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Racism and Illegal Immigration

The intellectually honest should recognize that opposing illegal immigration has nothing to do with racism.

by
Clayton E. Cramer

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June 17, 2009 - 12:00 am
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I’m quite tired of the constant accusation that opponents of illegal immigration are racists.

Ruben Navarrette’s recent PJM column uses a sample size of one reader to determine that racism is the real reason that Americans are concerned. He claims that what most Americans actually say — that it’s “about respect for law and order and worry over how illegal immigrants supposedly take jobs, drain services, pollute the environment, wreck the schools, and diminish quality of life” — is just a sham. It’s really about racism and fear of living in a Latino nation.

I have no illusions that racism has completely disappeared. I do — occasionally — hear anti-Hispanic sentiments expressed. But the claim that the average American is afraid of Latinos outbreeding us shows a level of long-term thinking that I find laughable. What those playing the race card seem to be missing is that much of the resentment isn’t aimed at Latinos, or even illegal immigrants — but at the employers who abuse our broken immigration laws.

Illegal immigrants are overwhelmingly low-skilled and poorly educated. What they do have is a willingness to work and to go where the jobs are — and that isn’t Mexico. In that sense, we may be seeing some of Mexico’s best. But that doesn’t change the fact that increasing the supply of laborers, all other factors being constant, will drive down wages in that market segment. In my market segment, software engineering, cheap Asian labor coming here on H-1B visas has driven down wages — although I don’t expect many of you will be sympathetic if I tell you what those diminished wage rates are!

However, unskilled illegal immigrants who have flooded across our Southern border the last few years aren’t driving down the wages of well-paid professionals. They are lowering the wages for unskilled U.S. citizens and legal residents. It might not be much, but even a dollar per hour matters for people who earn hardly above minimum wage. For some, it’s the difference between self-sufficiency and needing government assistance.

In addition, because illegal immigrants are poorly paid, they are less likely to have health insurance than the average American. So what happens when they need medical care? Like many others without health insurance, they delay seeking help until it is an emergency, and the costs of those emergency room visits are shouldered by taxpayers or cost-shifted to those who do have insurance.

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