According to Camarota (2006) There are 10 million non-immigrant American workers without a high school diploma, 8% of the non-immigrant workforce. Between 2000 and 2005, 34% of new immigrants had less than a high school diploma and those people compete for jobs with less-educated Americans. Camarota estimates that this competition depresses the wages of people in occupations requiring little education (one fifth of all U.S. jobs) by more than 10%. George Borjas, a Harvard economist, estimates that between 1980 and 2000, the wages of non-immigrant men without a high school diploma were reduced 7.4% by immigration (Borjas, 2004). These are already the poorest, most economically vulnerable Americans, many of them minority members, and they also suffer increased unemployment as a result of the influx of unskilled immigrants.
Since the 1965 immigration act we have flooded our country with unskilled Third World labor. During a period when demand for unskilled labor has decreased, businessmen have used those immigrants, legal and illegal, to displace Americans, and particularly black Americans, from the workforce. Borjas et al., (2006) found that from 1960 to 2000, the employment rate for non-immigrant black men fell from 90% to 76%, and for those with less than a high school diploma, from 89% to 56%. We know the social tragedy that has resulted. Black people were not the only victims. For non-immigrant white men without a high school diploma employment dropped from 94% to 76%. Borjas estimates that 20 to 40% of the increase in unemployment among these non-immigrant Americans results from immigration, with the highest percentages pertaining to less-skilled black men.
For low-skill American workers, the labor market is very much a zero sum game in which immigrants, legal and illegal, take many of the scarce jobs Americans would otherwise have. Enforcement of immigration laws can ameliorate some of that harm by at least reducing the impact of illegal immigration. Enforcement imposes hardships on those who are caught, admittedly otherwise decent, hardworking people, but it allows other decent, hardworking people to provide for their families and recover their dignity. Smithfield Packing is a very large meat packing plant in North Carolina, where federal workplace enforcement led to the departure of 1500 Hispanic employees. Before, the plant’s workforce had been only 20% black, 2 years later it was 80% black, and the workers recently won union recognition (New York Times 12/13/08). A similar story was played out at Howard Industries, a manufacturer of heavy electrical equipment in Laurel, Mississippi (Associated Press, 2009). These are not pleasant or high paying jobs, but there are Americans of all races who need and value them.
The meatpacking industry clearly illustrates the deleterious effect of an almost unlimited supply of unskilled immigrant workers. After a troubled early history, the industry had come to pay middle-class wages and to offer safe and humane working conditions. Then, starting in the 1970s, the industry started to replace well-paid, often union workforces, with immigrant workers, first legal immigrants and now illegal immigrants, at much lower wages (Roy Beck, 1996). In 1980, meatpacking plants paid average wages of $22.31/hr (inflation-adjusted 2007 dollars). In 2007, average wages in the industry had fallen to $11.81, approximately half of what they had once been (Chicago Tribune 12/5/08). The Democratic party, which used to be the champion of the poorest American workers, has thrown them to the wolves. And, many Americans who work with their hands have been driven from the middle class into poverty. It’s a sad thing to see.
Camarota, Steven A., 2006. Immigration’s Impact on American Workers. Testimony Prepared for the House Judiciary Committee, August 29, 2006. http://www.cis.org/articles/2006/sactestimony082906.html
Borjas, G.J., 2004. Increasing the Supply of Labor Through Immigration: Measuring the Impact on Native-born Workers. Center for Immigration Studies. http://www.cis.org/articles/2004/back504.html
Borjas, G.J, Grogger, J and Hanson, G.H., 2006, Immigration and African-American employment opportunities: the response of wages, employment, and incarceration to labor supply shocks. National Bureau of Economic Research, working paper 12518 http://www.nber.org/papers/w12518
New York Times, 12/13/2008 Steven Greenhouse. After 15 Years North Carolina Plant Unionizes. http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/13/us/13smithfield.html?_r=1&pagewanted=print
Associated Press, 2009. January, 24, 2009. Immigration raid spotlights rift of have-nots. http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/28816336/
Beck, Roy, 1996. The Case Against Immigration: The moral, economic, social, and environmental reasons for reducing U.S. immigration back to traditional levels, chap. 6. W.W. Norton and Co., New York.
Chicago Tribune, 12/5/08 Henry C. Jackson. Raids could force meatpackers to raise worker pay http://archives.chicagotribune.com/2008/dec/05/news/chi-ap-ia-slaughterhouseeco