counterparts to compete for those positions---in the same way that manual workers are subjected to "the market"?) without being accused of fomenting "class warfare."
I'll leave it there. Thank you so much for reading.
1. Retrieved 12/12/2014 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Immigration_and_Nationality_Act_of_1965
2. Harvey, David. The Enigma of Capital and the Crises of Capitalism. Oxford University Press, 2010. 14
A scholar I would refer to as a political geographer, David Harvey, wrote:
"The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, which abolished national-origin quotas, allowed US capital access to the global surplus population (before only Europeans and Caucasians were privileged). In the late 1960s the French government was subsidizing the import of labour from North Africa, the Germans were hauling in the Turks, the Swedes were bringing in the Yugoslavs, and the British were drawing upon the inhabitants of their past empire."
3. Online book---Baker, Dean. The Conservative Nanny State: How the Wealthy Use the Government to Stay Rich and Get Richer. Creative Commons, 2006. This is the basic premise of Chapter One of the book, titled: Doctors and Dishwashers: How the Nanny State Creates Good Jobs for Those at the Top.
4. ibid, (chapter 1, paragraph 4)
5. ibid (chapter 1, paragraph 5)
6. ibid, (chapter 1, paragraph 12)
If you're interested, here is the Dean Baker book: http://deanbaker.net/images/stories/documents/cns.html
And, if you're interested, I covered some of this material in a little more detail, in another essay