Will Americans Line Up to Fill Jobs Now Held by Illegal Workers?

Do illegal immigrants take jobs away from Americans? With unemployment still at 9 percent, that’s a question Republicans were asking at a hearing Tuesday before the House Judiciary subcommittee on immigration policy and enforcement.

Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) certainly thinks so. In a statement at the hearing, he noted that there are still 7 million illegal immigrant workers in the country while the unemployment rate among legal Hispanic workers is 12 percent and among blacks 16 percent. “These jobs [held by illegal workers] should go to legal workers, many of them minorities,” Smith said.

The math sounds simple, but it is not the way our economy works. In testimony before the same subcommittee in January on a related topic, I tried to explain to the members that

It may produce a good sound bite but it is misleading to assert that every low-skilled immigrant we can round up and deport will mean a job for an unemployed American. The real world economy doesn’t work that way. Low-skilled immigrants, whether legal or illegal, do not compete directly with the large majority of American workers. American companies hire immigrant workers to fill millions of low-skilled jobs because there are simply not enough American workers willing to fill those same jobs. The pay and working conditions for many of these jobs do not match the qualifications and aspirations of the large majority of Americans currently looking for employment in our recovering economy.

I go on to explain why there is no negative connection between immigration and levels of employment among native-born American workers, including black Americans. In fact, immigration creates employment opportunities for Americans.

You can read my full testimony here.