Illegal Immigration Fuels Inequality

Central American and Mexican migrants attempt to cross the U.S. border.

Illegal Immigration Fuels Inequality

A large body of research shows that illegal immigrants are displacing native-born blacks and Hispanics in the workforce.

Illegal immigration makes the rich richer and the poor poorer. Over the past 50 years, the illegal immigrant population in the United States has exploded from 500,000 to over 11 million. According to the Migration Policy Institute, 32 percent of illegal immigrants live in poverty, 49 percent lack English skills, and 61 percent lack the equivalent of a high school diploma. This means the vast majority of the nation’s over 6 million illegal workers are employed in low-skill, low-wage occupations. They compete for jobs and income with the 28 million adults in the low-skill labor force legally entitled to work in the country.

Adding workers to the labor force lowers wages for those workers. This means wealth is redistributed from those who compete with immigrants to those who hire immigrants.

Harvard Professor George Borjas found that the wage trend over the past 50 years suggests that a 10 percent increase in the number of workers with a particular skill set lowers the average wage of the group by 2.5 percent. By his calculations, immigrants without a high-school diploma have increased the low-skilled workforce by 25 percent in the past two decades. As a result, earnings for high-school dropouts have dropped between $800 and $1,500 per year.

The pool of cheap labor created by illegal immigration saves employers money, but it makes it harder for low-skill workers to find a job that pays a living wage. Increasing the minimum wage actually makes things worse for citizens and legal residents. Since illegals are paid off the books, they are often paid less than minimum wage. Therefore, there is a financial incentive for employers to hire illegal immigrant workers instead of legal residents.

According to Borjas, current rates of illegal immigration reduce the wages of workers by $118 billion a year, while generating $128 billion for employers. This is especially harmful to blacks and Hispanics, a large proportion of whom live in poverty.

The poorest 20 percent of Americans live in households that make less than $32,400 per year. Most of these households depend heavily on government welfare, with the average household receiving $12,000 per year in means-tested benefits.

Roughly 41 percent of householders in the bottom 20 percent by income are unemployed. Some 22 percent lack a high-school diploma, and 77 percent lack a college degree. Householders in this quintile are also disproportionately single, with 42 percent of households headed by a single woman and 11 percent headed by a single man.

Blacks and Hispanics make up 45 percent of households in the bottom quintile, even though these two ethnic groups only make up 28 percent of the general population. This fact helps explain why significant majorities of both ethnic groups believe that the current rates of both legal and illegal immigration are too high. A large body of research shows that immigrants are displacing native-born blacks and Hispanics in the labor force.

By allowing over 11 million illegals to remain in the country, government officials have created a second class of Americans. These illegal immigrants cannot work their way out of poverty because they are barred from working legally. This creates a condition where employers are able to exploit their labor, paying them less than employers are legally required to pay legal residents. The result is that the poorest and least-educated American citizens are often excluded from the labor market.

Lacking jobs and opportunities, many lower-class Americans get stuck in a cycle of poverty, welfare dependency and family breakdown. Raising the minimum wage bars more low-skill Americans from the workforce. Increasing government entitlements only makes poverty more comfortable. Lower-class Americans need opportunities to work, earn income, learn new skills, and form stable families that teach these skills to the next generation.

This is one of the reasons the Bible forbids treating immigrants like second-class citizens. God instructed Moses that strangers were to be treated the same as native-born citizens.

“And if a stranger sojourn with thee in your land, ye shall not vex him. But the stranger that dwelleth with you shall be unto you as one born among you, and thou shalt love him as thyself; for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt …” (Leviticus 19:33-34).

“Ye shall have one manner of law, as well for the stranger, as for one of your own country: for I am the Lord your God” (Leviticus 24:22).

Of course, these scriptures should not be misconstrued to say that national borders are wrong, or that God is against restrictions on immigration. In fact, God told Moses that He personally “divided to the nations their inheritance” (Deuteronomy 32:8).

If an immigrant breaks a nation’s laws and illegally enters the country, the residents have every right to deport him back to his home country. But if the immigrant is welcomed to stay, he must be treated the same as a native-born citizen and subjected to the law in the same manner as a native-born citizen.

Government officials have violated God’s law by allowing millions of illegal immigrants to live in the country as second-class citizens. They have created a condition where employers are able to exploit the labor of strangers to the detriment of the poorest and least-educated Americans. Frustration and resentment is building in America’s poorest neighborhoods. In more and more cases, this frustration is boiling over into protests and race riots.

This is exactly what the Prophet Isaiah foretold if people rebelled against God’s law. “Your country is desolate, your cities are burned with fire: your land, strangers devour it in your presence, and it is desolate, as overthrown by strangers” (Isaiah 1:7).

American citizens have elected government officials who have enacted laws and formulated policies in violation of God’s laws about immigration and poverty. These government immigration and welfare policies have helped create a condition where one third of black and Hispanic households are trapped in a cycle of poverty. It is this cycle of poverty, welfare dependency and family breakdown that underlies so many of the protests and riots in the streets of America.