A new law in Arizona that takes effect Jan. 1 aims to punish employers who hire workers without valid US residency. Even though this experiment is by only one state trying to fix only one piece of the US immigration puzzle, the law may provide answers for the whole nation.[Arizona goes after illegal hires, December 31, 2007]Most of the article was pretty constructive, but there were a few problems:
The state, in other words, may represent the United States of the future, unless more is done to address the problem of both illegal (too much) and legal (too little) immigration. Since 2000, the US has seen its highest increase in immigrants, but more than half were illegal.Now, of course they don't make the case that the US public really benefits by higher level immigration levels—but that is assumed in what they said.
The state's agriculture, service, and construction industries depend greatly on illegal workers as a source of cheap labor. The average household income of illegal immigrants in Arizona is $35,000 per year. For natives, it is $69,000. Will businesses be able to afford higher wages to attract legal workers and still stay in business in the state?One problem here is that most of the people directly competing in the job market with Arizona illegals immigrants have family incomes closer to $35,000 per year than $69,000 per year. The existence of loose immigration policies probably reduces that family income by at least $6,000-$10,000 per year—and also means those folks have higher housing costs and taxes than they would have had if illegal immigration (and higher legal immigration) didn't exist.
One early indicator may be the price of lettuce. About half of US winter lettuce is grown around Yuma, and if higher wages are needed to attract legal lettuce pickers, consumers will see higher prices in their salads.
Another problem is that the labor of illegal immigrants is a small portion of the price folks pay for lettuce in the supermarket—and the price rise we'd expect from strict enforcement of immigration laws also would be fairly small.
I think the Arizona law is in interesting step forward towards real immigration reform of the type the public wants. Some things I would like to see in future legislation:
Repatriating 12-20 Million people is going to be hard. Current law would provide for $200 Billion in fines for which employers are responsible. I expect all that money-and more-will be needed to really set this situation right in a way that both Americans and Mexicans can live with.