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Immigration Ironies   (April 18, 2006)

Take a look at this chart and tell me, do you see the irony at the heart of the immigration debate? Why, do you reckon, are people risking their lives to cross the U.S. border and make their way to Tennessee? For their health? Not likely; at least 516 Mexican migrants died attempting to get into the U.S., a 40% rise from 2004.

Do you reckon it's because there's jobs going begging in these states? That maybe someone in Tennessee willingly gave them a job? Well, who do you reckon gave them that job? Another illegal immigrant? The absurdities of this "debate" know no bounds, but let's cut directly to the heart of the matter: If there's no paying work, nobody risks their lives to get to Maryland, Tennessee, etc.

How long is the line of "legal" Americans who are willing to take the kind of low-paying, arduous jobs being offered to the illegal immigrants? Nationally, unemployment is under 5%, so the number must be rather small. Maybe the truth is, there's nobody in that line. So if we erect a Berlin Wall across the U.S. border, and arrest everyone who risks their life to make it across, then who's going to do the work that these millions of workers are performing in Tennessee, Georgia, etc.? Laid-off auto workers? Go ahead and ask them if you want, but you're not going to get many takers for those janitorial, dishwashing and agricultural jobs.

The irony is that building such a wall would undoubtedly cripple many American businesses. A second irony is that there is one sure way to stop illegal immigration: push the U.S. into a deep, prolonged recession. Once the work dries up, so will illegal immigration. The irony is that the huge demand for low-pay, low-skill labor reflects the enormous strength of the U.S. economy. Take away those workers, and you take away an essential element of the U.S. economy. Or, drain away the strength of the U.S. economy, and you lose those workers as millions of jobs disappear.

There's a deeper irony for all those demanding a new Berlin Wall. Go ahead and cut off millions of young workers--but who's going to pay your Social Security in 20 years? As this chart shows, the U.S. birthrate, though high by global standards, is barely at replacement. As I have noted elsewhere Boomers, Prepare to Fall on Your Swords (also see the "Demographics" listings in the left sidebar), the Social Security and Medicare systems' solvency rests entirely on future U.S. taxpayers. As the ratio of worker to retiree drops from 10-to-1 down to 3-to-1, the system simply cannot sustain itself. Once that ratio drops to 2-to-1, it collapses under the weight of all those retirees.

The solvency of Social Security and Medicare depends entirely on NOT building a Berlin Wall between a ready and hungry labor pool, and the millions of arduous, low-paying jobs which abound in the U.S. There is a long-term trend which I am familar with in my own family. My stepmother of 37 years proudly identifies herself as Mexican-American. She was born in Pasadena, Calif., and has lived there her entire life. She has worked all her life and recently retired. She has paid into the system, paying for all the retirees before her. Her father, disgusted by the racism he encountered in the U.S., returned to Mexico long ago.

The point is that the children of immigrants, legal or otherwise, become American taxpayers. They support those of us already here, buy houses, pay their dues, and keep the nation economically vibrant and solvent. The quickest, surest way to cripple the U.S. economy for the long-term would be to build a Berlin Wall across the U.S. border. Only someone hoping to destroy the U.S. economy from within would promote such an idea.

For more on this subject and a wide array of other topics, please visit my weblog.


copyright © 2006 Charles Hugh Smith. All rights reserved in all media.

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