Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Undocumented Immigrant Reality

Mark Hyman, the man who equated undocumented immigrants coming to America to find jobs to support their families with al-Qaeda terrorists, offers us a jejune “analysis” of the illegal immigration problem by arguing that it’s analogous to a family breaking into your house and sponging off you. For good measure, Hyman includes images that suggest members of this family are thieves, lazy slackers, and inattentive parents (our man Mark is not a subtle one).

Of the many, many things this metaphor misses and distorts, some of the more important are the fact that undocumented male immigrants actually have a higher rate of employment than native-born Americans, that undocumented immigrants contribute huge amounts of money to programs like Social Security while not getting anything in return, and that they fill jobs that need to be filled but which are difficult to find Americans to fill.

In fact, studies suggest that undocumented immigrants may very well be a net economic plus for the country. (Economics is hardly the only valid metric to use when discussing immigration, but it’s the one most often used by the folks who want to build fences and arrest people for offering charity to undocumented immigrants.) While studies on this topic are contradictory (usually based on who’s doing the research) and hazy in their conclusions by definition of the undocumented status of the immigrants themselves, the one thing that’s fairly clear is that undocumented immigrants are not simply a “drain” on the economy. Whether they are a net plus or minus is debatable, but the fact that it is debatable says quite a lot about the seriousness, or lack thereof, of the issue.

And one of my favorite statistics involving illegal immigration is that the Bush administration has dramatically lowered the number of undocumented immigrants crossing over from Mexico (at least based on the number of apprehensions made along the border). How did Bush pull this off? By driving the economy into the ground. As
this graph shows, apprehensions of undocumented immigrants at the border dropped precipitously (along with the economy) when Bush took office. The recession and the jobless recovery have kept a damper on illegal immigration, an understandable cause/effect relationship, given that the whole reason undocumented immigrants come to America is to work.

But I digress. Back to Hyman’s analogy. I suggest an alternative analogy, one that’s more reflective of the reality of illegal immigration.

Imagine for a moment. You walk into your office one morning to find a man waiting to see you. He says he has come from a long way away to ask you to hire him for a job.

He says you can pay him whatever you think is fair. He also volunteers to take on whatever your worst job is—the job that everyone bitches about having to do (that is when you can get anyone to do it at all). He’ll work as many hours as you need. He volunteers to pay into the company’s retirement plan, but doesn’t expect to collect anything from it himself. All he wants is a chance to show what he can do. He hopes that one day, you might ask him to become an official employee of the company. But even if you don’t, he’ll continue to work for whatever you want to give him.

You point out that even if you take advantage of his generous offer and pay him far less than what you probably *should* be paying someone to do his job, it will still mean an expense that will come out of the company’s profits, and ultimately from your own workers’ salaries.

He says, yes, this might be true, but that by hiring him, your company will not simply add to your payroll, but to your productivity. This could offset the apparent cost of hiring him. Moreover, he says that he and his family are also customers; they buy quite a bit of the product you manufacture. Thus, much of his wages will come back to the company in the form of sales.

This all seems quite odd to you. You finally ask, “What in the world would make you come all this way to sell your services so cheaply?”

He answers, “I’ve heard that you are the best company to work for, that you treat your workers well. I’ve been told that you believe that any employee, no matter how lowly, can prosper if they are willing to work hard. I want that chance. And, most of all, I understand that you and everyone else who works here came to this company just as I have today. I hoped that you would give me the same opportunity that you yourself were given long ago.”

A rather silly story, huh? That’s the situation of the undocumented immigrant in a nutshell.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 5.06


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