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The zero-sum game of immigration economics

Illegal immigrants take, but they also give
 
 
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In the last week, I've been called a corporate whore, a Bush lover, an elitist and an idiot for supporting compassionate immigration policy.

Most readers who disagree with my pro-immigrant stance have argued that illegal immigration is bad for American workers and the U.S. economy. One man from Sedona, Arizona emailed me to say that illegal immigrants had "taken his job" -- something that is probably not uncommon in border areas. For workers in his position I have sympathy and can understand his personal feelings about any legislation that would provide a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants. (The Sedona reader said he was in favor of a guest worker program.)

However, on a macro level of economics where numbers are unsympathetic, the job losses by some folks in particular industries and regions are part of a zero-sum equation. NPR Economics Correspondent Adam Davidson explained this yesterday on Weekend Edition -- you can listen here. When asked if illegal immigrants take away jobs and hurt the U.S. economy, this was his reply:

ADAM DAVIDSON: Well, of course if you go to certain places and look at certain industries, yes. Whether its gardening work in Los Angeles or construction work in Miami, there are sectors that are almost entirely done by illegal immigrants. But there's been an awful lot of study by academics, and when they look at the overall U.S. economy, they come to the conclusion that illegal immigration has virtually no impact on unemployment rates.

The other thing is that illegal immigrants spend money in the U.S. They get haircuts, they go to the movies, they buy food. They do lots of things that create a demand on businesses that creates new jobs.

And so when you add those two things up, it seems that, overall, illegal immigrants do not take jobs away from Americans.

Maria Luisa Tucker is a staff writer at AlterNet and associate editor of the Columbia Journal of American Studies.