Illegal Immigrants Not to Blame for Unemployment

Undocumented workers do the jobs American's won't do.

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Memo to Alabama: George W. Bush was right.

The former president, making a too-late push for what could have been a game-changing, bipartisan immigration reform law, noted that immigrants now here illegally make an important contribution to the economy. They do the jobs Americans can’t or won’t do.

Opponents disagreed, arguing that the undocumented workers were stealing jobs that should go to Americans—jobs like picking fruit for low wages in the hot sun. That was a questionable claim when the economy was better, but as Alabama farmers are now learning, Bush's statement is correct even now, when Americans are working for far less pay in jobs for which they are way over-qualified, just to have a job.

[Check out a roundup of editorial cartoons on immigration.]

In June Alabama passed a draconian immigration law—most of which is still in place, even while courts decide its constitutionality—that has driven many immigrants from the state. The result has not been a wave of grateful unemployed teachers and skilled workers, eager to be underpaid for difficult manual labor. Instead, at the San Francisco Chronicle reports:

The agriculture industry suffered the most immediate impact. Farmers said they will have to downsize or let crops die in the fields. As the season's harvest winds down, many are worried about next year.

In south Georgia, Connie Horner has heard just about every reason unemployed Americans don't want to work on her blueberry farm. It's hot, the hours are long, the pay isn't enough, and it's just plain hard.

"You can't find legal workers," Horner said. "Basically, they last a day or two, literally."

There are a number of lessons here. One is that there are surely elected officials and people in the business community who are using the recession to roll back all kinds of hard-fought rights for workers, cutting pay, eliminating job security, and drastically reducing or zeroing out benefits. Another is that while Americans don’t want to do farm work for low wages, they also don’t want to pay higher prices for food harvested by workers paid a decent salary. That’s not an argument for abusing undocumented workers, but it’s also not an argument for scaring foreigners out of the state so locals can have their bad jobs.

[Read about Obama's four ways forward on immigration.]

What’s remarkable is that some of the same people who scream about illegal immigrants taking American jobs here in the United States are quieter when it comes to foreigners abroad taking what could be American jobs here. Outsourcing of manufacturing jobs increases corporate profits, but adds to the unemployment rate domestically. Those are jobs American will do. If that anti-immigrant worker crowd is genuinely concerned about retaining U.S. jobs, they should focus on bringing back the outsourced jobs—not evacuating the foreign workers.