What Trump didn’t tell you about undocumented immigrants


Perhaps one of the most prevalent myths in politics today is that undocumented immigrants are harmful to the economy. Undocumented immigration became a huge source of contention in 2016. President Donald Trump railed against supposedly uncontrolled undocumented immigration, which supposedly allowed undocumented immigrants to steal jobs from American workers, reap the benefits of American welfare without paying taxes and cut down the cost of labor by working under the table.

The problem is that none of these claims are true, or even logically believable. The U.S. currently has a labor shortage, undocumented immigrants take jobs that most Americans refuse to do and undocumented immigrants may actually be a net contributor to the tax base.

According to the Pew Research Center, in 2014 there were eight million working undocumented immigrants in the American labor market, representing five percent of the total labor force. For countries with aging populations, it makes more sense to encourage immigration rather than reduce it.

The number of Americans ages 65 and older is projected to more than double from 46 million today to over 98 million by 2060, and the 65-and-older age group’s share of the total population will rise to nearly 24 percent from 15 percent. It is in this demographic context that the value of undocumented immigrant labor becomes apparent. In 2014, undocumented immigrants made up 24 percent of maids and cleaners, an occupation which will demand 112,000 more workers by 2024.

Undocumented immigrants are vital to agriculture. According to the Department of Labor’s National Agricultural Workers Survey, 46 percent of migrant farmworkers are undocumented immigrants. A 2015 study commissioned by the Center for North American Studies suggested that if federal labor and immigration policies reduced the number of foreign-born workers by 50 percent, more than 3,500 dairy farms would close, leading to a big drop in milk production and a spike in prices of about 30 percent. Total elimination of immigrant labor would increase milk prices by 90 percent. The dairy industry is one of the most dangerous jobs in the U.S. economy.

Rather than taking jobs from ordinary Americans, undocumented immigrants are taking jobs that most Americans are unwilling to do. A 2011 case study from the Partnership for a new American Economy tracked employment on farms in North Carolina. The North Carolina Growers Association listed 6,500 jobs.

Only 268 American workers applied, and 245 were hired. Of this group, 163 showed up on the first day of work, and only seven made it to the end of the growing season. Of the Mexican workers who were hired, 90 percent made it to the end of the season.

In 2018, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that the month of April closed with 6.7 million job openings. The Federal Reserve reported that labor shortages in combination with the need to pay higher wages are “restraining growth” in industries such as manufacturing, transportation and construction.

These segments of the economy are vital to economic growth. The ability to produce and transport goods is what made America an industrial superpower. Undocumented immigrants are a net payer into taxes which provide for social services. In 2014, undocumented immigrants paid 11.7 billion in combined state and local taxes.

Undocumented immigrants pay into Social Security. According to the Institute on Taxation and Economic policy, the most recent IRS data from 2015 suggests that about half of undocumented workers file income tax returns. The IRS receives 4.4 million income tax returns from workers who do not have Social Security numbers, which includes a large number of undocumented immigrants.

As more Americans age out of the workforce, the only way to save Social Security without allowing new immigrants to pay into the system will be to raise taxes, something that political gridlock in Washington has proved unwilling to do time and time again.