Oral Statement of Mark Krikorian on Comprhensive Immigration Reform II

Oral Statement of Mark Krikorian

Executive Director, Center for Immigration Studies

Before the Senate Committee on the Judiciary

Hearing on Comprehensive Immigration Reform II

October 18, 2005

Read Mr. Krikorian's Full Written Testimony

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Policymakers face two main questions on immigration:

  1. What are we supposed to do with the 11 million illegal aliens already here?


  2. Do we need to import unskilled workers at all?

I'll address the second question first: Do we need mass unskilled immigration?

The answer is clearly No. Those who answer Yes claim, in effect, that we are running out of a precious resource unskilled workers and thus we need to import more from abroad. In other words, our vast, flexible, 300-million-person continent-spanning economy can't function properly without a steady stream of high-school dropouts from abroad, because they perform jobs that Americans won't do.

Such a claim can only be described as economic gibberish. In fact, employers would do two things if the supply of foreign labor were reduced: increases wages and benefits to attract the labor still available and, at the same time, look for ways of increasing productivity through mechanization, for instance.

Some would say that even with higher wages, there just aren't enough Americans to do the work done by illegals. Now, if we were Fiji or Kuwait, and had no people, we might have to import a workforce. But if we look at the jobs that illegals hold, we find that there are millions of Americans in those very same occupations, and they suffer much higher rates of unemployment than the national average. This is not to say that each illegal takes a job from an American things aren't that simple. But it does mean that there are very large numbers of Americans who are unemployed, or who have dropped out of the workforce altogether, who are in direct competition with illegal aliens. Many of these workers would be drawn into the jobs now performed by illegals and other jobs would be eliminated by technology if only the free market were not short-circuited by mass immigration.

Lobbyists for business will disagree of course, but their claims of doom and gloom are nothing new. Forty years ago, for instance, California tomato farmers said that their industry would cease to exist if the foreign-labor program of the time the Bracero Program were ended. Instead, farmers invested in harvest machinery, causing output to quadruple and the real price of tomato products to fall.

Fifty years before that, the textile industry predicted disaster if child labor were ended: in fact, at a Senate hearing in 1916, one mill owner said that limiting child labor would "stop my machines"; another said "investors would never receive another dividend"; while a third said that ending child labor would "paralyze the country".

America's economy has done just fine without child labor, and it'll do just fine without more foreign labor.

But that leaves the other question before us what to do about the illegals already here? Those who support mass immigration also tend to support legalization i.e., amnesty. They argue that there are only two options: One, we stage mass roundups and deport millions of people in a short time. Since that's not going to happen, the other option amnesty is the only approach available.

Let me say here that anything that launders the status of an illegal alien, permitting him to remain here, is amnesty. Whether it's a so-called temporary worker program that allows him to stay, or an increase in the green card category for unskilled workers, or some other means, the result is the same. And whether the illegal first has to pay a fine, or pass an English test, or calculate the value of pi out to 10 digits doesn't make any difference, either; if he gets to stay legally, he's received an amnesty.

But we are not stuck with these two unpalatable choices. There's a third way, and it's the only workable solution in any case: attrition through enforcement. We didn't get into this situation overnight, and we're not going to end it overnight, with one comprehensive piece of legislation. Instead, by actually enforcing the immigration law, consistently and across the board, we can dramatically reduce the settlement of new illegal aliens and over a period of years force millions of illegals already here to give up and deport themselves, shrinking the illegal-alien problem from today's crisis to a manageable nuisance.

Amnesty supporters claim that we've already tried that, and failed, so surrender is the only alternative, in the form of amnesty and big increases in legal admissions. In fact, the precise opposite is true. We've never tried sustained, comprehensive enforcement, but we have tried the reforms now being proposed. In 1986, Congress enacted an amnesty for illegal immigrants, with nearly 3 million people legalized; four years later we substantially increased legal immigration; and the issuance of temporary worker visas has grown even faster. The result? More illegal immigration than ever before.

It's time to try something new: Attrition through enforcement.