05/23/2008: "The Costs Of Illegal Immigration"
By Scott Knutson
I have read some of the comments and articles in The Island Guardian regarding the "illegal" immigration issue, and I share the views of others that this is a federal issue and that the US immigration laws should be fully enforced. I generally remain quiet about these issues, but the fact that the social issues created by illegal immigration are festering in the San Juan Islands is--how shall I say it--disheartening.
I was born is Seattle in 1960 and grew up in Kent, and I own property on Orcas. Although I currently live in California, my roots in Washington where my parents still live, as well as my two brothers and sister; and my daughter is a freshman at UW
As a 20+ year resident of Southern California, I have witnessed the illegal immigration madness first hand. What is happening here and in other small resort communities in Southern California should not be allowed to occur in the San Juan Islands. Down here, there has been a slow erosion over the past 15 years in the quality of public services (medical, schools, etc.) and infrastructure as this area has embraced the mass migration of uneducated, unskilled labor. The question I always ask myself is why is this occurring?
We, our parents, our grandparents and great grandparents have labored for more than 100 years to create the public services and infrastructure of this country--why are US citizens now willing to create and accept the unnecessary social issues that are resulting in their erosion? Whenever such questions occur, they can usually be answered by following the money. It appears to me that the primary culprit is likely the selfish motives of certain employers in the community. In a small community like the San Juan Islands, it only takes a few selfish employers to get the ball rolling.
Rather than hire and pay a wage that a typical US citizen requires (or better yet, hire middle and high school students from the community part-time--more on this later), a few employers exploit the ready availability of illegal immigrants. The employer sees an opportunity to pay a below market wage while at the same time not having to pay for medical benefits, which costs are shifted to the community-at-large.
It would be interesting to know whether the employers in the community are also paying wages under-the-table. There is a strong incentive to do so for both the employer and illegal immigrant. The illegal immigrant would rather receive cash under the table because he/she is not forced to steal the identity of a US citizen (i.e., a social security number) and he/she can remain in the shadows.
From the employer's perspective, if it paid wages of $100 to a US citizen, the employer would collect the employee's share of social security and Medicare (6.2% Social Security and 1.45% Medicare; or $7.65), and the employer also must pay the employer's share, which is the same amount--$7.65. Thus, ignoring wage withholding, the employer would pay the employee $92.35 and would remit to the federal government $15.30 ($7.65+$7.65). The total cost to the employer is $107.65 for the unit of labor.
If we also consider wage withholding, the employer would holdback between 15-35% of the wages depending upon the taxable income of the employee. Assuming 15% withholding on the $100 of wages, the employer would withhold $15 and the employee will receive $77.35 ($100-($15+$7.65)).
If the employer can do this under the table, it might agree to pay the illegal immigrant let say $80. Here, the illegal immigrant takes home more than he/she would if properly reported and the employer saves $27.65 ($107.65-$80) which he/she can put in their pocket. I am a tax lawyer by trade, and I understand that this occurs more frequently than the general public is aware.
The other selfish "profit" motive of the employer is the ability to shift medical and other social costs to the community-at-large. I would be very surprised if any of the employers are providing medical benefits to their illegal immigrant workers.
Because the employer is paying a below market wage and the fact that most illegal immigrants send a material amount of their wages back to their country of origin (which prevents these $ from being recirculated back into the community--another local community negative), the illegal immigrant will not be able to afford medical insurance. Thus, if the illegal immigrant gets sick or injured (whether on the job or at home), he/she will show up at a clinic or emergency room and seek "free" medical care. We all know, however, that such services are not free but are funded by local and state tax dollars (or paying customers).
Since the employer is the one profiting from the illegal presence of the immigrant and his/her labor, would it not be fair for the clinic or emergency room to submit a medical bill directly to the employer? To help administer the billing process, perhaps San Juan County (or the Council Members)can ask all such employers to provide their illegal workers with information contact cards so that the clinic/emergency rooms know whom to bill. My intuition tells me there will be few employers willing to do this; they would prefer to also hide in the shadows, pretend they don't have direct responsibility, and shift this cost to the community.
We need to consider that illegal immigrants have children (typically more than the average US family), and someone needs to pay for the cost of delivery. Is it going to be the employer that foots the bill? Or, once again, is the employer going to shift this burden to the community-at-large. Who is going to pay for the cost of remedial English classes and the additional costs incurred by the public school system--should not these costs also be transferred directly to the employer that is the direct beneficiary of the illegal immigrant's labor.
Do local employers take steps necessary to determine whether the illegal immigrant is carrying any third-world diseases such as TB, measles or hepatitis. It is common knowledge that the countries from which the illegals originate do not immunize their citizens. What will be the consequence if one of the illegal immigrants is a TB carrier, infects his children and these children attend the local schools.
Finally, what is to be done when an illegal immigrant gets drunk and runs over 3 long-time residents of the community (something that recently occurred on San Juan Island)? That illegal immigrant's presence on the island is to serve his employer, and the employer (for his/her own personal gain) has provided the illegal alien with the ability to stay. In this case, what responsibility does the employer have to those long-time residents injured by the illegal immigrant? If I were a family member of those injured, I would sue the employer and ruin him/her financially. The long-time, legal residents have been injured as a direct result of the profit-seeking, exploitive hiring practices of the local employer.
Will the foregoing social costs be transferred to the guilty employer? If these social costs are brought to bear on the employer trying to game the social system that we, our parents, grandparents and great grandparents labored so hard to create, perhaps they would realize the true cost of their self-motivated decision to hire illegal immigrant workers.
What do these ill-gotten gains provide the employer? Is it financial survival and the ability to just get by? If this is the case, then perhaps their business as conducted on the Islands in not economically viable. Should the community accept the social costs of the employer's employment practices in his/her effort to generate a profit for a business that otherwise is uneconomic? Worse, is the employer using this illegal labor to provide himself/herself personal luxuries (larger house, boat, new car, vacations, etc..) that they would otherwise not be able to afford?
In the face of such argument, the employer will exclaim--"But they are doing jobs that US citizens will not do!"
The problem with this retort is that it fails to fully express the employer's "true" sentiment. What they are really saying is--"But they are doing jobs that US citizens will not do at the below-market wage that I desire to pay and without medical benefits."
As long as the community allows local employers to get away with this deceptive hiring strategy, the social problems from this practice will continue. Rather than come to the rescue of the "beleaguered" illegal immigrant, why don't the secular-progressive, leftist leaning members of the Island community speak out against the employers for failing to pay a wage commensurate with US cost-of-living standards.
Why don't these sympathizers refocus their efforts on employers who are exploiting both the social system and the illegal immigrant. Also, are all US citizens on the San Juan Islands gainfully employed? Are all of the middle and high school kids gainfully employed on a part-time basis? The benefits of hiring local US citizens are clear.
First, there is no leakage of community wealth to Mexico and/or Central/South America. Every $ that is diverted from the community is a drain on the Island community's wealth. Second, making sure that all kids have a part-time job fosters and encourages a work ethic that seems to be lacking in so many kids today.
All of us who are over the age of 40 can think back to all of the jobs we had during elementary, middle and high school. Back in the 1960 and 1970 in Kent, we picked strawberries and did other farm labor for $1/hr during the summer as elementary and middle school kids. All of these "work ethic" opportunities are being sifted to illegal immigrants.
A recent Wall Street Journal article focused on the lack of summer jobs for high school kids and indicated that there is a 20% employment rate for high school kids seeking part-time and summer work. I don't know whether these statistics are representative of the Island community, given I have no basis for assessing the role that teenagers presently play in the local job market. However, unless all efforts have been made to provide local kids with part-time work opportunities (which could be coordinated with after-school programs), no jobs should be given to an illegal immigrant. If we do not preserve these "work-ethic" opportunities for our kids, we are failing them.
Los Angeles and the surrounding areas are degenerating into a third-world city, where you have either very rich or very poor, with little in between. Don't get me wrong, not all of the problems down here result from illegal immigration; but, there is a material link between unregulated, illegal immigration and Hispanic gang crime, the problems with public schools (both fiscal and qualitative), the closure of urban emergency room services in the LA area, and the overcrowding of single family dwelling units and traffic congestion.
The problem is, once a community allows employers to game the social system for their own personal benefit, the illegal immigrant obtains a foothold in the community. As this happens, the initial few spread the word and soon more arrive. As money is sent out of the community and back to the country of origin, letters go with telling those in such countries about how nice life is in the San Juans and how nice the employers are (they are not altruistic, though, they are nice because they are making a profitable living off the backs of the illegal immigrants), and these letters encourage more to come live in this beautiful land and take advantage of the free public schools and free health care. Soon, more than are needed arrive; those that are working pay the rent for the other 5-8 that are living in the same dwelling unit.
The employers keep quite because they are making a profit, and the only person on the Island that becomes concerned initially is the one living in close proximity to the single family house that is now housing 3-4 families. Then, as the number slowly increase, legal residents start to take notice. They begin to wonder why the sign on one of the local shops is in Spanish. When they finally wake up and assess the situation they discover that 10-20% of the population is composed of illegal immigrants, not all of which can work in the community. They scratch their heads and wonder how this happened and what can be done. The community is experiencing fiscal problems and something must be done.
my wife and I spent the last 5 years thinking about where we wanted to retire in order to escape the social ills of Southern California that, in some unquantifiable measure, are resulting from illegal immigration. As a long-time resident of Washington, and having spent my youth on the Islands during various summers, we decided to find our peace in the Islands and purchased 11 acres on Orcas Island a few years back. I believed that the Islands would be unblemished by the social ills now present in much of the South, especially Southern California. Thus, it has been quite disheartening to read the recent local articles about the illegal immigrant issues on the Islands.
I had always viewed the character and spirit of the Island resident as self-reliant, but it now appears clear that many of the employers are relying on the underpaid labor of illegal immigrants and are, in all likelihood, gaming the social system. If those on the Islands who disapprove of this self-serving act by local employers fail to address this issue now, the scenario laid out in the preceding paragraphs will slowly, and most surely, develop.
I stand strongly behind the efforts of the US Border patrol. Our immigration laws should be fully enforced, and those employers who are exploiting this opportunity should be called to account for any and all social costs inflicted on the community. I would be interested to know what action, if any, the employer of the drunken illegal has taken to assist the three local residents who have paid dearly for his/her selfish employment tactics.
I am 100% behind legal immigration. We should welcome all of those who desire to come to the USA with the "true" desire of becoming US citizens and who wish to live, work and contribute to this great country. What I don't approve of is a free-for-all where illegal immigrants come and go as they please without any sort of regulation, and where the illegal immigrant has no desire to become a US citizen. The social cost of such approach outweigh the benefits to those few employers who are exploiting the illegal immigrant and the established social system that we and our ancestors labored long to create.