Illegal Immigration: Who Benefits?
Why does the well-off California suburbanite stand shoulder to shoulder with La Raza?

Day laborers in Los Angeles. (Reuters Photo/Lucy Nicholson)


Victor Davis Hanson

Why are over 11 million foreign nationals residing illegally in the United States? If we can answer that question, then we can fathom the purpose of “comprehensive immigration reform,” and understand why special-interest groups mostly favor what the majority of Americans oppose. Illegal immigration goes on because, in the Roman sense, it serves the interest (cui bono?) of tens of millions of people. In practical terms, “comprehensive immigration reform” is a way not to end the present chaos but to legitimize it.

Let us count the concerned beneficiaries.

1) Mexico. Someday Mexico, a nation rich in natural resources, may achieve rough parity with the other North American economies and develop truly consensual and transparent government. Someday the declining birth rate in Mexico may make Mexico City husband its suddenly precious manpower. Someday the Rio Grande may become as abstract as the border between the U.S. and Canada.

That someday, however, is not now. At present, Mexico views the United States as a safety valve for potential social unrest, seeing it in much the same way as Easterners once envisioned the American West — a place that the impoverished but audacious might flee to rather than agitate against vast inequality at home.

No one knows how many billions of dollars illegal aliens annually send back to Mexico and other Latin American countries, but the figure may exceed $30 billion — a source of foreign exchange as valuable as oil exports or tourism. That Mexico’s own citizens residing in the United States often live in poverty in order to budget for their weekly remittances, or that U.S. taxpayers subsidize such beneficence through entitlements, is of little, if any, concern to Mexico City.

Finally, the export of millions of Mexican nationals gives Mexico City political leverage with the United States, whether exercised through the ubiquity of Mexican consulates here, the constant sermonizing about the plight of the dispossessed, or the surreal lawsuits against particular American states. For real reform to succeed, Mexico would have to resign itself to far fewer remittances, potentially greater social unrest, landmark social reform at home, and less traction with the American government. For those reasons alone, it will bitterly oppose real, rather than the present Potemkin, reform.

2) Business. Employers in the restaurant and hospitality industries, and in meat-packing, agribusiness, construction, and landscaping, find Mexican nationals wonderful workers. They are. The lack of legality, English, and a high-school diploma are not drawbacks for the physically demanding jobs in these fields, but in a tragically paradoxical way become advantages — turning what would otherwise be entry-level or temporary employment into a multi-year ordeal. The employer reaps the benefit of industrious young and healthy workers, and the greater society picks up the eventual tab for the aging and injured and for dependents in terms of health-care, education, and law-enforcement costs.

In an economy of long-standing 7-plus percent unemployment, employers could surely find American workers, but not, by and large, workers as industrious as Mexican nationals, and not as low-paid, since the assorted costs of the Mexican workers’ achieving nominal parity with American citizens are borne by the society at large. Do not expect business to favor any reform that changes the advantageous status quo.

To be fair to employers, if our society wishes to close the border, then it must be prepared to pay higher prices for some commodities, at least in the short term, on the theory that, in terms of social stability and economic justice, training and employing American citizens might in the long run be less expensive than permitting the influx of illegal aliens to continue. Bottom line: Expect employers to resent bitterly true immigration reform that would halt the influx of cheap labor. In every “grand bargain,” there will be a Republican shilling for big business.