Politics & Prose May 2006

Mexico Strikes Back

Unless it is stopped, the Mexican "Reconquista" could obliterate U.S. standards of fairness.

The Senate immigration bill not only does next to nothing to prevent roughly 400,000 illegal immigrants from entering the workforce every year; under a guest-worker program, it invites another 200,000 job-seekers a year to join them, and it sets in motion a rolling amnesty for many of the 10 to 12 million illegals here now. How will fifty years of massive low-wage immigration change the country? A society already more unequal than at any time since the 1920s will grow more starkly unequal as a helot class of workers with no labor rights pushes down the wages of poorer American citizens—brown, black, and white. Already average wages are as much as $1,500 lower owing to immigration. Estimates of the net cost to the taxpayer of providing services to poor immigrants  run to as much as $22 billion annually—$3 billion in California alone.

Since 2000, 1.5 million Americans have dropped out of the labor force, with the fall-off steeper in states with heavy concentrations of immigrants. That figure gives the lie to claims that we have a shortage of workers. If labor force participation rates had remained constant, 1.4 million adult native citizens with high school diplomas and 450,000 high school dropouts would be employed today. Instead, they have been priced out of the labor market by the 1.6 million legal and illegal immigrants with only a high school education or lower who entered the workforce in those years. More immigration will price more native citizens out—and especially additions to the 5.8 million illegals holding American jobs now. A Center for Immigration Studies survey of 473 occupations found that fully 17 million less-lucky Americans work in jobs with a "high concentration of immigrants": construction laborers, dishwashers, janitors, painters. As Steven A. Camarota, the author of the report, points out, that figure shows that "It is simply incorrect to say that immigrants only do jobs natives don't want."

Anyone who cares about the life-chances of our most vulnerable countrymen and women must want to see illegal immigration be curtailed and guest-worker programs limited to highly-skilled guest workers. As experts have long argued, to end illegal immigration you've got to hire the personnel to enforce the laws against hiring illegal immigrants. If employers had to pay millions in fines, they would stop hiring illegals. Word would get back to Mexico: There are few jobs available in the U.S. Illegal immigration would not stop, but over time it would slow significantly.

There is a reason the laws are not enforced: lobbying—that is, campaign contributions—by industries that exploit illegal immigrants. The result is the transfer of those industries' estimated $11 to $22 billion annual net expenses onto the taxpayer. Under the Clinton Administration, 8,000 employers suspected of hiring illegals were investigated annually; under Bush, only 2,000.  In all of 2004, only three employers paid fines for hiring illegals. In 1998, when the INS subpoenaed the personnel records of all the meatpacking plants in Nebraska as part of an initiative known as “Operation Vanguard,” they quickly discovered 4,000 illegals. The meat lobby motivated Senator Chuck Hagel to raise hell with the INS. In the end, the official who thought up "Operation Vanguard" was persuaded to seek early retirement, and the INS stopped enforcing the law. In all of 2004, only three employers paid fines for hiring illegals.

Presented by

Jack Beatty is a senior editor at The Atlantic Monthly and the editor of Colossus: How the Corporation Changed America, which was named one of the top ten books of 2001 by Business Week. His previous books are The World According to Peter Drucker (1998) and The Rascal King: The Life and Times of James Michael Curley (1992). More

Jack Beatty"The Atlantic Monthly is an American tradition; since 1857 it has helped to shape the American mind and conscience," senior editor Jack Beatty explains. "We are proud of that tradition. It is the tradition of excellence for which we were awarded the National Magazine Award for General Excellence. It is the tie that binds us to our past. It is a standard we won't betray."

Beatty joined The Atlantic Monthly as a senior editor in September of 1983, having previously worked as a book reviewer at Newsweek and as the literary editor of The New Republic.

Born, raised, and educated in Boston, Beatty wrote a best-selling biography of James Michael Curley, the Massachusetts congressman and governor and Boston mayor, which Addison-Wesley published in 1992 to enthusiastic reviews. The Washington Post said, "The Rascal King is an exemplary political biography. It is thorough, balanced, reflective, and gracefully written." The Chicago Sun-Times called it a ". . . beautifully written, richly detailed, vibrant biography." The book was nominated for a National Book Critics' Circle award.

His 1993 contribution to The Atlantic Monthly's Travel pages, "The Bounteous Berkshires," earned these words of praise from The Washington Post: "The best travel writers make you want to travel with them. I, for instance, would like to travel somewhere with Jack Beatty, having read his superb account of a cultural journey to the Berkshire Hills of western Massachusetts." Beatty is also the author of The World According to Peter Drucker, published in 1998 by The Free Press and called "a fine intellectual portrait" by Michael Lewis in the New York Times Book Review.

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