Amidst the concerns on illegal immigration, perhaps the most concerned should be the unemployed. Since the start of the recession, unemployment in the Huntsville Metropolitan Area has doubled. Some say that although illegal workers took a hit in the recession, their willingness to take lower wages makes hit hard to compete. Even if illegal workers weren’t willing to take lower wages, taxes and legislation make it more affordable not to hire local residents. Employers escaping bureaucracy can save more than 25% on employment cost. Alabama intends to curtail illegal hiring by passing legislation that calls for birth records to be checked during school enrollment, banning illegal immigrants from state colleges, and making it illegal to harbor, transport, or rent property to people unable to produce proper documentation. Possibly the most controversial component calls for immigrants to prove citizenship when stopped by police.
The Obama administration seeks to block the legislation because it will “undermine the federal government’s careful balance of immigration enforcement.” Conversely, immigration problems undermine Huntsville’s ability to promote the well being of its citizens. Take unemployment for example. The Bureau of Labor and Statistics reports that the unemployment rate is highest among those with only a high school education or less; those in the same segment as most illegal immigrants. Enforcing laws at the state and municipal levels can lessen the burdens placed on local economies thereby helping to decrease labor market supply, employ residents, and raise wages. On the other hand, critics suggest that the enforcement of immigration laws by states is “mean-spirited and racist.” While it can seem insensitive, it can also seem insensitive to those in the unemployment line. So are states to blame? Are the feds to blame? Are we to blame?
Neither are blameless. Many complained for years, but weren’t really serious immigration reform because it translated to cheaper labor and a voting bloc. When lawns needed mowing, homes needed additions, or roofs needed replacing, were contractors asked about undocumented workers? By-in-large, no. The main concern was the price. Real immigration reform needs to take place, but it should be compassionate, targeted and rational. States motives does seem rather dubious by getting tough on immigration when times are hard, but choosing to ignore the problem during times of prosperity. Its time to put partisan politics aside because people are involved. People who we exploited when times were better.