Report stirs debate over economic impact of illegal aliens in US

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

A new report on immigration has refueled arguments in the United States over the effects of illegal aliens on the American economy. The Rand Corporation, in a study sponsored and paid for by 90 large businesses in California, concluded that widespread concerns about Mexican immigration are ``generally unfounded.'' The study concluded further that ``overall, Mexican immigration has probably been an economic asset to the state.''

The report drew immediate criticism from others, such as the Federation for Immigration Reform. Roger Conner, director of FAIR, noted that one of the reasons the immigrants were an asset, according to the Rand report, was that they ``kept wages competitive.''

``Competitive,'' said Mr. Conner, is just another word for ``low.''

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The report also noted that while the effects of immigration might be generally positive, some ``low-skilled native-born Latinos'' might suffer significant job displacement because of Mexican immigration.

In an interview, Kevin McCarthy, a demographer and co-author with Robert Valdez of the report, indicated that Rand limited its study to California, and some conclusions might not be valid in other regions of the country.

California, however, has the nation's greatest number of immigrants, both legal and illegal, so it is considered to be at the forefront of the issue.

Mr. McCarthy said that the report's upbeat assessment of immigration's effects on the economy was limited in scope -- focusing primarily on short-term impacts.

``We do not have [an immigration] crisis right now,'' he said. But he conceded that if flows of legal and illegal aliens continued to grow, ``we could find some very serious negative effects on native Latinos.''

The greatest impact would be felt in the job categories where workers with less education and fewer skills are employed, such as farm laborers, unskilled manufacturing workers, and common laborers.

This concern is not new. California officials, such as Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley, have said as recently as this week that the mayor's city could face growing tensions within barrios heavily populated by Latinos unless illegal immigration is checked.

At the same time, the illegal immigration of unskilled workers is expected to have little impact on most white and black Californians, as well as Latinos with better educations, the study indicated. Many of those workers are clustered in professional, technical, or managerial jobs as well as in sales and service areas that require greater skills and facility with the English language. This buffers them from loss of jobs and lowering of wages.

The Rand study used an estimate of 1.2 million to 1.5 million Mexican immigrants in California today -- a figure that many experts consider far too low. Even so, the report notes that the number of Mexican immigrants in California ``could almost triple'' by the end of the century.

One ongoing concern that particularly pertains to illegal aliens is that they may impose great welfare, educational, and other costs on tax-paying US citizens -- especially in localities such as Los Angeles where a disproportionate number of the state's illegals reside.

In one of the controversial statements in the report, Rand says that ``with the notable exception of educational services, immigrants' contributions in the form of taxes exceed the costs of public services that they use.''

Conner of FAIR retorts that it is ridiculous to leave education off that equation, since that is one of the steepest costs. The report itself notes that the cost for educating each child in the California schools is $2,900. Nationwide there are an estimated 800,000 children of illegal aliens in US schools.

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