There is no penalty on employers who replace U.S. citizens with illegal immigrants at lower pay. Homeland Security even announced it has suspended the sanctioning of employers who hire illegal immigrants, and President Bush suspended the Davis-Bacon Act, which requires local contractors to pay "prevailing" wages.
A study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research reported that the surge of immigration in the 1980s and 1990s lowered the wages of our own high school dropouts by 8.2 percent. The surge has accelerated since that report was issued. The Congressional Budget Office reported that 60 percent of Mexican and Central American workers in the United States in 2004 lacked a high school diploma.
The Kennedy-McCain-Bush guest worker plan would import more uneducated, unskilled workers, and thereby deny our own high school dropouts (of whom we have too many) the opportunity to get started in building their lives in the labor force. U.S. citizens are threatened that the cost of lettuce will rise precipitously if we don't continue to import Mexican agricultural workers. But a farm worker gets only 6 or 7 cents out of a $1 head of lettuce, so even if the pay doubles, consumers would hardly notice the difference.
On the other hand, the costs taxpayers are forced to pay for social benefits for low-paid workers are astronomical. The National Research Council reports that an immigrant to the United States without a high-school diploma consumes $89,000 more in government services than he pays in taxes during his lifetime.
Low-paid illegal immigrants obviously pay very little taxes, but they cash in on all sorts of benefits paid by other taxpayers, such as schooling for their children, emergency health care, housing subsidies, Earned Income Tax Credit and law enforcement. If the 20 million illegal immigrants are legalized, they will also become eligible for Medicaid, and that's a real break-the-bank prospect.
These figures don't even count the rapidly growing underground economy, in which millions of illegal immigrants are paid off the books in cash. That enables both employer and employee to avoid paying taxes, and enables employers to avoid paying workers' compensation, unemployment compensation, and assorted other taxes.
If the Internal Revenue Service collected all the taxes that should be paid by the underground economy, our current budget deficit would disappear overnight, according to a Bear Stearns study released in 2005. The Americans who pay taxes are giving a free ride to those who are not paying taxes, and a 7-cent increase in the price of lettuce should not be on our worry list.
Phyllis Schlafly is a national leader of the pro-family movement, a nationally syndicated columnist and author of Feminist Fantasies.
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