Racism runs deep

It’s time to put to rest an old myth about immigrants stealing U.S. citizens’ jobs.

Lately, it seems that many people are using pro-labor, nationalistic rhetoric to mask what basically amounts to racism. Here’s an example.

An Idaho newspaper recently reported that County Commissioner Robert Vasquez, shocked by 350 local students who skipped out of classes at 10:00 in the morning to attend recent protests over anti-immigration legislation, declared that they should all be expelled. Further, he stated that failure to expel them from school was “tacit approval of their activity.”

It should come as no surprise that Vasquez is seeking a Republican nomination in the 1st Congressional District race.

When the Vanguard recently reported on this story, Mr. Vasquez’s comments received rah-rah support: “Mr. Vasquez is 100 percent correct – [illegal aliens] are a scourge for our entire society – our wages are being depressed by over $200 billion a year because of these scab laborers – “

Or as another reader glibly put it, “Since most [of the immigrants] are from Mexico, they have no respect for law.”

Now, I don’t know about you, but these comments seem a little frothy and nationalistic to me. I have a feeling the authors of these comments are feeling a tad bit threatened, either by a perceived economic impact on their livelihoods, or simply by the sheer number of brown-skinned people who are willing to work hard for little money.

If these readers did some research, however, they would quickly realize that the threat isn’t economic. Quite coincidentally, I recently stumbled across research from individuals at Harvard, UC Berkley, UC Davis, and the University of Bologna that attempted to measure the actual economic impact on U.S. wages of legal and illegal immigration. The research done at these institutions actually shows that immigration only has a tiny negative impact on local wages, an impact that is essentially negligible when certain other factors are taken into account – such as an increase in capital prompted by cheap labor, the fact the immigrants are not perfect substitutes for native workers, and the fact that immigrant and native workers typically don’t compete directly with one another in the same sectors, for the same jobs.

Based on this research, it’s a little hard to see where that “$200 billion a year” of lost wages figure is coming from.

As an enthusiastic student of economics, my hunch has always been that a ready supply of cheap labor has done more for the quality of life in the United States, as a result of capital investment and business profits, than it has hurt workers in the U.S. This research confirms my hunch.

Besides which, I’ve always taken the somewhat elitist view that if workers in the U.S. cannot compete with immigrant workers and outperform them – in whatever job they have decided to seek – then they do not deserve the jobs themselves. Whatever happened to that good old-fashioned can-do American work ethic? We’ve become a nation of whiners. I work closely with several people from south of the border, and I would venture to guess that the average person in the United States could stand to learn a lot from their work ethic and uncomplaining attitude.


But if the economic impact of illegal immigration on U.S. wages is nil, what is it that these detractors (including Mr. Vasquez) are so afraid of? My guess is skin color.

I do share a sneaking suspicion with Mr. Vasquez that many of the students who attended the rallies and marches were simply doing it to get out of class. But even if this is so, isn’t it better that they get out of school on a social justice campaign, rather than simply to smoke a bowl?

I do believe in the rule of law, and I’m by no means a proponent of illegal immigration – if for no other reason than the American businesses that profit from illegal immigration doing so inhumanely and unfairly. I have heard plenty of stories of families, already indebted to a coyote guide for getting them across the border undetected, becoming indebted to a farmer when a condition of employment is to purchase food and goods from the farm itself at arbitrarily inflated prices. The working family is thus cemented in a form of indebted serfdom that is chillingly reminiscent of our nation’s economic foundation in black slavery.

Immigrants into our country should be treated to a fair, efficient citizenship application process and granted temporary work visas if their financial situation requires it. And current U.S. citizens, from landscapers to county commissioners, need to lay to rest their antiquated myth of the scary-brown-people-pillaging-our-country – or at least stop using it as a mask for their own racism.