Study Revives Debate Over Impact on Jobs


ERNESTO GALVEZ'S life would be considered an immigrant success story, except that he entered the country illegally.

Mr. Galvez came to the United States in 1981 without documents, worked minimum wage jobs, and studied English at night. After 10 years, he landed a $15 an hour job as a chef in a unionized hotel.

Workers such as Galvez have become a focal point for anti-immigration groups that claim illegal aliens take jobs from Americans. The increase of illegal immigration from Asia and Latin America is contributing to US unemployment, the groups say.

Galvez, who later married a US citizen and became a legal resident, argues: ``We're not taking jobs away from Americans. We take the jobs that people really don't want.'' As for his current chef's job, he says, ``I earned my job; nobody gave it to me.''

In a recent paper prepared for the free-market oriented Alexis de Tocqueville Institution of Washington, three economists argue that immigration does not cause unemployment, and may actually increase the total number of jobs in the US.

In an indication of the immigration issue's complexity, some conservative economists defend the right of undocumented aliens to immigrate, while some liberal, pro-union economists call for a law and order crackdown on illegalimmigration.

The de Tocqueville economists studied immigration and unemployment trends since 1900, looking closely at the six states with the highest immigration rates in recent years. The study found no correlation between increased immigration and unemployment. In some states with large numbers of immigrants, such as Florida, unemployment rates are the same or lower than the national average.

Immigrants, both legal and undocumented, go to where they can find work, says study co-author Richard Vedder, professor of economics at Ohio University. Very few of them apply for welfare, and if there is no work, they move on.

Immigrants may actually create employment, Professor Vedder argues. ``Immigrants increase the demand for goods,'' he says. ``You have 20 million or more foreign born. That's 20 million more mouths to feed, 20 million more stereos to sell.''

An upsurge in immigration also creates more jobs for small businesses that serve those communities. But increased employment among Mexican waiters or Filipino grocery clerks is often ``invisible to most Americans,'' Vedder says.

Vernon Briggs, professor of economics at Cornell University, strongly disagrees with the report, arguing that illegal immigrants, in particular, increase unemployment. They most often compete with low-skilled, low-wage workers who otherwise would be employed.

``We have 27 million functionally illiterate adults in the US,'' Professor Briggs says. ``We have tremendous unemployment in that sector, and illegals are taking those jobs.''

Briggs, a self-described pro-union liberal, says unrestricted immigration allows employers to exploit illegal workers and keep them from unionizing.

He urges national leaders to seriously crack down on illegal immigration. Employers should be required to use any new national health identification card as a fool-proof method of determining who can work, Briggs says.

Vedder's conservative, capitalist orientation leads him to a very different conclusion. ``The ultimate free market solution,'' he says, ``would be to do away with the immigration laws and let immigrants come in freely.'' Market forces would regulate wages and where people worked, he says. Vedder does not currently advocate such a policy, however, because it could ``seriously disrupt the social fabric of America.''

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