By Rosario Quiroz, Community Mobilization Intern
Immigrants are typically the scapegoats for various problems, ranging from increased rates of lawlessness to the lack of jobs in the American economy to the strain in the public education system. The immigration debate, a very heated one, tends to be one no one wants to engage in because while it is assumed that immigrants cause many problems, they still provide cheap, exploitable labor. While the federal government has yet to fully engage in the potentially explosive debate on what will be done to address the problem of millions of people living in the shadows, state governments have moved forward to take action, and the dominant sentiment is that undocumented immigrants are not wanted. Policies such as 287g, SB1070, and more recently, Secure Communities, claim to focus on targeting immigrants convicted of crimes.
But what are the actual payoffs of anti-immigrant policies? Do they achieve their stated goal of lowering the crime rate? Are they increasing the number of available jobs for American citizens? Recent studies suggest that perhaps they’re not, and in actuality, may be costing American society. An extensive University of Virginia study analyzed various aspects associated with a $3 million immigration policy in Prince County, Virginia. This policy, implemented in 2007, initially asked officers to check the immigration status of those believed to be in the United States illegally, but was modified in 2008 due to its controversy to check the immigration status for arrestees.
The study found that the Latino population, both documented and undocumented, dropped by 22 percent during the implementation period of the policy, but warned against looking at the policy as the driving force behind those numbers because of other compounding factors, including the economic downturn and a decrease in jobs within the construction sector. The more general intentions of the program however, were to lower crime and spending on social services for undocumented immigrants, which according to the study, were not significantly impacted by the policy. There was however, a significant decrease of aggravated assaults, attributed to a combination of “reduced victimizations of undocumented immigrants as well as reduced crime reporting among them.”
In Arizona, a study found that not only did the anti-immigrant law cost the state millions of dollars; the state is facing financial repercussions as a result. A study for the Center for American Progress, conducted by consulting firm Elliott D. Pollack & Co., found that more than $250 million were lost for the conference and convention industry.
The breakdown of that figure includes the elimination of more than 2,700 jobs, the loss $86.5 million in wages for Arizona workers, a decline in tax revenue for the state by $10 million and $141 million in spending by conference attendees.
A study in Long Island debunks certain myths that immigrants are a drain on the economy. The study found that the immigrant population of Long Island has made a disproportionately large contribution to the economy. Further, they also found that few American workers had been displaced from their jobs as a result of the expansion of the documented and undocumented immigrant workforce, despite the large increase in the immigrant population, which increased from 277,600 to 449,000 between 1990 and 2007. There has however, been a rise in ethnic and class tensions, and an increase (6.2 to 7.8%) in the unemployment rate of black men with no more than a high school degree was observed. However, the latter could be and has been attributed to various other factors in other communities, such as a loss of jobs in the manufacturing industry and a high rate of incarceration. Neither of those factors can be blamed on the immigrant community, but may in fact have more to do with the structural inequalities that have long been present in the United States. Nonetheless, the increase in unemployment of that population of black males was considered to be a concern in a time of rising immigration. The findings of the study on the impact of immigration on low-wage American workers have been criticized because it was conducted before the economic recession.
The study conducted in Arizona suggested that the findings of the economic repercussions were just scratching the surface, much like the findings for Prince County, Virginia because the numbers do not include the revenue lost by Hispanics who have fled the communities because of their anti-immigrant policies.
The Long Island study does not cite losses associated with the community, but it does mention the contribution of their economic output- 18% in 2007 despite composing only 16% of the overall population and generally earning less than American-born counterparts. Regardless, the anti-immigrant sentiment continues to rage and studies are being used to support both pro and anti-immigrant policies; after the study conducted by the University of Virginia, supervisors in Prince William County approved a statement that the county had implemented an effective immigration policy that should be expanded.
Our current state-based immigration policies seem to have unclear goals and even less clear outcomes. Perhaps the goal of immigration policy should be clarified- what’s the purpose? Is it to kick immigrants out? Or is it to protect and perhaps even bolster the United States economy? Who do anti-immigrant policies ultimately hurt?
By Rosario Quiroz, Community Mobilization Intern