The nation's estimated 12 million undocumented immigrants are waiting with bated breaths for President Obama to take unilateral action on immigration reform, which he will be expected to announce on Thursday night. Should the president's bill go through, it would prevent up to five million people from deportation.
The plan would enable many to obtain legal work documents, thus protecting them from the fear of being discovered as an undocumented immigrant — but it applies only to parents of those who hold U.S. citizenship or legal residency. This is huge, because as we all know, deportation not only separates families and forces undocumented immigrants to leave behind a hard-fought life the States, it also endangers the lives of those who flee from their countries of origin due to war or poverty.
The one issue proponents of harsh immigration laws put aside is that undocumented immigrants make up a considerable number in the U.S. workforce. In fact, six states alone account for 60% of undocumented immigrants — California, Texas, Florida, New York, New Jersey and Illinois — making up a huge percentage of the population. A Pew Research Center report from 2010 stated that there are 8.1 million undocumented in the nation's labor force — about 66% of the rough total of undocumented immigrants. Deportation would then mean the removal of a staggering number of workers from the labor force, so if Obama's plan holds up against a defiant Congress, which industries exactly would benefit from it?
2.6 million undocumented immigrants make up 38 percent of the agriculture industry in California. In a report by researchers at the University of Southern California, the undocumented in California comprise almost 10 percent of the state’s laborers, who contribute $130 billion annually to the state's gross domestic product.
The agricultural industry is pretty much built on the backs of immigrants. Should Obama eliminate the threat of deportation for many of these workers, California can wipe the beads of sweat off its shivering forehead — it's dependence on undocumented laborers could see its entire agricultural industry crumble if the bill doesn't become a reality. As Ruben Navarrette at The Daily Beast put it,
If the Golden State didn’t have illegal immigrants, it would have to invent them. And if California’s industries suddenly had to rely on a completely legal workforce and couldn’t hire another undocumented person, many of them would be out of business.
And it's not just California that would suffer — most undocumented immigrants work in agriculture, so the industry as a whole would take a huge hit.
Texas has a huge construction industry — $54 billion-annually-huge — raking in tons of revenue for the state. Of the nearly 1 million people working in construction, about half of them are undocumented immigrants, many of whom have been here for years; even decades.
About two million of the altogether 23 million immigrants in the U.S. work in the service industry. Many go in to the sector because native-born workers are scarce, or unwilling to work these jobs.
The Center for American Progress released a report that used Arizona's passage of an anti-immigration law in 2010 as an example of the weight of such bills. The state lost $141 million, including $45 million in "hotel and lodging cancellations," said the study. The tourism industry, in which many immigrants work, suffered heavily, and many national organizations boycotted the state by refusing to hold conferences there.
Yet Arizona is 8th in the nation for the population size of undocumented immigrants — which just goes to show that its current anti-immigration laws aren't as effective as the state would like it to be.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 8.3 percent of immigrants work in manufacturing. Technicians, warehouse operators, quality control inspectors — many of these jobs are filled by foreign-born workers, both documented and undocumented. These also comprise the low-skill, sometimes informal jobs that many flock to.
A study by the Migration Policy Institute indicated that foreign-born workers will be needed to supplement U.S. labor demand in the years to come. If Obama manages to put pen to paper on a comprehensive immigration reform, then not only will these industries continue to function properly — and by extension the U.S. economy — but those who tend your garden, wash your car, care for your children, and make you that drunk taco at 3 a.m. will get to keep their lives here, too.
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