I am generally quite comfortable in the presence of good old boys. Mind you, they may have a blind side when it comes to some societal ills, but they usually will not possess the harsh or even outlaw qualities of a brazen redneck. Now, those people do scare me.
Recently, I had dinner at a Mexican restaurant in a small Southern town with the mayor, the local economic developer and the head of a state economic development organization. Nothing said could have been construed as being offensive, much less mean-spirited. Indeed, some funny stories were told that had us all laughing.
During the course of our meal, I learned that the restaurant owner had settled in the town some 18 years ago. He was, in fact, an illegal immigrant. Today, this man is a stalwart of the community, and he serves a mean chicken-shrimp fajita that would rival any I’ve had in Dallas.
The very thought that he should have to shut down his business, pick up his family and move back to Mexico was incomprehensible to the mayor, a good old boy in the best tradition, possessing great “country smarts” and good manners to boot.
Indeed, the mayor, a businessman himself, being a heavy equipment operator, owning a dry cleaners and an auto repair/tire changing shop, has been urging our illegal immigrant business owner to open up yet another establishment in town.
Now I have no idea how this Mexican national was able to pull off what he did and how he remains in business today. (He owns and operates a second restaurant in another nearby town.) But I do know this: He is part of the community now and is well respected.
Obviously, he broke the law by coming into the United States by the manner in which he did. But just as obviously, he has built a life for himself and his family in this small conservative town in the South, where he has proved to be a contributing de facto citizen. I believe his story somehow epitomizes a reality and a need for immigration reform.
The Economics Make It So
I could argue that reform is needed beyond any humanitarian considerations. The economics make it so, as the evidence would suggest that immigrants actually boost American workers’ overall standard of living wages and lowering prices for consumers, according to Michael Greenstone and Adam Looney, with the Hamilton Project.
Generally, immigrants are not competing for the same jobs of US-born workers, but rather complement the work of US employees and increase their productivity. Low-skill immigrants, some of whom may have risked their lives to walk through a desert to get here illegally, allow US-born farmers, contractors and craftsmen to expand agricultural production or to build more homes – thereby expanding employment possibilities and incomes for US workers.
Businesses adjust to new immigrants by opening stores, restaurants, or production facilities to take advantage of the added supply of workers as more workers translate into more businesses. I see evidence of that in Texas every day.
Granted, there are some estimates that show that immigration, whether it is legal or illegal, has reduced wages for American workers. But other studies would indicate that thanks to the labor of low-skilled immigrants, the cost of food, homes and child care comes down and living standards rise. In short, our purchasing power has been enhanced by their very presence.
And while new immigrants may gravitate to construction and food-related jobs, by the second and third generation, their occupation profiles differ little from those who are native born.
How Did That Work Out for You?
Call it the Law of Unintended Consequences. Passed in June 2011, Alabama’s HB 56 was designed to drive illegal Hispanic immigrants from the state and free up jobs for natives. It served its purpose alright in clearing out the illegal immigrants, but it also left produce rotting in the fields.
I talked to some Alabama farmers. They said they have had to look beyond our nation’s borders for labor, because most Americans simply will not do the backbreaking, low-paying work. But in response to HB56, the farmers tried using local labor to salvage what they could from the fields.
They said that most of the native born who did show up, showed up late, worked slower than seasoned Hispanic farm hands and were ready to call it a day after lunch. Many of the native born quit after a single day in the fields.
And the intended influx in hiring Alabamians to chop chicken didn’t happen either, as too few locals were interested in that work as well. Oakwood, Ga.-based Wayne Farms, which operates six poultry plants in Alabama, resorted to “alternative methods and sourcing.” The company found Africans displaced by war through a labor broker based in West Virginia.
It is apparent the business community is increasingly favoring a guest-worker program for undocumented immigrants. This comes at a time when the GOP is eager to shed its image that it is anti-immigrant and anti-Hispanic. Still, there remain reservations among many conservatives about rewarding legal status to the 11 million immigrants now in the US illegally.
And I understand that. We are a nation of laws and we have every right to secure and protect our borders. I’m all in for teeth and enforcement. But we should be concentrating on violent drug cartels and swiftly deport those who commit crimes and overstay their visas. I just believe that there has to be a better way that would provide for a pathway for legal status and eventually citizenship, if that is what they want, for many illegal immigrants who have and are building productive lives here.
I cannot help but to agree with former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Clint Bolick, vice president for litigation at the Goldwater Institute, when they wrote recently for the Wall Street Journal that “the only tried-and-trued method of reducing illegal immigration is a bad economy. Thus, with a dismal American economy and an improving Mexican one, the net immigration from Mexico is now zero: As many Mexicans are leaving the US as are entering it.”
An Infuion of New Blood
We should always been looking toward the future. No doubt that scares some people as they see a less white America on the horizon, an America drifting toward mediocrity. But I remain hopeful that immigration can serve as an infusion of new blood and new ideas to spur the economy and support our social welfare system.
The truth is the birthrate in the US has fallen below the level necessary to sustain the population at a time when millions of Americans are leaving the workforce and expecting retirement benefits. Immigration can alleviate the worker shortages that will surely come.
Immigrants are 30 percent more likely to start a new business than native-born Americans. They are more likely to earn patents and a quarter of all high tech startups were founded by immigrants. A study by Madeline Zavodny, an economics professor at Agnes Scott College, found that every additional 100 foreign-born workers in science and technology fields is associated with 262 additional jobs for US natives.
It is true that state and local governments will spend money educating the children of illegal immigrants. But over the course of their lives, those children will pay more in taxes than they receive in benefits. According to the Congressional Budget Office, giving current illegals a path to citizenship would increase the taxes they pay by $48 billion, while increasing the cost of public services by $23 billion. In other words, they would create a $25 billion surplus.
We like to see ourselves as the great melting pot where the great American dream can be achieved and where a rags to riches story can still be embraced. Immigrants, legal or illegal, are not coming here to welch or freeload. Far from it.
“They cherish the values of hard work, faith, family, enterprise and patriotism that have made this country great,” wrote Bush and Bolick. “Meanwhile, many who were lucky enough to have been born here have grown complacent or even disdainful of these values. America’s immigration system should provide opportunities for people who share the country’s core values to become citizens, thereby strengthening the nation as have countless immigrants have before them.”
Comprehensive immigration reform appears to be within our grasp. Both parties seem to be angling toward it. The debate is sure to get emotional, even ugly at times with an “us versus them” mentality that will be espoused by some.
But please allow me to remind you that unless you are Native American, you came from someplace else, too.
Dean Barber is the principal of Barber Business Advisors, LLC., a site selection and economic development consulting firm based in Plano, Texas. He can be reached at 972-767-9518 or at email@example.com. Please visit our website at http://www.barberadvisors.com