A reader e-mails:
In a true free market, there would be no such thing as job-stealing, but in reality we have two labor pools, legitimate and underground, and ne’er the twain shall meet. Illegal immigrant labor is, by definition, off the books and under the radar. Illegal aliens are already breaking the law to be here, so it’s no stretch for them to break the law by working at below minimum wage, or under hazardous conditions. If they complain, they have no recourse with their employers; they’re just fired, and potentially deported. They can’t run to the government looking for protection.
It’s much harder for Americans or documented workers to work off the books. Everyone has to file an income tax return, and anyone who works off the books is committing a felony every time he files. It’s no big deal for an illegal alien, but for an otherwise-upstanding American citizen, it’s much more of a problem. In a sense, illegal aliens are stealing jobs from those who play by the rules. No economic theory I know of supports that.
I have two responses. First, this argument also works in the trade context: Workers in foreign countries don’t have to play by the same rules as U.S. workers, but most conservatives support free trade on the merits. Second, insofar as this is nonetheless a legitimate concern about illegal immigration, the Bush plan seeks to address it by making illegal workers “legal” for the purposes of working, and forces them to “play by the rules.” Thus, this argument ultimately supports the sort of policy change Bush is proposing.