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Story of Illegal immigrant spun a different way

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Posted: Thursday, January 3, 2002 10:00 pm

In December, I wrote about "Miguel," a former English as a Second Language student who had visited the classroom to share some good news.

Miguel had recently secured a $22 an hour construction job with full benefits.

Miguel, an illegal alien, was a good student, an upwardly mobile fellow and an overall nice guy. But the point of my essay, which I felt was abundantly clear, is that it is disingenuous for pro-immigration advocates to argue ad nauseum that immigrants only take jobs Americans won't accept.Joe Guzzardi

Clearly, a $22 an hour construction job with benefits and paid vacation is a good job. Unemployed Americans, of whom there are an ever-growing number, would jump at it.

And millions of employed Americans would love to trade up for Miguel's job.

In fact, if Miguel wants to swap jobs with me, I'll do it in a heartbeat.

But one prominent Californian, who read an Internet version of my column, spun Miguel's story a completely different way.

Ron Unz, chairman of English for the Children, declared in his newsletter that Miguel's success proves that illegal aliens without educations can come to the U.S. and prosper.

Unz is a self-professed proponent of unlimited immigration. His interpretation of Miguel's story serves his own purposes. But Miguel's tale, as I told it, proves that illegal immigrants compete successfully with some Americans for blue-collar jobs.

That Miguel has made it into the American mainstream doesn't mean, as Unz suggests, that every illegal alien will be as fortunate. Among those who come to America illegally, some prosper; some struggle and some end up in jail.

How, Unz wondered, did Miguel land his job?

While I don't know the details of the answer, falsified documents were certainly involved. To get his job Miguel had to commit at least three federal offenses: Entering the U.S. illegally, purchasing false documents and using those documents to obtain his employment.

Every time Miguel uses his phony ID to open bank accounts or obtain loans or social services, he compounds his crime.

This is very unfair to hard-working, law-abiding citizens who are trying to improve their lot. And I doubt if Unz would have such a generous opinion about breaking the law if he were directly victimized

According to the Center for Immigration Studies, about 10 million working Americans have a high-school diploma or less. And estimates of the illegal immigrant population in the U.S. range around 10 million.

The 1-to-1 ratio of illegal immigrants to working Americans with no more than a high-school diploma bodes poorly for our blue-collar workers. Those statistics cannot be interpreted any other way.

If you come to America with nothing, as two-thirds of adult Mexicans do, then any job at any wage looks good. And America is full of unscrupulous employers, big and small, eager to hire cheap labor. Read the stories about Tyson Foods if you have any doubts about the extent to which businesses will go to suppress wages.

Recently, the New York Times reported that the influx of low-wage earning immigrant workers has affected median household incomes in middle and upper-middle class communities across the country.

Steven Greenhouse, in his Dec. 22 story, "Median income drops are tied to immigrants," wrote that new census data showed that in counties with a major increase in immigrants - Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx as well as wealthier suburbs like Nassau, Suffolk and Westchester - median household incomes fell nearly 20 percent in the period from 1989 to 1998.

In Los Angeles, which has experienced a huge increase in immigration from Mexico, median income fell in constant dollars from $45,962 to $37,655 or a decline of 18 percent.

As with any study that suggests that immigration has a downside, the findings were immediately challenged. Some economists claimed that immigration plays no role in the decline in median income. They point instead to declining power of the labor unions, automation and poor schools that graduate unqualified students.

Nevertheless, the fact remains that while immigrants continue to move into highly urbanized areas, they are also for the first time settling in the suburbs. And median household incomes are falling in any county that has undergone a significant increase in its immigrant population. The relationship between a higher immigrant population and lower median household income cannot be disputed.

"This new phenomenon is reducing household incomes," said Robert D. Yaro, executive director of the Regional Plan Association in New York, referring to mass immigration. "It's consistent with the national phenomenon of the suburbanization of poverty."

As long as America continues to let under-educated, under-skilled people cross the border, the net result will be bad for America.

Tyson Foods and its shareholders profit from cheap labor. But the country as a whole does not.

Poorly educated individuals with limited skills either take away jobs held by Americans - construction, meat and poultry processing, hotel and janitorial services - or they go on social services. How else can they survive?

While I am disappointed by Unz's take on the impact of illegal aliens on American workers, I have great respect for his willingness to pause and read opinions that do not jive with his.

In his newsletter, Unz mentions that he finds contrary opinions "often interesting and sometimes challenging."

That is a lot more than I can say for the New York Times, which Unz refers to as an equal to him in its pro-immigration philosophy.

But the Times and other major dailies like the Los Angeles Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, etc. ad infinitum, are dismissive and frequently insulting to anyone who dares dispute their immigration position.

Unz, at least, is willing to enter the fray, and he deserves credit for that.

Joe Guzzardi, an instructor at the Lodi Adult School, has been writing a weekly opinion column since 1988. He can be reached via e-mail.

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