By John Thompson
Media coverage of illegal migrants overflowing emergency shelters across the country and the angry responses from affected communities have prompted nine prominent officeholders to let out a cry of alarm to the Biden administration.
The officeholders in question – all perennial open borders enthusiasts – have called for faster granting of work permits and more federal aid, but none has yet insisted that the administration secure the border.
Nevertheless, everyone understands that the latest wave of illegal immigration results from the administration’s actions of 1) canceling the preceding administration’s agreements with Mexico and Central American countries that obliged asylum seekers to apply from outside the USA, and 2) further encouraging asylum abuse by expanding the use of parole.
More broadly, the Biden administration has announced to the world that anyone can come whenever they wish. In response to the invitation, 6 to 7 million people have entered the country extralegally since 2021 as word of the invitation spreads electronically to the entire planet.
By every measure, the swarms of unlawful residents have been wreaking economic havoc on states and localities – not since 2021, but for decades. Although immigration is basically a federal responsibility, some states are taking measures to mitigate its worst effects and there is ample evidence that state action can impact unlawful migration.
At least 20 states have enacted mandatory E-Verify to prevent employers from hiring unauthorized workers with forged or stolen identity documents.
Massachusetts has taken an entirely different approach. As illegal immigration surged between 1990 and 2007, it remained modest in Massachusetts. When the housing bubble burst in 2007, illegal workers began leaving states with high concentrations like California, Florida, and Arizona and moving to states like Massachusetts where the unlawful resident population, which was fewer than 100,000 in 2007, is now over 300,000—some 5% of the state’s population.
As illegal migration swelled, the state’s most prominent political figures – including the present governor – replied to warnings about the potential long-term damage with banalities about innocent, hard-working persons living in the shadows or families pursuing the American dream. The state’s politicians were also rather generous: each unlawful resident now receives $7,400 in social payments annually – second only to Hawaii.
They also see themselves as terribly compassionate, with many “sanctuary” jurisdictions refusing all cooperation with federal immigration authorities. Even as illegal border crossings reached unprecedented numbers after Biden took office, driver's licenses and in-state tuition were added to the package of benefits awaiting unlawful newcomers.
The rising illegal population will have dire economic consequences. One inescapable consequence is a decline in the quality of the labor force. About 30% of unlawful migrants have less than a high school education compared to 10% of all people in the state. Around 40% speak English not well or not at all. Some 22% are living in poverty compared to 10% of all residents.
Meanwhile, the state has seen a steady outflow of people with higher levels of skills, education, and earning power. If the replacement of productive workers continues, one of the state’s longstanding sources of competitive strength – its highly skilled and competent workforce – will soon evaporate.
The influx of low-skilled, poorly-paid people who receive generous social benefits while paying negligible taxes is already a burden on taxpayers; each household in the state doles out an estimated $1,000 just for social benefits for unlawful residents. Gov. Healey, who feigned outrage at having to spend $45 million a month for 5,500 families in emergency housing, feels quite comfortable spending $3 billion each year on the 300,000 unlawful residents already here.
The erosion of the tax base will hamper the state’s ability to modernize its infrastructure. Massachusetts had one of the country’s best public transportation networks, a legacy of the vision and fiscal discipline of past generations, but that network is deteriorating rapidly. The massive investment needed to maintain it and fund other infrastructure improvements will be out of reach as the tax base degrades.
Although illegal immigration is bad for everyone except those who exploit their cheap labor, those most directly disadvantaged are low-skilled, poorly-paid Americans and lawful residents who must compete unequally with powerless unauthorized workers. In Massachusetts, the real wages of the lowest paid 20% of workers have fallen by more than in any other state during the period of high immigration.
Massive illegal immigration was completely satisfactory to the Governor and her counterparts in other states so long as the media provided cover, but she sensed potential danger when the latest wave of arrivals provoked a visible reaction among working class and lower income groups.
The potential backlash from black Americans should be particularly frightening since, historically, they were among the fiercest opponents of immigration but have fallen silent on the issue in recent years. Still, evidence of the harmful impact of immigration on African-Americans is there for all to see, and there is a risk the regressive impact of mass immigration on working class and low-income communities could surface as an explosive issue during the 2024 election.
The media’s newfound willingness to consider the downside of unbridled immigration offers reformers a window of opportunity to call attention to some basic realities:
- Illegal immigration is affront to our constitutional order under which laws are made by the people’s elected representatives and citizens expect those elected to enforce the law.
- It is economically destructive, lowering the quality of the labor force, degrading the tax base, and leaving the country ill-prepared to face critical challenges.
- Because low-skilled and low paid American workers bear a disproportionate share of the burden, leaders of working class and marginalized communities should end their silence.
Even if the federal government fails to enforce the law, states have significant power to lessen the worst effects of illegal immigration, particularly by enacting E-Verify legislation to prevent employers from hiring unauthorized foreign workers.
This article was written by John Thompson, Co-Chair of the Massachusetts Coalition for Immigration Reform.
The opinions expressed are his own.