The new statistics are from the Pew Hispanic Center, one of the research organizations funded by the Pew Charitable Trust. Based on their ongoing analysis of the census data and other sources, they estimate that this month (or at the latest, some time in the next couple of months) the United States will pass the twelve million mark on in-country illegal immigrants. They estimate that 7,200,000 of them have jobs, which is to say, they make up 5% of the American workforce. One out of every twenty jobs is being filled by someone with no minimum wage, no health and safety protection, no labor law protection. In 1999, the last year of the Clinton administration, 417 companies were cited for hiring illegal immigrants. Last year? Three. Rather obviously the Bush administration has deliberately stopped even trying to require that American jobs be filled by people who can legally work inside the US.
There are huge and unsettled arguments about whether or not the Social Security taxes and withheld income taxes (on the few of them who actually work in jobs that don't pretend that they're "independent contractors" and therefore have such taxes withheld) offset the economic costs of treating them in our emergency rooms, educating their kids in our schools, and policing their neighborhoods. The President, the Big Business lobbying groups like the US Chamber of Commerce and the Business Round Table, and a few pro-illegal-immigrant groups say they do. Lou Dobbs, a bunch of independent economists, and I say that they don't. Realistically, we can't possibly know. If we don't even know where they are, how can we possibly know what their balance of tax payments/costs is? Frankly, that's not the cost that I want to talk about. I could talk about the toxic effect on American workplace safety and product safety of having that many employees who can't assert any rights without getting deported, but that's a point that needs no further elaboration, I think, and is only likely to be persuasive to the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party. No, I want to talk about something rather nearer and dearer to my heart as a Hellenic Reconstructionist, that also happens to be something that everybody in America ought to be able to understand, and that's the effect they and their citizenship status have on communities ... and then I can talk about a Republican-backed proposal in the Georgia state legislature that is the first smart thing I've seen proposed to be done about it in years.
Whether you like it or not, we do need more immigrants. American birthrates have dropped to the point where if we don't replenish our pool of younger workers, the economy will collapse under the weight of too many retirees and not nearly enough workers. Immigration is always how we've done that. You might well worry about them taking away jobs. There'd be a grain of truth in your worry. 5% of all workers are illegal? What a coincidence, the official unemployment rate is around 5%. But legal, permanent immigrants create jobs. They find a new, home city and start saving up for a house, putting money in American banks to invest in American home construction and American job creation. Then they buy inexpensive houses and repair them, maintaining the housing market and even more importantly stabilizing neighborhoods that existing generations of Americans no longer want. They then have to fill those homes with all the necessities that didn't cross the border with them, everything from couches to refrigerators, from clothes to toys to a pantry full of food. Some of those things are made by Americans, and all of them are sold to them by Americans. The property taxes they pay on their new homes pay for our schools and our police; the sales taxes they pay on the necessities of life they came here to be able to afford pay for our many essential government services. What's more, once they make that investment in a house, they're invested in their new home country. Nobody is more fanatic about maintaining the appearance of their neighborhood and keeping their kids out of legal trouble than new, permanent immigrants, because that house in that neighborhood is all they have, not something they can lightly walk away from. They form churches; they volunteer in their neighborhoods; and boy, oh, boy do they vote.
Illegal immigrants, on the other hand, come here specifically knowing that they can't settle down, and with no intention of spending any of their money inside this country that they don't have to. They leave their families in their "real" countries. In order to maximize the amount they can send home, they live as cheaply as possible, buying nearly nothing and packing huge numbers of people into spaces plainly inadequate for them. (A problem we've had in this very apartment complex in the last year; a something like 12 person illegal contractor crew crammed into a one bedroom apartment. The noise, and the wear and tear on the apartment complex and the neighborhood around it, were unbearable.) This destroys the local housing stock, overworks the local police, and tears up the neighborhood around them ... which bothers them not one bit, because being illegals, they know they're going to have to move along any day now, anyway, and who cares what destruction they leave in their wake?
So thank Prime that the state legislatures in Arizona and Georgia are preparing to heavily tax those remittances they're sending back to their home countries, or already doing so, because this remittances trade is doing us as a nation no favors at all. It's making our porous, unsafe, insecure and increasingly violent borders even more so. It's tearing up the neighborhoods that the money is flowing out of. It's providing the demand that makes the huge pool of degradable, disposable, and routinely victimized helpless illegal workers available to the relatively small number of industries that exploit, rob, and frequently kill them. And the money is propping up corrupt, despotic, racist, and/or at best inefficient governments throughout the Third World, by bleeding out of those countries the hardest workers, the ones who ought to be over there building up their home economies by working hard and creating their own businesses and jobs, to the point where they can afford to be good trading partners with us. The employers who take advantage of these people need to be jailed, but that's not going to happen under this administration or any right-wing Democrat administration. But if we make it unaffordable for them to illegally live here, suction the life out of our neighborhoods, and ship it in the form of cash overseas, then maybe we can stem the tide. Then, when the resentment over immigration has had time to cool down, we can get about the business of finding everybody overseas who wants to become an American and is ready to work hard to do it, and put those people to work here where we need them -- as new American citizens.