It’s a long-running talking point spouted by Trump administration members and the president himself: Undocumented immigrants are taking jobs away from black and Hispanic Americans.
Hours after President Trump dismantled an Obama-era program that had granted 800,000 young undocumented immigrants permission to live and work in the United States, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders again made the claim.
“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,” Sanders said during Tuesday’s press briefing. “Those are large groups of people that are unemployed that could possibly have those jobs.”
Here’s the problem: immigrant and native-born workers are imperfect substitutes. There is no evidence that the unemployed Americans, be they black, white or Hispanic, have the skills necessary to hold the same jobs occupied by the young beneficiaries of the five-year-old Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.
“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,” said Douglas Holtz-Eakin, president of the American Action Forum and former chief economic policy adviser to Sen. John McCain’s (R-Ariz.) presidential campaign.
“And if they do,” he added, “it begs the question as to why they don’t have those jobs in the first place.”
Contrary to Sanders’s assertion, he said, DACA improves the economic outlook for low-skilled, American-born workers. Without work permits, undocumented immigrants are more likely to take any job they can, even work that falls far below their skill or education level. DACA, on the other hand, allows those workers to move to jobs that better match their background, freeing up low-skilled positions.
There is just no compelling proof that immigration -- legal or illegal -- “squeezes out native-born workers in any systematic way,” Holtz-Eakin said. “We’ve experienced waves of immigration and still, on average, reached full employment.”
The number of jobs in the United States is not fixed. An influx of immigrant workers generates economic growth and employment opportunities by increasing productivity, said Jackie Varas, director of immigration and trade policy at American Action Forum.
“Many DACA recipients are also more skilled than other immigrants because they possess a college education, so they don’t compete with low-skilled Americans,” Varas said.
Furthermore, said Darrick Hamilton, an economics and urban policy professor at The New School, blacks and Latinos want access to quality jobs, not just jobs at the bottom of the labor market.
“Why do we reserve and presume the bottom of the labor market for blacks and Latinos?” Hamilton said. “Many DACA recipients are full-time students not engaged in taking away jobs.”
Of the DACA-eligible immigrants over 21 years old, 12 percent have bachelor’s degrees, 3 percent have advanced degrees, 84 percent have completed high school and some college, and 2 percent did not graduate from high school, according to an analysis by New American Economy.
A Moody’s Analytics analysis of Trump's proposed economic policies last year showed that removing all undocumented immigrants from the labor force would trigger an economic recession within one year.
Another American Action Forum study found that if all undocumented immigrants were deported, there would not be enough American workers to fill all of the jobs that would be left open. And even if all available native workers filled the open slots, the country would still be short 4 million workers.
Trump and his supporters have often pitted minority groups against one another. But there is no broad economic justification to do so.
“Cannibalizing stigmatized and marginalized groups against each other serves the wealthy interests that benefit from such divisive colonial and labor segmenting tactics,” Hamilton said.