Immigration "Facts" Debunked

With so many groups having self-serving interests in the rise in US immigration the chance of getting impartial information is slight. Here is my attempt to provide some data, along with my personal opinions.

First lets discuss two of the popular themes:

  • "Immigrants are taking jobs away from Americans."
    If this is true than why isn't the unemployment rate going up? And how is it that most new immigrants find work? There may be a changing dynamic in the work force, but this mantra doesn't explain it. The data shows that the unemployment rate various over time, but recent changes in immigration don't correlate with the trends. This will be shown below.

    Unemployment Rate

  • "Immigrants are pushing the cost of labor down."
    Immigration has only risen sharply within the last 10 years. NAFTA started in 1994.

    The stagnation in the wages and earnings of the working class has been going on since before Reagan. The rise in the wealth of the top 5% has grown significantly in the past 20 years. The lower sectors have not.

  • "Securing our borders will stop illegal immigration."
    The INS estimates that roughly 40% of the illegal immigrants living in the U.S., originally entered the country on non-immigrant visas (such as H-1B, L-1, etc.). These non-immigrants have become "illegal" immigrants by overstaying their visas. These people didn't jump a fence or swim across the Rio Grande, they flew in and entered legally. Building a wall won't change this. Tracking these people would require a national identity card that would have to be presented before many transactions could be completed. In much of the world, for example, one has to surrender one's passport when booking a hotel room or register with the police as a foreign visitor. Is that what people mean by securing the border?

My take on the issues:

  • NAFTA has caused economic dislocation in Mexico which is forcing more people to migrate. Imports of corn have decimated the local agricultural sector and the brief rise in outsourced US manufacturing has ceased as these factories have now moved on to Asia.

    (A more recent paper covers this issue in more detail USDA Study (PDF))

  • The decline in unionization is what is responsible for the loss of earnings power. When union participation dropped wages stagnated. There is a delay in the effect caused by the existence of multi-year labor contracts.

    Countries which still have strong unionization show less disparity in the distribution of wealth.

  • Societies in decline find scapegoats to blame for their problems. These are always the weak, and never the cause of the problem. They are a good distraction, however.

The real issue is not immigration, but the loss of political and economic power by the working and middle classes. One can argue whether the US as a whole is in economic decline, or whether we have just become economically imbalanced. Whichever it is, immigration is not the problem. Poor economic, social and industrial policies are.

Other essays of mine on related issues:

Wealth Distribution

Do we need unions?

Sources used in this essay:
Pew Trust Paper (PDF)
Oxfam Paper (PDF)
Misery Index

Moral: Blaming the victim is a tried and true way to obscure the issues.

Click here to see all my essays in context.

If you have any comments or for further discussions email me at
Copyright © 2006 Robert D Feinman
Feel free to use the ideas, but the words are mine.