Supreme Court Ruling: Will It Boost Illegal Immigrants' Job Prospects?
On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down some key provisions of Arizona's controversial law targeting illegal immigration -- while also upholding one other. And while the decision has led both sides to claim victory, what's been lost in the partisan politicking is how the ruling will affect American workers.
The High Court threw out a critical provision of Arizona's law -- the requirement that workers show documents before getting hired.
Even though the Supreme Court voted unanimously to leave in place the law's "show me your papers please" provision, which permits state police to inquire about the immigration status of anyone stopped there for any reason, it agreed with the Obama administration that Arizona was overreaching in other areas, including making it a crime to be undocumented and allowing warrantless arrests of those suspected of it.
With the reversal of the jobs part of the measure, though, Arizona is still left with questions about what the ruling might mean for legal workers in the state. The Supreme Court's rejection of the mandate to show work permits raised a practical and pressing issue: Does the High Court's rejection of this key provision amount to a boon for illegal workers? Will American workers find it harder to get hired if illegal immigrants don't have to fear being asked for immigration papers when they apply for a job?
So far, many analysts don't think so. For starters, the fact that illegal immigrants still will face the "show me your papers please" provision means there's a low likelihood of illegals feeling free to roam Arizona in search of jobs, analysts say. "It's not going to open the floodgates in terms of workers leaving or coming," Michael Fix, senior vice president with the Migration Policy Institute, told MSNBC.
Already, employers believe that the fear of immigration checks has scared off workers from states that have imposed tougher immigration laws, like Arizona, Utah, Georgie, Indiana, Alabama and South Carolina, according to MSNBC.
And even if some of the estimated 300,000 illegal immigrants in Arizona should feel more emboldened to apply for jobs now, the question is open whether, in fact, illegal immigrants are taking away Americans' jobs. Last year, the Supreme Court upheld another Arizona immigration law. That law, the Legal Arizona Workers Act, gives the state the right to revoke the licenses of employers that hire illegal immigrants. On that occasion, AOL Jobs took a look at that question.
Last year Pia Orrenius, the senior economist for the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, told AOL Jobs, said most economists think the impact of the nation's estimated 12 million illegal immigrants on the labor market is small.
The widely-shared consensus is that for every 10 percent increase in the share of foreign-born workers in a specific area there's less than 1 percent change in the average wages of legal residents, including for low-skilled workers, according to Orrenius. (Wages are used as the economic metric for employment in the U.S.) The explanation given by economists is that the illegals take on jobs that would either not exist (residents would tend their own lawns), or would never be taken on by native-born Americans in large part because they pay so poorly.
Indeed, analysts don't expect that change with this new Supreme Court ruling. "The wages would have to go up a lot for there to be an adequate supply of native-born workers," Judy Gans, the program manager for immigration policy at the University of Arizona told MSNBC after the most recent Supreme Court ruling.
Moreover, economists stress that illegals help the overall economy and labor market in many ways. Because immigrants work at jobs that natives wouldn't want, or even wouldn't exist if it weren't done by a foreigner, the native-born American is freed up to specialize in higher paying jobs, the theory goes. And that improves the overall efficiency of the economy.
Also, studies show that tough restrictions on illegal aliens' employment doesn't stop them from working but it does produce problems. After Arizona instituted the E-Verify program in 2007 to see if employees have proper working papers, the working age unauthorized population in the state fell by 90,000 from 2007 to 2009, while the number of contractors grew by 20,000. The latter group doesn't have to deal with E-Verify, and also has an easier time avoiding taxes, leading to less revenue overall for the state, according to Magnus Lofstrom of the Public Policy Institute of California.
Finally, the so-called "immigration surplus" holds that the US economy must benefit from a net gain in goods and services because wages earned by immigrants tend to be lower than what they produce.
But activists who do see a negative impact from the country's illegal immigrant population point out that the creation of a whole new jobs market is the very point.
"There are jobs that provide no benefits, no retirement," Jim Gilchrist, the president of the anti-illegal-immigration group, the Minuteman Project, told AOL Jobs. "As long as the laws are not enforced, cheap wages with no benefits will continue.... You take that out, the low wage element out, and you'll see American citizens applying for jobs like landscaping, shoveling concrete, because wage rates will go up, and they'll come with retirement benefits and unions."
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Dan Fastenberg was most recently a reporter with TIME Magazine. Previously, he was a writer for the Thomson Reuters news service's Latin America desk. He was also a reporter and associate editor for the Buenos Aires Herald while living in South America.
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