“It’s a known fact that there are over 4 million unemployed Americans in the same age group as those that are DACA recipients; that over 950,000 of those are African Americans in the same age group; over 870,000 unemployed Hispanics in the same age group,” White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a White House press briefing hours after Sessions announced it was reversing President Obama’s executive order that created the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. “Those are large groups of people that are unemployed that could possibly have those jobs.”
Sanders’ claim falsely assumes that the number of jobs the economy has is somehow fixed and incapable of responding to changes in the workforce. This familiar conservative talking point also pits an injustice against one group as justice for another: The forced removal of immigrants to countries they may be born to but otherwise have no connections with somehow serves the Black community. This follows a strategy Donald Trump used during his candidacy to incite an “us vs. them” attitude toward immigration reform.
“Poor Hispanics and African American citizens are the first to lose a job or see a pay cut when we don’t control our borders,” Trump said at an Akron, Ohio, rally in August 2016. “What do you have to lose? You’ll be able to walk down the street without getting shot. Right now, you walk down the street, you get shot.”
This, however, does not address if the assumption is true or not. Despite the perceived motivations of the suggestion, there are some that believe in the legitimacy of the argument.
“President Trump’s decision to end DACA is a huge potential blessing to African Americans, Hispanic Americans, vets, handicapped and our young American citizen workers who want a job and can’t find one,” Tom Broadwater, president of Americans4Work, said to Atlanta Black Star in a statement. “This action by President Trump undercuts the lie that there is anything racist about enforcing U.S. immigration law. With the end of DACA, hundreds of thousands of African Americans and Hispanic Americans will be able to benefit from educational opportunities and jobs that have been given to DACA recipients.
“While some DACA recipients may have sympathetic stories, the American people cannot be served by the Executive Branch issuing illegal, unconstitutional amnesties. Anyone who opposes the end of DACA should be made to explain why they believe offering amnesty, education, and jobs to illegal aliens should take priority over the needs of African Americans and Hispanic Americans.”
A Thought Exercise
In order to ascertain if this argument is true or not, let’s undertake a thought experiment. The DACA executive order gives approximately 790,000 unauthorized immigrants who came to the United States under the age of 16 deportation relief and work permits in lieu of comprehensive immigration reform.
The program requires that enrollees — often called “Dreamers” because of their support for a set of DREAM Act immigration reform proposals — meet certain requirements, such as being between fifteen and 31 (as of 2012) in age, not being convicted of any serious offense, and being either currently in school, graduated with a high school degree or equivalent, or being honorably discharged from the Armed Forces.
With this in mind, imagine a group of 800,000 Dreamers looking for jobs. As they have high school diplomas or better, they will be higher in demand than those with lesser education. As such, it can be imagined that they would indeed be taking away jobs, on a cursory inspection.
However, on a deeper look, these 800,000 individuals are living their lives. They are spending their wages to buy foods, clothes, gas, and critical services. They are sending their kids to school, they are going to the movies, they are buying cars and utilizing public transportation. In other words, they are adding 800,000 consumers to the economy, which creates jobs.
The reality is that immigration does not affect the job market in any significant way. If a group is adding to the economy in consumer purchases roughly the amount of money they are taking out in wages, the net number of jobs post-immigration will be the same as it is pre-immigration. This is imperfect, as factors such as savings, taxes, and migration within the country affect the actual net impact of immigration on the economy, but typically the effect is limited to employment and wage changes between positive or negative two percent.
This, of course, is dependent on the region in question. Dreamers in an area with a large number of unskilled workers are likely to make a more immediate impact — at least temporarily — on the availability of jobs and critical services. The cost in government benefits and support to first-generation immigrants — which typically are the auspice of local and state governments — may, under these circumstances, outpace the tax contributions received from Dreamers.
Quality of Work
There is another consideration that must be considered. Let’s take Alabama. In 2011, Alabama passed HB 56, the Alabama Taxpayer and Citizen Protection Act. Created with the intention of making “it difficult for them to live here, so [undocumented immigrants] will deport themselves,” as the bill’s chief sponsor Micky Hammon put it, the bill made it illegal for undocumented workers to rent a house or for anyone to rent to an undocumented immigrant.
It also made it illegal to decline a request to show proof of citizenship to a police officer or to any other government official, including school officials; prevented the allocation of public benefits to undocumented workers; and made it illegal to harbor, hire, or publicly educate an illegal immigrant.
The bill was written by Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who is also currently serving as the vice chair of Trump’s Commission on Election Integrity.
The result of this legislation was a massive backlash against the state’s Republicans. In 2011, for example, a large part of the state’s agricultural product went unharvested because there was not enough labor to do the work. Farmers were forced to grow less, grow crops that can be managed and harvested using machinery, or invest the funds to raise wages and provide training for a new workforce. A 2012 study estimated the bill would shrink Alabama’s annual GDP by $11 billion.
Much of the bill has been blocked by the courts. However, this law and others like it rely on a key fallacy. There is no evidence that unemployed native-born Americans — regardless of race — have the skills or interest to hold the jobs currently held by Dreamers and other undocumented workers.
“It is one thing to say that there are hundreds of thousands of minorities the same age that are unemployed, and a very different thing for them to have the same education, skills and experience as the employed DACA workers,” Douglas Holtz-Eakin, president of the American Action Forum, said to NBCNews. “And if they do,” he added, “it begs the question as to why they don’t have those jobs in the first place.”
The assumption that unskilled workers will do any job tends to be a destructive one, as it assumes that such a job is enough to sustain a person. This destroys the need to create jobs that yield a livable net positive wage, or a wage that both exceeds the cost to perform the job — including transportation, childcare, and training costs — and the cost to live outside of poverty.
With low-wage jobs being the fastest growing job sector post-Great Recession, there is a class of jobs that native workers cannot afford to work. These low-end jobs — seasonal farm work, domestic and janitorial services, etc. — tend to draw immigrants due to language barriers or an inability to qualify for higher-paying work.
“DACA recipients typically have a more strenuous economic reality with less tangible examples in their birth countries,” Isaac Cooper, CEO and managing partner of iMC Financial Consulting and a first-generation immigrant, shared with Atlanta Black Star. “So to get to America, and to then see the opportunities that African-Americans specifically will not take, or to see the opportunities DACA recipients will strive to due to their self-identify, cultural leadership, lack of financial literacy, etc., it widens the likelihood to obtain jobs.”
“I think, if anything, the African-American community and the DACA community complement each other.”
Challenging the System
Trump’s argument about Dreamers stealing jobs from Blacks points out two of the fundamental problems that America faces. First, five years after President Obama introduced DACA, there has been no significant legislation to reform the immigration process. For those that came to this country by no fault of their own and grew to love and support this nation, the lack of legal protection is troubling.
Second, the proliferation of the belief that “minority jobs” exist suggests that the notion of creating meaningful job and training opportunities in the Black and Latinx community is being replaced with an “any job right now” mentality. Such thinking diminishes the possibility of dialogue about addressing the wealth gap that faces this nation.
Using the struggle of one community to justify the exploitation of another seems not only cruel, but also misguided. “Trump is absolutely wrong,” Omekongo Dibinga, director of UPstander International, told Atlanta Black Star. “Illegal immigrants are taking jobs Americans won’t do because most Americans prefer to have a decent wage and benefits. Detaining, arresting, or deporting these immigrants is not the solution. As long as those who hire illegal immigrants are not legally held accountable for hiring illegal immigrants, the system will never change.”
The reality is that Trump’s call to have Congress come up with a legislative solution for DACA turns this issue into a bargaining chip, which Trump likely will try to cash in to ensure construction of his border wall. However, this episode has demonstrated a cultural insensitivity and callousness that many hoped would not come from the nation’s political leadership.
Removing the DREAMers solve no pressing problem the nation may face, and may remove 800,000 workers from the nation’s tax base. Worse, it conflates the racial unity problems the nation already faces. As President Obama said, this is a political and moral question, and not a legal one.
“To target these young people is wrong — because they have done nothing wrong,” Obama wrote in a September 5th statement. “It is self-defeating — because they want to start new businesses, staff our labs, serve in our military, and otherwise contribute to the country we love. And it is cruel. What if our kid’s science teacher, or our friendly neighbor turns out to be a Dreamer? Where are we supposed to send her? To a country she doesn’t know or remember, with a language she may not even speak?
“Ultimately, this is about basic decency. This is about whether we are a people who kick hopeful young strivers out of America, or whether we treat them the way we’d want our own kids to be treated. It’s about who we are as a people — and who we want to be.”