The debate over how to handle illegal immigration has reemerged amid concerns that the Biden administration may not have a sufficient plan in place for the end of the Title 42 public health order, which is set to expire on May 23. The order was enacted in March 2020 and required the expulsion of unauthorized adults and family units arriving at U.S. land borders, and there is bipartisan concern that ending Title 42 will result in a surge of illegal aliens at the border. (The Biden administration is preparing for as many as 18,000 migrants per day.)
From healthcare facilities being required to provide services to migrants, to schools across the nation being required to educate migrant children, the effects of illegal immigration are already being shouldered by many. But there is an economic consequence that directly impacts one demographic: Black Americans.
Back in 2008, the United States Commission on Civil Rights assembled a panel of experts whose findings were released in a report called “The Impact of Illegal Immigration on the Wages and Employment Opportunities of Black Workers.” The Commission found that illegal workers comprise as much as one-third of immigrants, and that illegal immigration creates a surplus of low-skilled, low-wage labor in the U.S. labor market. Experts on the panel testified that while illegal immigration to the U.S. depresses employment and wages for low-skilled American citizens, Black men are disproportionally affected.
“About six in 10 adult black males have a high school diploma or less and Black men are disproportionately employed in the low-skilled labor market, where they are more likely to be in labor competition with immigrants,” the Commission noted in its findings.
Dr. Vernon Briggs, Emeritus Professor of Labor Economics at the New York State School of Labor and Industrial Relations at Cornell University, told the Commission that both Black Americans and illegal aliens are disproportionately concentrated in large metropolitan areas where competition between the two groups over jobs is likely to be extensive. To illegal immigrant workers, even low wages offered in the U.S. are higher than in their home country, and employers take advantage of this through preferential hiring of illegal workers, more out of pragmatism than bad intent, Briggs noted.
That competition between illegal immigrants and Black men keeps wages down. Entry-level jobs that are typically filled by low-skilled workers are supposed to be stepping stones that allow those workers to gain experience, develop their abilities and a solid work ethic, and prepare them for their next job, often one that comes with higher compensation and benefits.
And systematically reducing the number of Black males in those entry-level jobs by artificially increasing competition is counterproductive to income and wealth creation for Black Americans. A 1998 study found that for each one percent increase in the immigrant proportion of an occupation, the wages for Black Americans in that occupation were reduced by about half a percentage point.
To put it bluntly, as illegal immigration increases, Black income and wealth decrease.
And Black Americans aren’t just paying with income. Diminished employment and income opportunities can also negatively correlate with the marriageability of Black males. A Pew Research Center study found that 71 percent of adults “said it was very important for a man to be able to support a family financially to be a good husband or partner.”
This means that young Black men who are unemployed or who are in lower income quintiles may have less opportunities to find a spouse, which is problematic since getting married before having children is one of the three things one should do to avoid poverty and join the middle class.
Overall, the data show that illegal immigration deprives low-skilled Black American workers of employment, which robs them of future earnings and savings potential. Reduced access to entry-level jobs limits opportunity for better paying jobs and increases one’s chances of remaining in generational cycles of poverty.
As policymakers, activists and other stakeholders continue to explore ways to address the crisis on America’s southern border, they should remember that when they support unfettered illegal immigration to this country, they are standing squarely against the interests of Black American workers.
(This article ran at Newsweek: https://www.newsweek.com/supporting-illegal-immigration-means-opposing-black-workers-opinion-1699099)