Researchers say legals and illegals are more mobile than natives in America
By Stephen Dinan
The Washington Times
Wednesday, October 31, 2012
Milagros Rodriguez, from the Dominican Republic, works at her salon, Woodside Beauty Salon in Queens, N.Y. A study says two-thirds of job growth since 2009 has been among immigrants. (Associated Press)
Alex Nowrasteh, a policy analyst at the Cato Institute, which favors letting the markets rather than the government control the flow of immigration, said Mr. Camarota’s numbers are “making a mountain out of a molehill.”
He said delving into specific numbers explains why immigrants have done better over the past four years: They generally gravitate toward parts of the economy that have picked up faster in the nascent recovery.
“Most of the areas of the U.S. economy that are hiring right now, like agriculture and high-tech industries, are those where immigrants have always been overly represented,” Mr. Nowrasteh said.
He also said immigrants are quicker to jump into the rebounding job market while native-born Americans, who under federal law have more welfare options and access to unemployment benefits, are slower to find work.
Mr. Nowrasteh and Mr. Camarota said another factor could be immigrants’ mobility.
Natives have roots wherever they live, and it may take higher wages to get them to move for jobs, even if their homes are in depressed areas. Immigrants already have uprooted themselves and can more easily pick places where jobs are available.
Indeed, Mr. Camarota’s numbers show that most of the immigrant employment growth went to new arrivals, not to foreign-born residents already in the United States — a figure that suggests immigrants already settled here were having some of the same difficulties as the native-born.
There is some bright news: an uptick over the past year among native-born Americans accounting for two-thirds of all new employment growth.
Net immigration — both legal and illegal — averaged more than 1.1 million in the 1990s and slightly less than 900,000 in the past decade.
Mr. Camarota said it didn’t slow much despite the economic downturn.
“We have a situation where the job market — the bottom fell out, yet we kept legal immigration relatively high without even a national debate,” he said. “As a consequence, a lot of the job growth has been going to immigrants.”
Immigration has been a touchy political issue for more than a decade, and while all sides agree that the system is broken, efforts to overhaul it in 2006 and 2007 fell short.
This campaign, Mr. Romney and Mr. Obama have talked about streamlining the legal immigration system to allow in more high-tech workers. Mr. Romney has said he wants to “staple a green card” to every advanced degree in science, mathematics or engineering earned by an immigrant.
Beyond that, Mr. Obama has vowed to make legalizing illegal immigrants a major push in a second term — and has said if he wins re-election, he thinks Republicans will embrace that goal, realizing that otherwise, Hispanic voters will reject the GOP.
Mr. Romney has talked about legalizing a small number of illegal immigrants, though he has been studiously vague about his specific plans in an effort to try not to alienate voters on either side of the issue.
Mr. Obama did take action this year to grant many illegal immigrants up to 30 years of age a tentative legal status that prevents them from being deported and authorizes them to work in the United States.
Some Republicans in Congress have criticized Mr. Obama’s policy, saying it violates his powers and will mean more competition for scarce jobs.
Mr. Romney has said he would not rescind any stays of deportation that Mr. Obama issues but wouldn’t issue any new ones himself.
The current system doles out legal visas based on family ties or employment prospects or even a random lottery designed to increase the diversity of those coming to the United States.
In 2007, senators proposed scrapping the legal system and replacing it with a points-based system that would assign a desirability grade to would-be immigrants. Work skills would have gained under that system.
But that proposal, along with the rest of the bill, collapsed amid a bipartisan Senate filibuster.
Mr. Nowrasteh at the Cato Institute said those decisions shouldn’t be left up to bureaucrats anyway.
“The government can’t pick winners and losers when it comes to green-energy firms like Solyndra, so what makes you think it can pick winners and losers when it comes to immigration?” he asked rhetorically.