Sunday, February 24, 2013

This is America? Migrant Workers Benefit our Economy

"This is America. I don't want my tomato picked by a Mexican. I want it picked by an American, then sliced by a Guatemalan, and served by a Venezuelan in a spa where a Chilean gives me a Brazilian."

These comical words were spoken by talk show host, and comedian Steven Colbert in front of Congress in May of last year. While our class has explored the theme of immigration through our reading of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz, many politicians disfavor Birthright Citizenship with recent legislation.

 In the United States, any person born on U.S soil is automatically considered a naturalized citizen of the United States. This is illustrated by the latin phrase jus soli, or "Birth by soil." Many argue that this allows illegal immigrants to flock into the U.S just to give birth and stay in America with their children. While many politicians complain about illegal migrant work, I believe they are necessary to our country's prosperity.

First off, Lower wage workers, like illegal immigrants, perform a vital function in the American economy.  According to Chris Isidore, CNN money senior writer, “economists say that if immigrant workers weren’t present, rather than native-born workers getting better wages to do the same jobs, many jobs done by immigrants might not get done at all”  Illegal immigrants are absolutely necessary for many jobs and products across the country that most people don’t even know, like lettuce.  Benjamin Powell, senior fellow at the Independent Institute, an Oakland-based think tank, says in 2004 after a crackdown on illegal immigration that hurt the lettuce industry, “To hire Americans to do it, they would have had to raise wages so far, it wouldn’t have been worth it for them... It caused less of a loss to leave the crop to rot.” 

These low wage workers provide large shares of employment in many fields like agriculture, where 80% of field workers are illegal immigrants.  Tamar Jacoby, president of Immigrationworks, says in a New York Times Article from 2011 that, “if unauthorized farm workers are expelled from the U.S. — [there will be] not just more expensive produce, but the collapse of American labor-intensive agriculture.”  To put a number on this horrifying image, according to the USDA, the agriculture industry in America as of 2010 is worth over 308 billion dollars.  Jacoby goes on to say, “According to economists, every farm job supports three to four others up and downstream in the local economy: from the people who make and sell fertilizer and farm machinery to those who work in trucking, food processing, grocery stores and restaurants.”  Illegal immigrants aren’t only completely responsible for the agriculture industry, but also up to 8% of our country’s employment, using statistics from the USDA.

Others may argue that this is undermining cheap labor, but the way I see it, it is a mutually beneficial relationship. Many immigrants come to America seeking economic opportunities that weren't being met in their own country. It also proves to be beneficial to the US economy for the above reasons. What do you think? Are illegal immigrants, on net, a benefit or a burden to US society? Please share your opinions below


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