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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    “Dollars and sense: Economy, native workers benefit from immigrant work”

    “”People are coming here to put food on the table, and they’re doing jobs Americans are not doing.”” – President Bush, speaking on immigration reform in Yuma yesterday

    Until recently, saying that immigrants are “”doing jobs Americans are not doing”” amounted to little more than political rhetoric. But now President Bush (and others who support comprehensive immigration reform) can say that the facts are on their side.

    In the often-caustic immigration debate, it’s not uncommon to hear activists railing against “”illegal aliens”” that are taking American jobs and draining the U.S. economy of its vitality. In fact, such hyperbole has been rather successful in obscuring the real debate long enough to retard any congressional action on immigration reform.

    Now, the real facts are beginning to surface, courtesy of some unusual suspects – a California economist and the Internal Revenue Service.

    In late February, Dr. Giovanni Peri, a University of California, Davis, economist, published a report that cuts against the typical immigration grain. By analyzing census data in California (home to 30 percent of foreign-born workers in the U.S.), Peri concluded that immigrants actually boost the wages of native workers.

    That kind of finding might seem counterintuitive, especially when one considers the fact that so much of the immigration debate has centered on the negative effects of immigration on Americans’ wages. But given a closer look, Peri’s findings make a great deal of sense.

    Essentially, Peri found that immigrants complement (rather than replace) native workers. Because most immigrants in California are unskilled laborers without a high school diploma, they end up filling in the gaps in California’s labor market, where most native workers have more than a high school diploma but less than a doctorate degree.

    “”In nontechnical terms,”” Dr. Peri writes, “”the increased supply of migrants is likely to put native workers in jobs where they perform supervisory, managerial, training, and in general interactive and coordinating tasks.”” Thus, with native workers supervising immigrants, Peri estimates that native workers actually experience an average wage boost of 4 percent.

    Complaints that illegal immigrants escape taxes are similarly easy to debunk, thanks to an IRS program started in 1996. Designed for people who don’t qualify for a Social Security Number (read: illegal immigrants), the program creates a special individual taxpayer identification number (ITIN) so that immigrants can still file tax returns.

    It’s already known that illegal immigrants inject some $7 billion a year into the Social Security trust, but now the IRS is estimating that ITIN filers have contributed $50 billion in taxes between 1996 and 2003.

    In his remarks yesterday, President Bush was remarkably ambiguous about his goals for immigration reform, and many are guessing that he will concede to anti-immigration lawmakers. Small wonder, really – with rock-bottom approval ratings and grumpy Republicans on Capitol Hill, Bush lacks the political capital to take a strong stance for sensible reform.

    Still, the facts and the numbers are on Bush’s side. He would do well to remind noisy activists that our economy and our workers benefit from the work of immigrants.

    Opinions Board
    Editorials are determined by the Wildcat opinions board and written by one of its members. They are Justyn Dillingham, Allison Hornick, Damion LeeNatali, Stan Molever, Nicole Santa Cruz and Matt Stone.

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