The Impact of Biden’s Open Border on the American Workforce

House Subcommittee on Health, Employment, Labor, and Pensions, of the Education and the Workforce Committee

By Steven A. Camarota on September 13, 2023

One of the most important reasons to limit immigration and enforce those limits is to protect the interests of American workers. There is evidence that illegal immigrants adversely impact the wages and employment of some American workers. One of the chief arguments for tolerating illegal immigration is that the low unemployment rate means there are not enough workers. However, this ignores the dramatic long-term decline in labor force participation, particularly among working-age, less-educated, U.S.-born men. Those not in the labor force do not show up as unemployed because they are not actively looking for work. In total, there are some 44 million U.S.-born 16- to 64-year-olds not in the labor force — nearly 10 million more than in 2000. Using large-scale illegal immigration to fill jobs may please employers, but doing so has allowed policy-makers to largely ignore the extremely troubling decline in participation. Research shows the fall-off in participation contributes to profound social problems, from crime and welfare dependency to suicide and drug overdoses.


  • The current surge of illegal immigration is unprecedented. Some 2.6 million inadmissible aliens have been released into the country by the administration since January 2021. There have also been 1.5 million “got-aways” — individuals observed entering illegally but not stopped. Visa overstays also seem to have hit a record in FY 2022.
  • We preliminarily estimate that the illegal immigrant population grew to 12.6 million by May of this year, up 2.4 million since January 2021. Perhaps nine million are now in the labor force. However, additional research is necessary to confirm these estimates.
  • All prior research, and the limited data on the current surge, indicate that the overwhelming majority of illegal immigrants have modest education levels. Based on prior research, some 69 percent of adult illegal immigrants have no education beyond high school, 13 percent have some college, and 18 percent have at least a bachelor’s degree.
  • Due to their education levels, they are heavily concentrated in lower-wage, less-skilled jobs such as construction labor, building cleaning and maintenance, food service and preparation, groundskeeping, retail sales, and food processing. However, the vast majority of workers in these jobs are still U.S.-born or legal immigrants.
  • The notion that illegal immigrants only do jobs American’s don’t want is false. Even in the two dozen occupations where illegal immigrants are 15 percent or more of all the workers, 5.7 million U.S.-born Americans are employed.
  • Though often the focus of illegal immigration debate, farmworkers comprise less than 1 percent of the entire U.S. labor force; and less than 5 percent of all illegal immigrants work is in that relatively small sector.
  • There is clear evidence that immigration reduces the wages and employment of some U.S.-born workers, though distinguishing the impact of illegal immigration in particular is difficult. However, it should be pointed out that lower wages can also result in higher profits for employers or lower prices for consumers.
  • Illegal immigration has to be understood in the context of the extremely troubling decades-long decline in labor force participation among less-educated U.S.-born men, which coincides with the rapid increase in immigration since the 1960s.
  • For example, 96 percent of “prime-age” (25 to 54) U.S.-born men with no more than a high school education were in the labor force in 1960, meaning they were working or at least looking for work. By 2000 it had fallen to 87 percent and by 2023 it was just 82 percent.
  • Job competition with immigrants, including illegal immigrants, is not the only reason for this decline. However, immigration, including tolerating large scale illegal immigration, has allowed society to ignore the decline and the accompanying social pathologies.

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