In a new and fatally flawed report, the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) attempts to blame immigrants for virtually any unemployment among less-educated native-born workers anywhere in the United States, in both good economic times and bad. The report, entitled From Bad to Worse, deluges the reader with data from 2007 and 2010 on employment and unemployment among native-born and foreign-born workers, and then insinuates from this—without providing any evidence—that immigrant workers simply must be taking jobs away from the native-born. Specifically, the report juxtaposes the “estimated seven to eight million illegal immigrants holding jobs” in the United States with the millions of less-educated native-born Americans who are now out of work, or who were out of work before the recession, and concludes that “if the United States were to enforce immigration laws and encourage illegal immigrants to return home, we would seem to have an adequate supply of less-educated natives to replace” them.

This is typical of the CIS approach to virtually every topic: start with a data dump illustrating the seemingly dire plight of the native-born, and then rely upon empirically unsupported rhetoric to blame immigrants for the problem. It is the approach CIS used earlier this year to incorrectly explain teen unemployment, for instance, as well as the approach adopted in its last report scapegoating immigrants for the unemployment experienced by less-educated workers in the midst of a recession. As with its predecessors, this latest CIS report on immigration and unemployment overlooks a few salient points:

  • Foreign-born workers tend to complement, rather than compete with, native-born workers. As a new report from the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco points out, “immigrants expand the U.S. economy’s productive capacity, stimulate investment, and promote specialization that in the long run boosts productivity,” and “there is no evidence that these effects take place at the expense of jobs for workers born in the United States.” Among “less-educated workers, those born in the United States tend to have jobs in manufacturing or mining, while immigrants tend to have jobs in personal services and agriculture.” Moreover, even “within industries and specific businesses, immigrants and U.S.-born workers tend to specialize in different job tasks,” with native-born workers taking higher-paid jobs that require better English-language skills than many immigrant workers possess.
  • Native-born and foreign-born workers tend to live in different places. According to a recent report from the Congressional Budget Office, 62.5% of foreign-born workers lived in six states as of 2009: California, New York, Florida, Texas, New Jersey, and Illinois. In contrast, 66.2 percent of native-born workers lived in the other 44 states. Many unemployed natives would have to travel half way across the country to reach the low-wage jobs currently held by unauthorized immigrants.
  • Workers are also consumers who create jobs. Removing millions of unauthorized workers from the country also means removing millions of unauthorized consumers and the jobs they support through their purchasing power. If all the unauthorized consumers in the United States disappeared, many businesses that depend heavily upon their purchases would go under and the U.S. economy would lose jobs overall.
  • Enforcement-only “solutions” to unauthorized immigration have been tried—and failed. The federal government has been attempting for at least a decade and a half, in the words of the CIS report, “to enforce immigration laws and encourage illegal immigrants to return home,” but without success. Tens of billions of dollars have been spent on immigration enforcement at the border and in the interior of the country, the error-prone “E-Verify” electronic employment-verification system has been dramatically expanded, and state and local police have been enlisted as immigration-enforcement agents. Yet none of these measures has had a significant impact on the number of unauthorized immigrants living in the United States. In fact, the only thing that has slowed unauthorized immigration in recent years is the shrinking of the U.S. job market as a result of the current recession.

While the CIS report contains an impressive number of tables and statistics, it comes up a tad short in terms of analysis. Most strikingly, the report perpetuates the economically flawed argument that every job held by an immigrant is a job lost by a native-born worker. In addition, CIS calls for more immigration enforcement as a means of curbing unauthorized immigration, but without mentioning that the federal government has been unsuccessfully trying to do just that for well over 15 years. In the final analysis, this latest offering from CIS provides no useful guide for reforming the broken U.S. immigration system or rejuvenating the beleaguered U.S. economy.

Photo by Jez Page.