Deporting And Terrorizing Undocumented Immigrants Will Cause Economic Collapse—Just Ask Alabama
Strict Alabama Law Shows What Happens When Undocumented Immigrants Flee
The 45th president of the United States continues his war on immigrants. The White House is rewriting its executive order fulfilling a campaign promise to ban Muslims after the 9th Circuit slapped it down as lacking a logical reason for the haste of its implementation. Donald Trump said that there would be a new order on Monday, NBC News reported. Meanwhile, Immigration and Customs Enforcement continues conducting widespread raids against immigrant communities. The raids are sweeping up anyone suspected of being undocumented, and deporting anyone without documentation, a dramatic departure from enforcement that targeted law-breaking undocumented immigrants and deferred action against law-abiding immigrants by previous Republican and Democratic administrations. Immigrant communities are living in fear and panic as ICE rips apart families.
This ongoing crackdown against immigration (notably targeting two ethnicities of brown people) is bad for a variety of reasons. These include moral, legal, political, and practical reasons. But one reason that has not been widely discussed is economic. Wholesale deporting and terrorizing of undocumented immigrant communities is an incredibly stupid thing to do for an administration that claims to want to bolster the economy. This statement is not hypothetical. The US has already had a test case for the demagogic far right theory that kicking out the undocumented en masse would improve the economy, and it was a colossal failure.
On June 9th, 2011, Alabama, that reddest of red states, signed into law HB 56, euphemistically named the “Alabama Taxpayer and Citizen Protection Act.” The law was written by Kansas Secretary of State and immigration hardliner Kris Kobach, who has met with Trump to advise him on immigration. According to the New York Times, the bill allowed law enforcement to stop anyone suspected of being undocumented and demand to see their documentation. It barred undocumented immigrants from enrolling in public schools beyond high school. It forced public schools to determine the immigration status of all students and report any undocumented children to authorities. It required schools to compile and publish statistics on the number of immigrant students and the costs associated with educating immigrant children. It made it a crime to rent to an undocumented immigrant. It barred businesses employing undocumented immigrants from receiving tax deductions. Republicans advertised this as a “jobs-creation bill for Americans.”
This bill was specifically designed to terrorize immigrant communities. At any turn, from finding housing, to applying for work, to sending their kids to school, or any interaction with police, an immigrant could be profiled and harassed, arrested, and deported. It even pressured people who dealt with immigrants on a regular basis, making life harder for employers, renters and educators, forcing them to act as an arm of the state in probing immigrants and denying them a normal lifestyle.
Undocumented immigrants fled Alabama in droves. Thousands vanished overnight. That fall, schools were reporting a dramatic drop in enrollment among Hispanic students and undocumented immigrants stopped showing up to work at jobs they had held for years. Mission accomplished for Republicans in Alabama? Hardly. What happened next was gruesome.
Only 4 months after the law was signed, crops withered as far as the eye could see at farms across Alabama. In October, 2011, The Guardian interviewed Brian Cash, a tomato farmer whose fields were full of tomatoes rotting on the vine. Cash’s fields offered seasonal work which had always been done by migrant workers, predominantly undocumented immigrants from Central America. Cash estimated his losses since the law was signed to be over $100,000. The farm Cash’s family had owned for generations was on the verge of collapse. This was felt on farms and other cash crop plantations across the state.
Employers of some of the most grueling labor in the state simply could not replace the lost labor. Bloomberg reported in November 2011 on a food processing plant in Uniontown, Alabama, where the job was to stand all day in a chilled room surrounded by loud machines and fillet 8 catfish a minute for $7.25 an hour. The plant had been staffed by migrant Guatemalans who disappeared overnight. And despite the county’s 18% unemployment rate, native-born Americans were not in a rush to fill those positions.
In October 2011, the Birmingham News interviewed several restaurant owners who had lost their best and hardest workers among their kitchen staff. One restaurant owner complained that his entire kitchen staff, most of whom were Mexican, were threatening to bolt the state, even though all of them were legal residents with the documentation to prove it, because they were terrified of how much power police suddenly had over all immigrants.
Employers across the state complained to the Alabama government that some jobs were too grueling, could not afford to pay enough to workers, or were too transient or short-term to ever entice native Alabamans. The Republican party ignored them.
Virtually every industry supported by low-paying menial labor–agriculture, manufacturing, textile, restaurants, hospitality–all experienced a sudden crippling labor crunch as undocumented laborers skedaddled out of the state. That is not the end of the story, though.
When a farm, a restaurant, or a food processing plant faces bankruptcy because its workers disappear, other industries downstream in the economy are affected. Farms are supported by industries that manufacture tractors, for example. The tractor company needs salesman. The salesman need an accounting firm. The accounting firm needs a lawyer. The law office needs an office supplies store. The office supplies store needs a trucking company to move the photocopiers. Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. The collapse of menial labor eventually shaves jobs off every industry. One University of Alabama study concluded that the overall effect of the law could shrink the state’s GDP by as much as 6.2%! That would have been an enormous self-inflicted wound for what was already one of the poorest states in America. If immigrants leave the US at the same rate they left Alabama in 2011, it could cost the US hundreds of billions of dollars.
Incidentally, one study also found that the implementation of HB 56 also correlated with a significant uptick in violent crime, but no significant correlation with property crime, which researchers speculated could be explained by an increase in domestic violent resulting from thousands of people suddenly under much greater stress.
Over the course of a year following the signing of the law, various parties filed lawsuits against it, citing undue duress for employers, schools, and discriminatory intent behind the law, quoting racially charged language about Hispanics used by lawmakers in debate prior to passing the law. Several federal court rulings invalidated much of the law. The economic effects of the law eventually caught up to Republicans and efforts to rewrite the law stalled.
It is a simple, basic fact about economic life in America that undocumented migrant laborers are the bottom of the economic pyramid. Like it or not, everything else in the economy rests on the menial labor that they, and only they, are willing to do. Statistics definitively show that they don’t “steal” jobs in any sense, because when they vacate their jobs, no one else does them. They also don’t “bring crime” as Trump said during the campaign. Studies have consistently shown that immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than native-born Americans. The right has used the language of “illegal aliens,” and the white supremacist demagogic right has introduced the phrase “criminal aliens” into the mainstream. But these also ignore the reality that most immigration violations are civil offenses, on par with violating a contract, not criminal offenses. Deporting 11 million people is simply logistically impossible. This is why successive presidents have mostly ignored otherwise law-abiding undocumented migrants and gone after those individuals who actually commit crimes. And the open secret that all of Washington knew before January 20th is that they are vitally important to the economy.
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