Nativist Group Blames Immigrants for Unemployment and Low Wages

The Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) on Tuesday released a report, Amnesty and the American Worker, which recycles a number of discredited claims about the supposedly negative impact that immigrants have on U.S. workers and the U.S. economy. According to FAIR, unauthorized immigration has “put Americans out of work and reduced wage levels for all workers across broad sectors of the economy.” The FAIR report also claims that granting legal status to currently unauthorized immigrants would be a drain on the U.S. economy because newly legalized immigrants would qualify for tax credits. FAIR ignores the fact that there is no correlation between immigration and unemployment in the United States—that immigration has provided a small wage boost to most native-born workers and helped “grow” the economy—and that newly legalized immigrants would earn higher wages and therefore spend more in U.S. businesses and pay more in all kinds of taxes.

The FAIR report neglects to mention that the highest unemployment rates are found in locales with relatively few immigrants. The reason for this is simple: immigrants tend to go where the jobs are. Nor does the FAIR report mention that, because immigrant and native-born workers “complement” each other in education and skills, thereby increasing the productivity of native-born workers, immigration has generally increased wages for the native-born. The FAIR report also ignores the role that immigrants play as consumers who help keep many U.S. businesses afloat and who generally increase the size of the economy through their purchases of goods and services, and through the income, business, sales, and property tax revenue they generate. Given these omissions, it’s not surprising that the FAIR report fails to recognize the economic benefits that would flow from the legalization of currently unauthorized immigrants as their wages, purchasing power, and tax payments rose with the granting of legal status.

The portrait of the U.S. economy that emerges from the FAIR report is one in which every misfortune—from the stagnation of real wages since 1980 to the recession that began in 2007—is somehow tied to immigration. In this worldview, unemployed Americans could simply be swapped like batteries for unauthorized immigrants with jobs, no matter where in the country those jobs might be. Aside from the obvious fact that this is a completely unrealistic view of how the U.S. economy actually works, there remains the fact that FAIR offers no viable alternative to the status quo. All they suggest is a continuation of the same failed and costly enforcement-only strategy that has produced no discernible results for over two decades.


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