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Immigration crackdown may boost US job prospects

More than 9,000 illegal immigrants were prosecuted in March, a big hike from a year ago.

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In addition to the border measures, immigration officials have stepped up well-publicized raids on meatpacking firms and other companies hiring undocumented workers. States, including Arizona, also have been cracking down on employers of illegal immigrants, a crime often harder to prove in court than illegal border crossing.

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Krikorian guesses that in the past, 800,000 to 900,000 illegal immigrants successfully entered the US every year, and about 400,000 left voluntarily or were deported each year – a net growth of about 500,000 illegal immigrants a year.

If current moves to restrain illegal immigration trim that growth by 100,000 to 200,000 immigrants, it should have some effect on the nation's labor supply, notes University of Chicago economist Jeffrey Grogger. He's coauthor of a paper calculating that a 10 percent increase in the supply of a particular skill group caused by higher immigration prompted a reduction in the wages of similarly low-skilled black men by 4 percent between 1960 and 2000, lowered their employment rate by a huge 3.5 percentage points, and increased their incarceration rate by almost a full percentage point.

So, presumably, fewer low-skilled immigrants could gradually induce more work for low-skilled native Americans.

The weaker economy and labor market should also prove less of a draw for immigrants, mostly undocumented ones, over the next year or two, cutting the flow by "several hundred thousand" per year, reckons a new study by four economists with Goldman Sachs, a prominent Wall Street investment bank. That would reduce labor-force growth by 0.2 to 0.3 percentage points compared with the growth rate in the past few years – and thus the potential for greater economic growth. The Goldman Sachs economists would welcome an increase in the flow of immigrants as a way to absorb the excess inventory of homes troubling the housing industry, and mitigate the "incipient pressures on the federal budget due to the impending retirement of the baby boom generation."

But a study by Northeastern University's Center for Labor Market Studies in Boston attributes the "unprecedented" levels of legal, illegal, and temporary immigration as a factor underlying the "devastation" in the job scene for America's teens and young adults over the past seven years. That's especially the case for males with no schooling beyond high school and youths from low-income families. Summer seasonal jobs as a proportion of all jobs are at the lowest level now in the past 30 years.