I happened to read a little of today’s Austin American-Statesman while I was eating breakfast this morning. Today, the paper’s Politifact Texas column examined the following claim by Rep. Lamar Smith:

“Illegal immigration and unemployment are directly linked,” Smith said on the House floor July 1. “There are 15 million unemployed Americans in the United States and 8 million illegal immigrants in the labor force. We could cut unemployment in half simply by reclaiming the jobs taken by illegal workers.”
Smith later said his assessment reflects “simple logic.”
“If our immigration laws were enforced, illegal immigrants will not be able to get or hold jobs,” he told us in an e-mail, “and they would be available for citizens and legal immigrants.”

I’m always skeptical of appeals to common sense, as they are often oversimplified at best. This claim is a good example. The Politifact journalist talked to several people who are knowledgeable in applicable fields, including some from conservative think-tanks. The consensus is that deporting illegal workers would result in more legal jobs over the long term, but would not result in a short-term one-to-one replacement, thus reducing unemployment as Rep. Smith claims. Factors include:

  • Many jobs held by illegal immigrants are ‘under the table.’ If employers had to pay legal wages and taxes to get that work done, they would be able to hire fewer legal replacement workers
  • There may not be a big enough pool of appropriate legal workers in places where many illegal immigrants hold jobs (think: the meat-packing towns of the Midwest).
  • The skills of the (legally) unemployed don’t match up with the skills necessary for most of these jobs currently held by illegal immigrants. Most unemployed have much higher skills than the mostly manual-labor jobs held by illegal immigrants and would not take such jobs
Categories: Politics