We like to keep this undocumented issue real simple so anyone can digest it. “Illegal aliens” are sneaking across our borders, taking our jobs, and stealing our public benefits. And they won’t learn English!
But it’s not really that simple. There are a lot of factors to consider when thinking about undocumented persons. An aspect of the issue that’s almost never discussed is the cost of eliminating undocumented workers. The reason so many industries depend on them is that they work much more cheaply than legal American workers. I’m not going to pass judgment on that, merely stating the fact.
If we make it more difficult for undocumented workers, we need to be prepared to pay a lot more for food, lawn care, house cleaning, construction, hotel stays, and much more. In Seattle, where I’m from, the roofing industry was heavily dependent on Brazilian undocumented workers. If you got your roof fixed or redone it was likely done by the Brazilians.
Besides food you yourself probably utilize illegal labor in some way if you stop to think about it, maybe a nanny, the guys who work on your yard, or the crew that painted your house. If not that, you’ve likely used roads or buildings which were built more cheaply using undocumented labor.
But They’re Sucking Up Public Benefits!
Ah, but won’t the higher prices be made up for by what we save on our taxes for all those benefits they’re sucking up? That’s pretty much a myth. An undocumented person is typically only entitled to emergency room care. Most other benefits require them to be legal residents. Yes, there is fraud, as there is with legal Americans, and we should work to reduce fraud, but it’s not big numbers.
If we eliminate undocumented workers, we’re going to face much higher costs and those will primarily hit our poorer folks, as food is a bigger percentage of their overall income. Even if there are tax savings, our poorer groups are not going to see a significant decrease in their tax expenditure.
The Employers Are To Blame Too
It’s certainly not the undocumented’s fault. They come here because even the low pay is better than the no pay they were getting back at home. Many were watching their families go hungry back in their native countries.
Here they work in industries like agriculture which depend on cheap labor to bring in the crops. There’s a funny song and dance that’s done so that farmers can continue to use undocumented labor, a little wink wink look-the-other-way that’s been in place for years.
If we require farmers to use only American labor, our food prices will increase dramatically. Farmers deprived of cheap labor to bring in their crops will likely get hurt too.
They’re Taking American Jobs
This again is pretty much just another myth. They’ve tried to get American workers to take those jobs. TakeOurJobs.org ran a promotion trying to woo more American workers to the agriculture industry. Out of 90,000 folks who asked for information, only 12 Americans actually applied. Americans don’t typically want to work in those conditions. We’d have to crank the salaries way up to attract them, and that turns into higher food prices.
Building a Wall
Another myth is that we could build a wall and keep them out. 1/3 to 1/2 of undocumented persons come here legally and then simply overstay their visas. They don’t sneak across a border, then enter via airplane or ship, and then they just don’t leave.
Building a wall might reduce the numbers a bit but given the other forms of entry, it might just shift the methods a bit.
About the Language
It’s popular to say they don’t want to learn our language. But learning a language is incredibly difficult and requires hours of time invested. Many undocumented people simply don’t have that kind of free time. That’s been the case with immigrants in the past, where the first generation doesn’t learn English (or at least not very well) but subsequent generations are more fully integrated linguistically. Try learning a language well enough to speak it without embarrassment. Even a relatively easy language like Spanish is difficult to pick up, and English is notoriously messy.
To Sum It All Up
This is a complex issue and there are many players. As long as there is an economic incentive to come here we will be faced with an influx. And as long as there are folks here who want stuff cheap (e.g. everyone) we will probably maintain that economy.
I don’t have the answers, but I do know there are a lot more factors than are typically discussed.