Legalizing Undocumented Immigrants Would Help American Workers

Contrary to what Donald Trump would have you believe, it has been demonstrated over and over again that immigrants have revived small rural towns all across America. Alfredo Corchado tells the story from Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, a town of about 6,000 residents that claims to be the mushroom capital of the world.

For more than three generations, the newcomers have contributed to the renewal of Kennett Square. Some Mexican immigrants have started their own mushroom farms. Some own hair salons. Others own Mexican grocery stores. There’s even a taco war, as locals debate who makes the best tacos: Are they downtown or in nearby Avondale? Hundreds of children are now high school graduates, and many went on to earn college degrees.

“The Mexicans changed the community for the better,” Loretta Perna, program coordinator of the Walk in Knowledge Program at Kennett High School, told me. “They became part of not just the mushroom community but part of the overall community, bringing color, richness to an otherwise bland life.”

But the focus of Corchado’s piece is that Trump’s xenophobic immigration policies are threatening the town. For example, Mr. Aguilara, a former mushroom worker, went on to start his own landscaping business. But he now sits in detention awaiting possible deportation. The climate of fear that has enveloped Kennett Square led one mushroom grower to say that, “If this continues, the vibrancy of this small, rural community will be gone.”

Corchado cites statistics that might come as a surprise to some people.

Immigrants make up 13 percent of the national population and 16 percent of the labor force, but they constitute 18 percent of small-business owners, according to one of the most comprehensive reports on the subject, which was done by the Fiscal Policy Institute’s Immigration Research Initiative. Nationally, immigrant-owned small businesses employ 4.7 million people and, according to the report, generate $776 billion in receipts.

The entrepreneurial success of immigrants is so profound that Adrian Furnham, professor of psychology at University College London, set out to study the phenomenon.

What I’ve found is that immigrants not only have the qualities that help any entrepreneurs succeed—including aggressiveness and creative thinking—but they get a big boost because many of the skills they picked up coping with a new world are transferable to the entrepreneurial world.

The culture of fear created by this administration is not only affecting immigrants. It is dampening the vibrancy these small businesses bring to the economy and hurting the workers they would otherwise employ.

But with labor shortages affecting most communities all across the country, it is anemic wage growth that has become the bigger issue for American workers. The case is often made by those on the right (and sometimes even on the left) that immigrants depress wages. That may be true for undocumented immigrants, but Tim Worstall draws the obvious conclusion.

[L]egal immigrants don’t depress wages very much if at all…but it appears that illegal ones do…

Now, if people will work pretty much whatever they get paid then of course unscrupulous employers can get away with driving down wages. And no doubt some employers of illegals do exactly that. This then lowers wages in general of course: and thus the illegals have a greater effect upon wages than legal immigrants. For legal immigrants are protected by everything that the rest of us are protected by: minimum wage laws, basic treatment standards and so on. Thus we might say that the way to reduce the impact of illegals on wages is to offer some method for them to legalise their situation.

Democrats have fought for a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants currently in this country, most of whom have lived here for over ten years. Bringing them out of the shadows to be protected by this country’s labor laws would prohibit businesses from using them to drive down wages. In the end, all American workers would benefit.

What we see is that workers in rural America have seen their communities revived by immigrants who have driven the creation of small businesses in this country. Providing a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants would eliminate one factor that is currently suppressing wage growth. To combat Republican fear-mongering, that is the story of America that Democrats must tell.

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Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60.